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Gardening Articles: Care :: Tools & Equipment

The Inside Scoop on Shovels (page 4 of 4)

by David Lyon

Safe and Comfortable Use

Most gardeners recognize that shoveling can be a real pain in the back. But Jerome F. McAndrews, vice president for professional affairs of the American Chiropractic Association, points out that most shovel-related injuries don't occur while digging. It's moving the dirt that's the problem. He advises using a long-handled shovel so you don't have to bend down so much, and varying your position when shoveling for a long time. "The key," McAndrews says, "is to work muscles on both sides of the body." He notes that muscle spasms when shoveling often occur in cool weather. "It may be spring," he says, "but remember that cool air will constrict the blood vessels exactly as you're calling on those muscles for extra exertion."

Choosing and Buying a Shovel

Whether you're buying a shovel or a spade, make sure it's a good fit. If your garden consists of nice, loose loam, consider the lighter, hollow-back construction. Heft several examples to gauge comfort. One hand should grasp the handle at the thick point above the shaft; the other should fit in the thinned handhold toward the top of the shaft.

Look for a warranty of around 10 to 15 years, good handle materials and heavier-gauge metal. Expect to spend at least $25 to $30 for each tool. Solid-shank versions are usually part of the professional line and can be hard to find in some hardware stores and garden centers. They usually carry a lifetime warranty and will cost another $20 to $25.

The strategy I favor is to look for American shovels and British spades. For shovels, established makers are Ames, True Temper or Union. They all offer shovels in at least three grades. All three companies also make fine spades. The British market, however, favors spades in the garden, so British makers have far more practice making spades. Both Spear and Jackson and Bulldog are available in the U.S., primarily via mail-order companies.

David Lyons gardens in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a solid-shank garden spade, a hollow-back shovel, and a garden fork.

Photography by Sabin Gratz & National Gardening Association

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