Shovels and spades: what is the difference?

The Home Gardener’s Guide to Shovels and Spades

Do you know what you’re digging with? Many people don’t know that shovels and spades are actually two different tools with different uses. There are so many garden tools out there that it can be overwhelming and hard to know which tools to use for which jobs, but if you know how to choose the right tools, your garden and landscaping projects will be significantly easier on your body and everything will go more smoothly.

This guide will teach you how to tell the difference between shovels and spades, how to properly use them, and which tool to pick for which job.

The Home Garden Guide to Shovels and Spades

Disclosure: this post has been sponsored by A.M. Leonard’s Gardener’s Edge who also provided me with the shovels and spades to try. And they want you to try them too! Be sure to check out how you can get your hands on the shovel or spade of your dreams from Gardener’s Edge at the end of this post. All opinions within the post remain my own.

What’s the Difference?

So, what is the difference between a shovel and a spade? A spade is shorter and has a flat blade, while a shovel is longer, angled, and its blade is curved into more of a scoop.

Shovel and spade

Shovels are better for digging up, breaking apart, and lifting soil as well as for scooping and moving loose materials.

Spades are best for cutting into sod, edging, or digging trenches—anything that requires a sharp, straight edge.

Proper Use

When working with digging tools like this, be sure to wear appropriate footwear (no flip flops!). For both spades and shovels, the basic technique is to insert the blade into the ground, using one foot to push down on the ledge at the top of the blade, called the “step.”

How to use shovels and spades

Shovels should be inserted into the ground at an angle and pushed slightly forward, while spades should be pushed into the ground vertically to create a straight edge.

Proper use of a shovel.

As with any outdoor work, use your common sense and be mindful of the heat, stay hydrated, stretch, and take breaks.

Parts of a Spade and Shovel

Shovels and spades are made of similar basic parts—the handle, step, and blade—but they have subtle variances which might not look like much at first, but make all the difference in what these tools can do.


D-grip handle

Spade: shorter, straight handle with a D or T grip at the top to make it easy to hold.

Shovel: long, upward-angled handle, often no grip at the top since shovels are usually held by the handle at an angle, not by the very top. Shovels do frequently have some type of padding around the upper section of the handle to make holding it more comfortable.


The home gardener's guide to shovels and spades

Spade: small ledge on top of the blade on either side of the handle, so that you can rest your foot on it and press down into the soil with the strength of your leg.

Shovel: smaller or no step ledge, as shovels are not intended for the type of work that requires as much extra force of a foot on the blade (such as edging) and a bulky step would get in the way when scooping and lifting material at an angle.


Shovels and spades: what is the difference?

Spade: flat blade with a square-shaped end.

Shovel: curved, bowl-shaped blade, usually rounded or pointed at the end, but shovels with square-shaped blades are available as well.

Scoop shovel

Keep in mind that there are many different blade weights, which will dramatically change the experience of handling a shovel or spade. Professional-grade shovels can get very heavy, which means that they are great for heavy lifting but can also be difficult to use. Lighter shovels are less powerful, but are much more usable for many and are a good choice for those with limited abilities.

Try out the different weights and see what feels comfortable to you—I personally prefer a lighter shovel, while my partner prefers a heavier one.

For more info on blade weight and handle types, watch this video:


Types of Shovels and Spades for the Home Garden

Leonard Forged Round Point Shovel with 30in Ash D-Grip Handle

Your guide to shovels and spades

Lightweight and easy to use as well as affordable, the ash handle is very durable, and the deeply scooped blade makes it ideal for lifting and moving loose material.

Leonard Forged Round Point Shovel with 48in Fiberglass Handle

Shovel weights differ greatly

This shovel is quite heavy, so it is not suitable for everyone, but if you like a heavier shovel this one is very powerful and will last forever (it even comes with a lifetime warranty). The strong fiberglass handle is angled at a high lift, so you won’t have to bend too far when you’re digging, which will reduce strain on your back.

Leonard Poly Scoop Shovel with Extended D Grip Handle

Poly scoop shovel by Gardener's Edge

Great for scooping up gravel and other loose materials and clearing away snow. The poly material is weather resistant and won’t rust or damage surfaces (so you can use it on your deck without worrying about scratches). This shovel also has an extended, lifted handle to help save your back while you scoop.

Shortie Transplant Spade

The home gardener's guide to shovels and spades

At just 26” tall, this little spade can do big things. It is perfect for transplanting those plants that are too big for a hand trowel, and it is also a lifesaver for dividing plants, stripping sod, and other projects that require some precision.

Leonard Classic Full Strap Spade with Foot Pad


This is a great basic spade. The beveled edge of the blade is crafted specifically so that it doesn’t require sharpening, so this tool is very low maintenance. It is durable, strong, and has a large step and foot pad to cushion your foot and reduce strain.

Root Assassin Shovel and Saw

Root Assassin Shovel

The Root Assassin is a small, tapered shovel with saw teeth on either side of the blade that work to cut through roots while you dig. It is great for digging trenches and digging in areas that are overgrown with roots. The padded D-grip handle makes it comfortable to hold and easy to maneuver.


Pick your shovel

Pick a shovel, any shovel (or spade). Gardener’s Edge has generously agreed to GIVE AWAY the shovel or spade of your dreams! To enter, leave a comment by September 30th, 2017 telling us which shovel or spade listed in this post you need the most and you will be entered for a chance to win it. This contest is open to residents of Canada and the continental United States only, excluding Quebec and where prohibited. The winner will be selected randomly from eligible entries, notified by email, and have 24 hours to claim their prize. Void where prohibited by law.


About the Author : Stephanie RoseAn artistic gardener aiming to feed the body & soul through an urban potager garden & a community veggie plot in Vancouver.View all posts by Stephanie Rose

  1. Heather Raymond
    Heather RaymondSeptember 7,17

    My yard needs the Root Assassin!! Please!

  2. Wendy Hancock
    Wendy HancockSeptember 7,17

    The Root Assassin would be a huge help in my yard!! Thank you :)

  3. Dale Cecchettini
    Dale CecchettiniSeptember 7,17

    The Root Assasin is exactly the tool I need! I have a mature yard, bordered by Redwood trees. In order for me to plant anything – I need dynamite or a pick axe….besides true grit. Using the Root Assasin would motivate me to plant and be able to cut through the roots and clay soil…..thank you for the consideration 😎

  4. carol clark
    carol clarkSeptember 7,17

    Leonard Forged Round Point Shovel with 48in Fiberglass Handle is my perfect shovel fit

  5. Ann Prince
    Ann PrinceSeptember 8,17

    I would love to have the root assassin! Tree roots are a huge problem in my yard! Thank you for your great blog!

  6. Lorri Rauscher
    Lorri RauscherSeptember 8,17

    Whoever would think Shovels and or Spades would be beautiful!!!! 😊I read with interest how to use each and every shovel and spades.I am glad that I am using my shovel and my spade the correct way. I would like the Orange Poly Scoop Shovel because it looks like a worker shovel.I would get good use like shovelling snow and mulch. Thank you for picking me .😆

  7. Sue
    SueSeptember 8,17

    I could use just the basic spade because I’m really going to have to bite the bullet get some new edging in.

  8. Sharon
    SharonSeptember 8,17

    I could really use the Leonard Classic Full Strap Spade with Foot Pad – very very nice!

  9. Rodelin Palmer
    Rodelin PalmerSeptember 8,17

    A Shortie Transplant Spade would be a godsend to my garden! I sure hope I win this.

  10. Cheryn Miller-Crock
    Cheryn Miller-CrockSeptember 9,17

    Poly scoop shovel with D handle.
    I live in Colorado. I scoop snow.
    I have a xeriscape yard I am always moving mulch
    This lovely shovel would be used year round.

  11. Inge
    IngeSeptember 10,17

    I would chose the little 26″ spade. I am short and I move a lot of plants around in my garden.

  12. Kay
    KaySeptember 10,17

    Soooo hard to choose! All great items! I’d guess the Root Assasin or the 26″ spade! Decisions, decisions! Either one would be helpful to a petite gal that’s not the strongest gardener! But a lover of Gardener’s Edge!

  13. Joanne M
    Joanne MSeptember 13,17

    The Root Assassin because we have 30 year old roots that I’ve been struggling with so this would really help. Please help.

  14. Cindy Gaston
    Cindy GastonSeptember 13,17

    I really could use the shorty transplant spade!

  15. Kathy Cerwin
    Kathy CerwinSeptember 13,17

    The root assassin is desperately needed with all the roots I have to assassinate.

  16. Victoria
    VictoriaSeptember 13,17

    Classic-full-strap-spade-with-foot-pad is my tool of choice. It would be very helpful in my garden. Thank you for all the great information on how to use all these great tools.

  17. mattsgramma
    mattsgrammaSeptember 14,17

    I would love to have the “Root Assassin” shovel featured in today’s Garden Therapy blog. It would certainly help me maintain my yard and gardens.

  18. Denise
    DeniseSeptember 14,17

    The basic spade would be lovely!

  19. Kim Kascak
    Kim KascakSeptember 14,17

    The root assassin shovel would be an asset to our gardening revamps. Thank you!

  20. doty H
    doty HSeptember 14,17

    I have been lamenting over the Root Assassin, my neighbor has one and I am green with envy. That is my choice I DIG IT.

  21. Paula
    PaulaSeptember 14,17

    Oh yes! Root assassin~ oh yes!

  22. Leslie Gilson
    Leslie GilsonSeptember 14,17

    OMG Never saw a shorty transplant spade or a root assassin shovel. Would dearly love to have one of these

  23. Deborah W.
    Deborah W.September 14,17

    We need a large, long shovel. Ours keeps breaking. I love the Leonard Forged Round Point Shovel with 48in Fiberglass Handle.

  24. Vicki Kloock
    Vicki KloockSeptember 14,17

    Our house and, therefore, garden is 60 years old. We have old, old bushes that need to go. The Root Assassin would be wonderful to have for this.

  25. Bonnie Duke
    Bonnie DukeSeptember 14,17

    The Shortie Transplant Spade would be a great help for me being a disabled gardener. Normally, I have to cut off the handle of the tools I try to use. Thanks so much!

  26. Tracey Perillo
    Tracey PerilloSeptember 16,17

    THe Root Assasin Shovel would be ideal for me as I suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, and Crohns Disease. My primary focus is quality of life, which includes digging in the dirt. I’ve got my little house on my large piece of property and my gardens are spectacular. They also help my state of mind I’ve got a gazillion species of birds and a built in pool. So those things, my husband and my 3 dogs keep me focused on the good things and even a small shovel and a very informative post are enough to keep me happy and motivated to keep movingly!

  27. Evelyn Lynch
    Evelyn LynchSeptember 18,17

    Love the shorty transplant spade. My last transplant shovel met it’s end this spring!

Leave a Reply