Shovel vs Spade: The Differences Explained

There is an adage that says a workman is only as good as his tools.

For digging, shifting, lifting, and edging tasks, you're going to need a shovel or a spade.

Shovels and spades might look very similar and are interchangeable in some circumstances. However, they have two main differences, the shape of the blade and their most valuable use.

A spade is a go-to tool when heavy digging is required; the sharp tip makes light work of cutting through compacted soil.

A shovel has raised edges and an angled blade. It is best suited to moving loose materials from a flat surface, such as a road. Coarse, lumpy materials pose no threat to a shovel; the design ensures large quantities stay on the scoop.

Similarities Between Spades and Shovels

shovel vs spade


The blades of shovels and spades are almost always metal.

Steel (stainless and carbon) – Hard-wearing and durable while remaining lightweight enough to operate.

Aluminum – Lightweight, not suited to heavy loads. Commonly used for shovels used to move leaves and other green garden waste. Tools made from aluminum often cost less than those made of steel.

Iron – Rarely used as it is a heavy metal with limited use. Iron blades have decades' worth of serviceable life.

Plastic – Designated snow shovels feature wide plastic scoops to capture large amounts of snow with each action.


Most handles are made of hardwood such as ash, heavy-duty plastic, or a combination of both.

The handles are traditionally 'D'-shaped or straight, forming a 'T' with the shaft. Shovels and spades have shafts made from wood, fiberglass, or plastic-coated steel.

Straight shafts tend to be easier on the back but are not the most reliable when transporting soil, sand, etc.

D-handles provide the greatest leverage and ergonomic efficiency; they have built-in hanging hooks.


On both sides of the shaft, at the top of the blade, are footrests. These give the user extra purchase when digging through compacted soil, etc.

The Differences Between Shovels and Spades

Spades all look similar to each other. The blade is rectangular with a slight indentation to hold the soil as it is dug. It is typically narrower than a shovel but tends to be thicker and sharper; it needs to be to break through compacted soil.

The footrests at the opposite end of the blade often have corrugated treads for additional support and strength.

A spade's primary use is for digging soil, although they are useful for moving loose materials from one place to another. A spade is nowhere near as efficient as a shovel.

Shovels come in many shapes and styles, each designed for a particular job.

Traditional shovels have an angled blade with a raised lip at both edges. It creates a scoop to keep the contents inside during transport.

The tip of the blade is wide and flat enabling it to slide close to the ground and collect maximum material with every scoop.

A traditional shovel is best suited for moving soil, gravel, mulch, coal, and other smaller or larger materials.

Shovels and spades don't exclusively follow these factors; there are variants to cope with specialized tasks.

Types of Spades


Digging spade – As the name suggests, it is a long-handled, flat-bladed spade, designed to make light work of soil, no matter how compact it is.

Border spade – Usually smaller and lighter than a digging spade, it has a sharp tip and durable treads for cutting neat edges.

Transplanting spade – Often has a shorter handle and a long, narrow blade with a slight curve. It gets deep beneath a root ball without causing damage.

Pointer spade – A small tool with a very narrow, pointed blade. Most used in hole preparation for planting and erecting posts.

Types of Shovels


Scoop shovels – The most recognized style is the snow shovel, with its broad, deep head.

They are light, inexpensive, and each slide of the scoop collects large amounts of snow.

Other scoop shovels are used for agricultural purposes to move grain, gravel, animal feed, or sand.

Pointed tip shovel – They have medium length handles; their pointed tip makes them perfect for digging soft, pre-tilled soil.

Trenching shovel – The long, narrow blade is curved to cut rounded edges when laying pipework. It is very sharp to slice cleanly through the soil; thus, reducing the risk of collapsing sidewalls.

Drain shovel – Very similar to a trenching shovel but with a narrower blade for more pin-point and accurate work. Used most often in trench clearing and transplanting plants and shrubs.

Posthole – This shovel has a cylindrical, sharp blade that cleanly cuts a hole for fencing or signposts.

Mini shovels – mostly used by keen gardeners for re-potting and planting small plants and seedlings. The smallest of all models are known as garden trowels.

Midi-sized shovels are found in most households and used for gathering up swept piles of dirt, dust, and debris.

Read More: The Different Types of Shovels

Things to Consider When Buying a Shovel or Spade

Before spending any money, consider why you need the tool. Although somewhat interchangeable, using the designated tool will save the user in terms of effort.

The weight and length of the tool are crucial. Short spades make back-breaking work even worse for a tall user.

The construction materials of the shaft, handle, and blade, determine the durability and service life of the tool.

All of these factors have a direct effect on the handling, strength, and purpose of the equipment.

Annette Marsh
For the past twenty years, Annette has allocated much of her free time towards gardening and landscaping related tasks; Planting flowers and trees, weeding, pruning, mulching, mowing, constructing ponds and various other structures, as well as growing and maintaining a vegetable garden.

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