Types of shovels | Best excavators 2022

There are few things as useful as a shovel. It digs and moves a variety of materials, dirt, gravel, sand, snow and ice, debris, asphalt and concrete. It scrapes, prys, digs its way through roots and is even useful for fighting bushfires. The more you know, the more impressed you will be with its versatility and wide applicability.

Below, we outline the two essential types of shovels, what their typical uses are, and how to put them to work in some – potentially surprising – applications we’ve gleaned from our years of use and testing.

The two essential types of shovel

The most common shovels are the square nose and round nose size number 2. These have steel blades ranging from 10 gauge steel (thickest) to 16 gauge (thinnest), although the most common blade thicknesses are 12 and 14 gauge. The shovel blade starts out as a bar of high carbon steel, which is red-hot and then forged into shape. The blade and the socket, which connects the blade to the handle, are a single piece of steel. The longer the socket length, the more you can lift with it and generally you can be harder on the shovel, as having more socket length to hold the handle improves the shovel’s ability to withstand leverage .

The anatomy of a shovel

There are two different types of shovel backs. The open back, on the left, is lighter, but allows material to accumulate. The closed back, right, is heavier but keeps dirt and other things from building up for easier digging.


‣ When you look at the back of the shovel blade, you will see one of two features. Either there is a cavity where the steel has been formed to make the socket, or the cavity is closed with a piece of welded steel.

‣ A shovel with a visible cavity in the back of the blade is known as an open back. These shovels are intended to move debris that does not stick and accumulate at the back of the blade, accumulating in the cavity under the socket. The absence of the plate welded to the back of the blade makes the shovel lighter. When the cavity is closed, the shovel is called a closed back. This is a heavy duty feature more commonly found on shovels used for digging in wet material and clay. Without the welded steel plate that closes the cavity, all that dirt could stick to it. But it adds weight.

‣ The shovel step is self-explanatory. This is the part of the blade that is forged forward, providing a surface you can put your foot on to dig hard. The harder the digging you expect to do with the shovel, the larger the pitch you need to aim for.

‣ Shovel handle can be approximately 27-48 inches long; occasionally you will see very long handles in the 60 inch range. The handle can be a steel tube, wood, a variety of plastics, a composite of plastic and wood, or wood wrapped in fiberglass. Industrial shovels almost always use a wood-plastic composite or all-composite handle, with a few heavy-duty models using the steel tube handle. Shovels with short handles normally have a D-handle at the end. This allows for better and more natural grip and arm movement when digging in tight spaces. You can place your palm forward on the D-handle, for example when cutting vertically with the shovel. Or you can place your palm on the back of the D-handle, which allows for better hand position and arm movement when lifting with the horizontal scoop.

‣ The socket that attaches the blade to the handle ranges from 8 to 12 inches. The longer the socket, the stronger the shovel, because increasing the length of the socket adds weight but helps the shovel resist leverage better.

The round nose shovel

round nose shovel as a point of support
A round-nosed shovel, especially an open-backed shovel, can be a handy point of support. The round nose gives you the ability to tilt the shovel slightly left or right as needed for easier lifting, if needed.


Round nose shovels (also called round tips) are primarily earth digging tools. Use them to plant holes, dig out dead or diseased plants, turn mulch into the ground, fight forest fires, and dig rocks. (But to extract rocks that weigh more than, say, 50 pounds, use a digger bar.)

Surprising use

Open-backed shovels make incredibly effective footholds. Place the shovel face down on the ground, place the tip of the digging bar under what you want to lift (like a fence) and place the length of the digging bar into the crevice of the blade. You can use your foot on the digging bar to provide strength. The digging bar will pivot well in the crevice at the back of the blade.

Pro Tip: Go Long

Short-handled shovels (27 inches) are generally more useful in tight spaces, such as working in a trench or when working conditions do not allow you to use a long-handled shovel. Another example of close digging occurs in flower beds, when you plant or remove a shrub and an adjacent shrub (that you don’t want to disturb) gets in the way. You’ll find a shovel with a 48-inch-long handle to be more versatile for general digging and certainly more efficient if you come across a rock or root that you need to dig out. A longer handle will always provide more effective leverage than a short handle.

The square nose shovel

square nose excavator in demolition
Square nose shovels make amazing levers for dirty demolition. You can use them to remove flooring, drywall, plaster, etc.


A square nose excavator is primarily intended for transferring materials, such as sand, gravel, embankment gravel (a combination of sand and gravel), crushed stone, concrete, and mortar. It can also be used instead of a dustpan to pick up demolition debris.

Surprising use

Square-nose shovels are quite nimble in demolition jobs, where you can use them to lift drywall and plaster, remove loose insulation from floor and ceiling cavities, lift trim, and lift fixtures and fittings. plumbing fixtures to remove or remove them. be broken. In this application, we are not talking about precise demolition in which materials are recycled for further use. It’s demolition meets guerrilla warfare.

Pro Tip: Grind the “ears”

With repeated use, especially on a hard surface like concrete or asphalt, the center of the blade will wear down. But the up-facing portion of the blade doesn’t wear the same, leaving two ears (for lack of a better description) on the blade that project forward. These can prevent the shovel from cutting cleanly into a corner. Imagine trying to reach debris in a basement and skimming the shovel along a concrete floor, stopping it by running it (slightly) into the basement wall. The ears prevent the edge of the shovel from coming into contact with the wall, preventing you from clearing debris in the corner where the wall and floor meet. The solution? Grind or file the ears so that the front edge of the shovel is once again a continuous straight line, extending from one up-facing edge to the other.

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