Monday, February 2, 2009

shovel love

Please don't read this entry if:
  • You hire people to do your shoveling
  • Dirt = yuck to you
  • You are not a huge nerd
Otherwise welcome to The Muskeg Harpy's review of field-capable shovels.

I love to dig. I like the way the blade pierces into the soil. I like stomping on the top to drive the blade in. I like how my shoulders feel when they are turning over a furrow. Digging is the best part of gardening to me. I have worn the points off of all of our round point spades at our house. I may actually buy a new shovel this year. Those shovels I use at home are decidedly different from those I use at work.

I dig for a living. That's what I do, literally. My whole summer is hiking and digging holes with my trusty Razorback D-handled Sharpshooter. Packability is incredibly important in a place where the weather is more often than not awful and you have to carry a rifle everywhere you go.

This is sometimes called a Tile Spade or a Drain Spade. The model I prefer has a 16" blade and hardwood handle. I've tried the fiberglass models, but they are heavier than wood and don't really last. Plus, wood gets a nice patina as it ages. It weighs in at about 6 or 7 pounds. The 16" length is a perfect diagnostic length for determining wetland or upland soils. Their main drawback is in sandy, dry soils. Luckily those only exists in Yakutat. For that area I like a good roundpoint, so I generally go with something like this:Something like this lets you dig large, open soil pits. It's also a bit shorter than a tile spade. I don't like it because it takes longer to dig a soil pit than with the tile spade. It will work in a pinch but I wouldn't pick one out from a catalog.

The last shovel in my arsenal is a beast called the Montana Sharpshooter. This thing weighs in at a hefty 12 pounds and is made of solid steel. It's designed for busting through Montana Sod or something.
This shovel is an awful beast of a shovel. I was forced to use one after I broke my lighter (better) wood handled one in Colorado. I had a divot in my shoulder from carrying that dumb thing around. It's also pretty narrow so it takes a long time to poke a satisfactory pit in the ground. I guess it'll put hair on your chest if nothing else.

I, of course, have several smaller shovels at my disposal. I also carry a huge serrated knife for digging. That's a lesson for another day.


  1. Hey I know you! You wouldn't believe this, but my coworker was doing some research on shovels on the internet and came across this blog. He sent it out to the other soil scientists in the office, and I exclaimed "Oh my God! I know her!" (Saw the dorky FS helmet in the profile picture and had to check.) Thought you'd like to know that I am no longer in Alaska. It was a good run, but I couldn't handle the winters. Now I'm in your old home state, sunny California! Mapping soils in Sonora, to be exact.

    On topic, remember the time I broke that wooden-handled spade shovel my first day of digging? Talk about a shovel that wasn't up to the task! Off-topic: best summer ever!

    -Chris (Hoo-nuhhh! Summer '06)

  2. That is so funny! The dorky helmet strikes again. Glad to hear your still working in the dirt world. I'm gearing up for a pretty intense summer mapping S. Kruzof and Yakutat. I miss summer 06 too.

    I need to try and write more about soil. It's my consuming passion