Choosing a shovel

30 Aug

Such a simple thing, but small differences between one shovel and another can make a big difference to the effort required. I recommend shovelling earthquake liquifaction for an instant lesson in the subject.  This summary comes from an article on shovelling, in October 1961’s Popular Science:

The Right Shovel for the Job


A shovel’s “lift” is the angle that the handle makes with the blade. The higher the lift, the sharper the angle. For digging, you want low lift so you can press the blade straight into the ground and still grasp the handle comfortably. A high-lift handle forces you to lean too far forward, throws you off balance, and tires you. For shoveling, such as spreading earth, sand, gravel, and other materials, you want a high-lift handle so you can slide the blade flat along the ground without stooping.

To check for lift, hold the shovel’s blade flat against the floor with your foot and measure the distance from the handle tip to the floor. For digging, this should be no more than 22″ (560mm) for long handled shovels of about 58″ (1500mm). For shoveling, you want at least 32″  (800mm) to put the handle at a comfortable height.

  • Check for “LIFT” by measuring distance from handle tip to floor with blade held flat. It should be at least 32″ (800mm) for a good high-lift shovel, no more than 22″ (560mm) for a low-lift type.

  • You want low lift for digging as it permits handle to remain comfortably upright as you drive blade vertically into ground. High-lift handle throws you forward, off balance.

  • You want high lift for shovelling as it lets you slide the blade along the ground without bending over. A low-lift shovel makes you go into a tiring stoop to keep blade flat.


Hang” is the distance the blade is dropped below the handle line by the downward curve at the joint. You want a deep hang for horizontal shoveling and material moving. It lowers the load’s center of gravity and helps-like a pendulum-to keep the blade from tipping sideways and tiring your wrists.

You don’t want a deep hang, however, on a digging shovel; it would be harder to control. The off-center blade is more likely to wobble as you press it into the ground and to tip as you lever it out. It’s also more awkward to get a good down-thrust on the blade.

  • Look for blade “HANG” when choosing between digging and shoveling. For shoveling, a deep hang is low and stable. For digging, a shallow-hang blade is less likely to wobble.


Try the balance, too. Rest the shovel across a chair back like a seesaw. If it is correctly balanced, the blade will remain right side up. If it rolls over, upside down, it’s likely to do the same in use. The effort to hold the blade upright under a load will strain your hands and lead to blisters.

  • Try the balance by resting shovel across a chair back or other support. Blade should remain upright. If it flops over, it is unbalanced and will twist uncomfortably in your hands.


What length handle? The long handle is best for stand-up digging and scooping as it saves you stooping. It also gives you a longer reach for spreading topsoil and other materials.

The shorter D-handle is better where you want to toss loads with good accuracy. The crosspiece in the grip gives you something to push against at the start of the throw and something to haul back on when you “shoot” the load.

A D-handle is also a must for working in tight spots, as in a deep pit or trench. Only a little more than half the length of a long handle, it lets you grasp it easily at the end with one hand and just behind the blade with the other for good leverage and control.

  • Long, straight handle gives you more reach for stand-up shoveling without stooping or for getting down into pits and trenches. When hole is deep enough to stand in, switch to a short D-shaped handle. It lets you work in confined spaces, is easier to grip for tossing loads.

 

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