When you have a small trench to dig, the last thing you need is the expense of renting a backhoe or mechanical trencher
YOU COULD USE ANY TYPE OF spade or digging shovel for the first foot or so of a trench. But in time, all you end up with is a backache. The right tool for the job will let you continue to work at ground level, get the job done right, and save you from a lot of unneeded soreness.
And it's that soreness that leads us to this article. Finding the best trenching shovel will save you a whole bunch of it. Because even professionals will break out the hand trenching shovel for short runs.
So lets get started and learn what a trenching shovel will do for you, what to look for and a few top picks to help you find the best one.
Using a wider shovel typically means moving excess dirt which is more work and stress on your back/knees digging it out, and filling it in
This type of shovel is often referred to as a "clean out" shovel as well as a trench shovel. This is because they are designed to help you scoop up any loose soil in your trench after it has been cut. The cut can be completed by hand or by using a powered trencher.
The most important thing to remember is that the trench shovel is not designed to cut down into the soil. If you look at the design of this type of shovel, you can see that the blade is not really wide enough for you to get your foot on it.
This, in turn, means you will not be able to put enough downward pressure on the shovel for it to cut through anything but loose soil. However, the narrow design makes it the perfect shovel for cleaning out trenches that are both narrow and deep.
With this in mind, you may want to consider using a tile or drain spade to cut the sides of the trench and loosen the soil before using a trenching shovel to remove the soil and to finish shaping the trench.
A trench shovel should be narrow in design and feature perfectly straight sides and a pointed end. The straight sides are used to help keep the edges of your trench nice and straight, while the point makes it easier to scoop out any remaining soil.
Like any other piece of gardening equipment, the last thing you want to have to do is go out and spend more money replacing it because you bought the wrong one. So, what should you be looking for when buying this type of shovel?
There are 5 main parts. Here we go over them in detail
A Razorback trenching shovel in action. Image courtesy of Home Depot
This is perhaps the most important part of any shovel, whether you are buying one for trenching or digging holes in your backyard. There are three types of shovel blades, those with pointed tips, those with rounded ends, and those with square ends. All three will do the job, but each has its own advantages:
Pointed end – goes into the ground more easily
Rounded end – goes into the ground easily and does a better job of scooping up loose soil
Square end – makes scooping larger amounts of soil easier
They also have their disadvantages:
Pointed end – not very efficient at scooping soil
Rounded end – less efficient at scooping
Square end – not made to cut into soil
Always choose a blade that is made from steel as they tend to be stronger and are more likely to give you many years of service for your money (my personal preference as I hate wasting money). Look for tempered or forged steel for maximum value.
Also look for one that has a lip at the top of the blade that gives you somewhere to apply pressure with your foot. (Nothing hurts worse than trying to press down on the sharp edge of a blade that doesn't have this lip.
Handles are typically either fiberglass or wood, both of which are truly fine for this type of work as they should never be subjected to heavy twisting as you might expect when digging a hole.
If you are going to look for one with a wood handle, Ash and hickory are the most commonly used materials as these hardwoods can stand up to a lot of abuse. One tip though, be sure the grain runs along the length of the handle as this ensures maximum strength.
Any fiberglass handled shovel you buy is going to have some form of grip that covers the area where you might commonly put your hands. This is done to protect your hands in the event the fiberglass should splinter.
Depending on the length of the handle, a "D" style handle may be used (especially on shorter handles) to give you more control. Some wood handles are nothing more than a long length of wood without any form of handle. Again, you have to decide which style is likely to work best for you.
A close up of a collar. Image courtesy of Bully Tools
The collar is the point at which the handle and the blade come together. Less expensive shovels are built with the handle being trimmed to fit tightly into the collar where they might be secured in place using a screw or a nail.
This could eventually become a problem as the wood ages and the screw or nail becomes loose in the handle and falls out. The best trenching shovels feature at least one, if not more, rivet that runs completely through from one side to the other to ensure maximum durability.
This is where the top of the blade has been folded over to give you somewhere to put your foot to help force the shovel into the ground. While the step doesn't need to be excessively wide, it needs to be wide enough for your foot to fit and allow you to apply the required pressure without hurting the bottom of your foot.
While some come without a step, look for those that do, you will find them much easier to work with.
No matter what type of shovel or shovels you finally decide to add to your collection, if you don't take good care of them, you will be replacing them on a frequent basis.
The best way to store a steel-bladed shovel is to place it head down into a 5-gallon bucket that has been filled with sand that has oil mixed into it. This mixture will keep out moisture and stop your shovel from rusting.
If you buy a shovel that has a wooden handle, it should last for decades. But, if you want to ensure it does, you should wipe it down to remove any dirt. Then take a rag that has been lightly soaked in linseed oil and wipe every inch of the handle. The oil will help keep the wood protected and prevent it from decaying over the years.
There are so many different types and brands of trench shovel on the market, finding the right one can be challenging. However, armed with the information above, you should have a better than average chance of finding exactly what you need.
Bear in mind (if the wife says it o.k., you can always have more than one shovel in your garden tool inventory). Here then are my top 7 picks for best trenching shovel:
This trenching shovel from Seymour comes with a 48-inch long fiberglass handle and features a rounded tip blade that makes digging and clearing trenches much easier.
The blade features rear-rolled steps designed to make digging and cleaning out much easier. The PermaGrip® collar ensures you never have to worry about the blade coming loose from the handle. It also features a cushioned grip handle for more comfort while you work.
|48 – inch long handle||Fiberglass handle has a lot of flex|
|Cushion grip handle||May receive a Structron brand, not Seymour (same company)|
|Round tip for easier digging||Some are shipped with a front roll instead of rear roll step|
This trench shovel offers a uniquely shaped blade that has been designed specifically for digging and cleaning out trenches. It features a 4-inch wide blade that is perfect for use in narrow trenches such as those you might dig to install a sprinkler system in your yard or garden.
The blade is made from heavy gauge tempered steel for added durability and features a front rolled step for added foot comfort. The blade and handle are riveted together to ensure they remain tightly connected.
|47.5 – inch long hardwood handle||Not for initial digging of trench|
|Forward turned step for secure foot placement||Head to handle angle is a bit much for some|
|Riveted for extra-strong head to handle connection||Step needs to be a little wider for comfort|
This trenching spade features a heavy-duty 5-inch wide blade made from tempered steel that is more than strong enough to get the job done. The blade has a pointed end that lets you break tough ground and work in rocky soil.
The fiberglass handle has a 9-inch cushioned grip to help give you more control and reduce hand fatigue. The extra-wide rear-turned step gives your foot a more stable platform to work with and more stability.
|Heavy-duty tempered steel blade||Fiberglass handle flexes|
|Wide rear-turned step for more stability||Blade may fold if used in high-clay soil|
|Sharp point makes sinking blade into ground easy||Handle breaks where it enters the blade|
The V-angled head of this trenching shovel makes it easy to use for penetrating a wide range of soil types. The 1-inch sides make it much easier to retain the soil you have scooped instead of watching it slide off the sides.
Features a 48-inch long ash hardwood handle for maximum durability. The extra-deep sides also give the blade more structural rigidity for those harder tasks such as working in clay-heavy soil.
|48-inch ash handle for strength and durability||35-degree handle makes digging challenging|
|13-guage steel blade||Not the best choice for heavy soils|
|Pointed end great for digging into soil||Hard to keep foot on top of blade|
The D-handle on this drain spade makes it much easier for you to maintain control while you are digging or scooping the soil out of your trench. Features a 14-inch long tempered steel blade and a round tip that makes it much easier for you to cut in the sides of your trench.
The hardwood handle is designed to provide you with years of flawless service. The blade features forward-turned steps for more secure foot placement while digging.
|D-handle for more control||Plastic handle may break|
|Hardwood handle for maximum durability||Short handle can be hard on your back|
|Strong blade doesn't bend||Blade needs to be sharpened before use|
This "sharp shooter" shovel features a 16-guage super heavy-duty steel blade. This blade has forward-turned steps for better foot placement and a hollow back design.
The handle is 48-inches long and has an oversized ergonomically designed end that improves your grip and gives you more control., The fiberglass handle has a polystyrene core that is surrounded by a polypropylene sleeve that adds strength, chemical and weather resistance, and durability to the assembly.
|Multi-layer handle for durability||Handle has a lot of flex|
|16-guage steel blade is very strong||Toe step is too narrow|
|Ergonomic handle takes some of the pain away||Blade needs to be longer|
This drain spade is ideal for smaller trenches as it features an extra-thick steel blade that measures 3-inches wide and 12-inches long. The closed-back design helps to reduce debris build up.
The handle is made from wood reinforced fiberglass for superior strength. In fact, you are more likely to bend the blade before you can break the handle. The extra length ferrules and welded I-beam supports work together to create an extra-strong shovel.
|Wood reinforced fiberglass handle is extra tough||Point is blunt and must be sharpened|
|Extra-long ferrules and welded I-beams||Blade is only 3-inches wide instead of 4|
|Heavy-gauge blade does not bend||Wood/fiberglass handle not covered under warranty|
While the trenching shovel may be your best option, it may not be the most efficient tool for the job. Another very popular option is the Trenching Hoe or Grub Hoe. This very easy to use tool can make digging smaller trenches go smoothly and quickly. In fact, all you have to do is use the hoe to chop into the ground and then drag the soil up and out of the way.
The Warren Hoe from Bully tools features a fiberglass handle that is weather and chemical resistant and features a cushioned grip. The blade is made from extra-thick 12-gauge commercial grade steel. The head measures 5" x 6.5" allowing you to cut the size of trench you need with ease.
The handle is made from wood reinforced fiberglass for maximum rigidity and durability. The handle measures 6 feet long.
|6-foot-long wood reinforced handle||Heavy|
|Handle is securely attached||Long handle can be hard to use|
|Very sturdily built||Blade has no edge needs to be filed|
When you have a trench to dig, you need the right tools to get the job done with the least amount of work, stress, strain, and pain. You can use either a trench shovel or a trenching hoe to get the job done, personally, I have both to make sure I can get the job done in a hurry. I like the two from Bully Tools as not only are they made in the U.S.A. but they offer great value for my money.
If you have any information you would like to see here, please contact us here.
Thank you for reading this guide on finding the best trenching shovel. I hope it has helped.