Caring for Shovels, Spades, and Forks

Clean your digging tools after using them—see Caring for Garden Tools.

Hollow-back (open-back) shovels collect dirt in the hollow and in the base of the socket. Check to make sure these parts are clean. Then oil the shovel lightly and put it away. And remember to take care of the handle, too—sand off the protective varnish before using the shovel for the first time. Then, once a year, give it a good rubdown with boiled linseed oil.


Shovels rarely need sharpening. Forged shovels, for example, are self-sharpening; stamped shovels are never sharpened. However, keep spades sharp if they are used for cutting (their intended purpose). Use a file to touch up the edge of a spade. Place the spade horizontally in a vise or put it on the ground with the blade pointing away from you. With a bastard mill file, make one continuous motion across the spade edge from one side to the other. Follow the instructions in Sharpening Hoes and Spades.

Replacing Broken Handles

Using a shovel improperly—for example, as a pry bar to move rocks or to break up heavy clay—is the reason why handles get broken. A cracked handle can be repaired (see Repairing Garden Tools) but the best solution is to replace the entire handle. The hardest part is removing the handle from the socket. However, if you follow these steps carefully, you will end up with a tool that’s good as new.

  1. Secure the broken shovel in a vise, then file or grind off the head of the rivet.
  2. With a nail or punch, drive the rivet out.
  3. Select a new handle with the proper curve. With a wood rasp, shape the handle to fit the socket.
  4. Insert the new handle into the socket. Drill rivet holes and insert the new rivet.
  5. Secure the rivet end by flattening with a ball-peen hammer.