Forks do about the same range of jobs as shovels and spades, except they work best in non-homogenous material—in rocky soil, manure, or hay. The tines slip easily between particles or strands.

Garden forks are made for turning soil; manure and pitchforks for moving loose material.

Forks for Digging

These forks, often called garden forks, are meant for digging in the soil. They do an excellent job of turning over rocky soil. Some people prefer them for all garden turning because they break up the turned clod more easily than a spade or shovel.

Medium garden forks have a 7- to 8-inch-wide head and 10-to 12-inch-long tines. The medium width of the tines makes them suitable both for digging heavy soil and for lifting and moving loose earth. The handle should be made of straight-grained ash or hickory and be formed in a D.

Heavy-duty garden forks work best if your soil is rocky or contains much heavy clay. The fork, often called an English garden fork, has an approximately 8- by 12-inch head and weighs nearly 6 pounds (compared to about 4 pounds for a medium fork). It may have square tines for increased strength. The socket is longer than that on medium forks to give the handle additional strength. The wood or steel D-handle on this fork may also be reinforced across the Y.

Border forks are like medium garden forks, except that the head is about half the standard size (about 5 by 9 inches or smaller). This fork also has four tines, but here they are broader so that they can hold more soil. The handles remain the same length as for standard garden forks (about 28 inches). These smaller forks are used for working in tight places like garden borders, as the name implies, but they are also good general-purpose tools for younger or older persons with less strength. The tool weighs about 3 pounds.

Forks for Loose Material

Stringy materials, such as straw, hay, or freshly cut weeds, are best handled with a three-tined fork, which is usually a lightweight pitchfork used for working with hay. The finer and less stringy the material, the more efficient a larger number of tines. A four-tined fork works well with whole leaves. It can be used like a shovel to scoop up finished compost or like a spade to dig into it. A 10- or 12-tined scoop fork is easier to use with manure and compost than a shovel.

The lighter the fork, the easier it is to handle. A short, D-handled fork is handy if you don’t have much maneuvering room, such as when you’re turning compost in a multiple-bin system. Otherwise, for leverage and a healthy reach, get the longest handle suitable for your height.

Hay forks (pitchforks) have three or four 12-inch-long tines that are round and tapered to easily slip in and out of hay. Since they are not meant for digging, they have no footrest. The handle on a pitchfork is straight-grained ash or hickory, two woods with great strength and flexibility. Handle lengths range from 4 to 5 feet

Manure forks are meant for moving manure, but also do an excellent job of moving compost and material waiting to be made into compost. They are handy tools for a composter. They are built without a footrest like a pitchfork, but with 4 to 12 broader, heavier tines. Select the number of tines depending on the texture of the material you are moving. Four- to six-tine forks are good for compost material. Forks with 10 or 12 tines are best for finished compost or sawdust. They are broad and shaped like a snow shovel, with raised sides for holding large loads.