Spades are cutting tools, used for cutting soil, sod, or plants. Their blades are kept sharpened for this purpose. Like shovels, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Medium Garden Spade

The medium garden spade is an all-around spade for the average gardener. The blade is about 8 inches wide and 12 inches long, and the socket on a good spade is about 10 inches long. It has a flat or rolled footrest and a low blade-to-handle cant, which enables you to work without bending too much when cutting border edges or digging straight-sided holes for trenches or trees.

Heavy-Duty (English) Garden Spade

The heavy-duty garden spade differs from the medium spade in several significant ways. First, the blade is the same size, but the socket is two or three inches longer. Second, on a high-quality tool the Y of the handle is filled with a piece of hardwood for greater rigidity. The heavy-duty spade also has a higher degree of cant, which gives the greater power that’s required in order to pry up heavy soil or rocks. Only if you do this kind of strenuous work will you need this type of spade.

Border Spade

Because the border spade is smaller all around, it is ideal for more confined areas, such as borders. Since the head is only about 5 inches by 9 inches, the spade weighs less than 4 pounds. Compare this to about 4 1/2 pounds for a medium spade and more than 6 pounds for a heavy-duty spade.

Tree-Planting Spade

The tree-planting spade is a specialty tool, but it is worthwhile if you are planning to plant or transplant a dozen or more trees. A tree-planting spade has a wide footrest but a blade that’s long and narrow (about 7 by 16 inches). The cupped blade makes it easier to dig round holes for planting trees. Because the handle is subjected to great strain when the spade is used for prying and lifting soil from a deep hole, buy a spade with an extra-long socket or with forged-steel straps that extend more than half the handle’s length.

Irish Garden Spade

The Irish garden spade is a versatile tool that’s used for standard spading, working on borders, or planting trees. The distinctive T-handle adapts to both big and small hands, and its greater length (35 to 40 inches) is useful for digging deep holes or trenches. It is a favorite of gardeners who like to double-dig a garden. Where other spades have a socket, a high-quality Irish spade has straps that run up a third of the handle. These straps, which are forged as part of the blade, provide more flex and strength than a socket.