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    Groundworking tools

    Shovels and spades

    Although similar in appearance the shovel and spade are two very different tools and are used for different jobs. A spade is used for digging while a shovel is primarily used to lift material although there are exceptions which are explained below. But both tools share several manufacturing and design characteristics.

    Firstly, they can both have a D-handle, T-handle or straight handle. Secondly, shafts made from tough, synthetic materials like fibreglass and polypropylene are now replacing the traditional wooden shaft that has been common to both tools.  

    Finally, the blades of spades and shovels are made from hardened steel. As a guide when buying a new spade or shovel, when tapped against a masonry wall or kerb the blade should make a clear ringing sound rather than a dull thud.  



    A spade has a sharp, flat blade and is designed for digging, as the blade will cut through the soil. 


    Shovels have curved side-edges making them suitable for lifting substantial loads of loose material. There are three main types of shovel: 

    Square-mouth shovel

    The most common type of shovel is the square-mouth shovel with its wide, square blade and curved edges making it suitable for lifting material e.g. sand, cement etc. 

    Trench shovel

    The trench shovel has a long narrow blade and is used for digging channels. 

    Round-mouth shovel

    The wide blade narrows to a rounded point making it ideal for both digging and lifting material.



    Rakes are used for levelling and smoothing loose surfaces such as gravel or soil. 


    A T-shaped tool with a long thick handle made from either wood or fibreglass.  The head of a pickaxe will be made from forged steel and will have a sharp point at one end while the other end will resemble a stone chisel. A pickaxe is used to break up hard stony ground. Pickaxe heads come in different weights, so always choose one that is comfortable use.



    A rammer is used for compacting areas of loose material such as rubble or aggregate. It consists of a long tubular steel handle attached to a small flat metal block. Due to the small surface area of the block, more pressure is exerted onto a smaller area producing greater compaction.


    Post-hole digger

    This tool has two curved blades facing each other with each attached to its own handle. With the handles pushed together the blades should be driven into the soil, then before lifting the blades from the ground, force the handles apart. This is how the post-hole digger holds on to the soil as you remove it from the ground.  To deposit the soil, simply bring the handles together again. A post-hole digger will cut narrow cylindrical holes and is most likely to be used for digging holes for fence posts and gateposts, when an ordinary spade would be too wide. However, this tool is not very effective on hard rocky ground.



    The versatile crow bar is made from drop forged, heat-treated steel and is usually about 600mm (24 in) long. At one end of the bar there is a flattened chisel blade, while the other end of the bar is hooked (sometimes referred to as a swan's neck) with a ‘V' cut in the end. The hooked end is used to lever out large nails or screws. The end with the flattened chisel blade is ideal for positioning in narrow gaps e.g. between a wall and the top of old skirting board before prising it away. 


    A wheelbarrow is a quick and efficient way to move large, heavy materials around the site. However, it is important to remember that a garden wheelbarrow will probably be too flimsy for groundwork. This type of work will require a wheelbarrow of robust construction that will withstand rough treatment as it is used to move rubble, gravel and other building materials. 

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