The term “spading fork” and “garden fork” seem to be interchangeable in most gardener’s minds. However, there are two main types of garden fork; the hay fork (pitchfork) and the much stronger spading fork. Using either for the wrong job will cause some serious problems – both for you, and your fork.
Hay forks are useful predominantly for their name-sake: hay. They’re lightweight, usually sport a much longer shaft and often don’t offer a D-handle at the operating end. They are a great tool for gardeners when distributing straw mulch, picking up piles of leaves or shovelling new material into the compost heap.
But that’s about where their usefulness ends.
The spading fork, on the other hand, is terrifically robust with flattened tines to create a spade effect, a much shorter shaft and a D-handle to help maneouvre it through your gardening chores. This tool, in the hands of an avid gardener, can weave magic through so many garden tasks that to not have one would be almost unthinkable.
The garden fork has possibly more uses than your yard spade and I can assure you will come out of the shed more often than it as well. So, when selecting a spading fork that’s going to last the distance there are a few things to take into consideration.
The first one is the shaft. Some are constructed using soft or hardwood timbers. Others swear by fibreglass and there are even a few steel options kicking around today as well. My advice, for what it’s worth, is to steer clear of soft timber shafts and fibreglass ones as well. The hardwood timbers are less likely to shatter compared to their softer, less durable, counterparts yet they’re better at absorbing shock than the fibreglass forks. Stainless steel is a great option if you’re looking for something that’s going to last a lifetime as it doesn’t rust nor corrode and won’t break.
The tines are the next important place to consider. The distance apart and the length of the tines are paramount and should be overviewed with the quality of the steel used to manufacture it. If the tines are hollow it offers a much lighter spading fork but the chances of it buckling on a stone or corroding from the inside is increased. If they’re solid tines then expect to be building some muscles over time but at least they will last the distance.
The final consideration is the handle. It should be ergonomically well-fitting plus it should be joined well to the shaft. Many of the cheaper spading forks have a single rivet holding the handle to the shaft and over time these can loosen and make your fork downright annoying to use. Opt for a handle that is precast or welded – yes plastic can be welded – to the shaft and seems rigid enough to stay secure.
Once you’ve chosen a spading fork for your requirements then the next trick is maintaining it so that it does last. Keeping it out of the elements, cleaning it after use and hanging it off the floor in the off-season will go a long way to sustaining its useful life.