Alternative Digging Tools

Fred's guide to specialist digging and cultivating tools

Tried and Tested By Fred-in-the-Shed

Updated 2nd July 2024

Forks and Spades were designed to move soil -not rocks, roots and rubble

This page will help you find tools to compliment your fork and spade to make them last longer


On This Page

Contractors Fork & Spades

Pick Axes for Soil Breaking

Pry Bars and Root Diggers

Lightweight & Specialist Mattocks

Long Handled Irish Spades and West Country Shovels

Shorter Tools and Children's Digging Tools

Fixing Broken Forks & Spades - Spare Handles

Digging Tools For Gardeners with Backpain




Garden forks with wooden handles are for digging soil - not rubble

Firstly - buy a contractors type fork or a mattock if you are doing building work

Keep your nice shiny forks for garden work!

Bulldog All Metal Trenching Fork

 Bulldog BUL5TSAM Shovel, Green

 Bulldog 5TM2AM All Steel Taper Shovel, Green

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Mattocks, Picks and Azadas


Best Tools For Digging Stony Ground and Removing Roots

Most people will use a fork or spade to try to remove large roots or rocks from soil and the most likely result of this is a broken tool. Over the last 20 years I have received hundreds of e-mails from readers who have broken their tools by using them inappropriately. Forks and spades were actually designed for digging SOIL and even the strongest of these tools can be broken if you lever it against an immovable object.

There are so many better tools for removing roots, stumps and rocks. Also they are relatively cheap and will save you a fortune in broken tools and time and effort too.

The Mattock is an incredibly strong tool that uses gravity to break into the soil. It origins go back thousands of years when primitive man used animal bones to dig and variations have been found through all ages and parts of the world.

Apart from digging holes, and moving soil this tool is fantastic at clearing weeds and removing smaller root systems.

Available in a range of sizes and qualities from many manufacturers.

If you are removing large roots or breaking stony soil buy a proper pickaxe, or a specialist root digger. So many people try to lever out roots and stones with their fork or spade but a big metal bar is far more effective. However, if you have not cut the roots properly even this wont work so make sure you have all the roots cuts before you lever. Having the right tool for the right job makes work more enjoyable and saves time too.

A wooden pick axe handle should last years but fibreglass is even more durable as it is not effected by heat and moisture.

I love the Roughneck fibreglass handled tools and the mini mattock is absolutely superb for weeding too.


Roughneck Micro Pick Mattock with Fibreglass Handle

Roughneck Fibreglass Pick Mattock (2.27kg head)

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Pry Bars and Root Diggers


The Best 3 Tools For Removing Tree Roots

Draper Heavy Duty Scraper and Root Digger with Wood Shaft

Faithfull 60 inch Digging Bar 14Lb

Roughneck Fibreglass Pick Mattock (2.27kg head)

Radius Rootslayer - specialist spade


The Faithfull digging bar or pry bar will save your fork and spade from destruction.

I have used one for years and removed dozens of trees with it.

The Draper root cutter can also be used as a scraper.

Use a root digger and pry bar for deep work when removing stumps and large roots.

The mini mattock below is around £12 and its cutter end is very effective at cutting roots.

 Roughneck Micro Cutter Mattock with Fibreglass Handle


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Full Sized Digging Mattocks

(For soil only)

These simple 2 part tools have been around for decades and are known as Azadas, Mattocks or Digging Hoes.

The head is not fixed in the handle but this is normal for tools of this type.

The head size varies between manufacturers but the handles are usualy all 120cm long.

The 3 versions below all have 120cm (48 inch) handles but slightly different size heads .

The handles just slot into the head and remain loose but you can make a better fit by soaking the handle end in water or better still Linseed oil.

If you want a more fixed head make and insert a small wooden wedge.

A small word of warning. Wooden handles are not the same quality as they used to be, so if you receive one with a crack or defect - send it back.

Draper  Digging Hoe

Full Size Azada Garden Digging Hoe with Wooden Handle - 120cm

 Full Size Garden Digging Hoe / Azada with 120cm Wooden Handle



Stainless Steel Mattock & Fork

(For soil only)

Sneeboer mattock & fork

Total length 59 inches (very long) - Expensive Artisan Tool

This hand forged tool from Holland has to be the Rolls Royce of Mattocks. Using the skills developed by their grandfather, the Sneeboer family have crafted this impressive tool from high quality stainless steel and ash.

It is designed for light garden work in soil and is not the type for heavy duty use.

Unlike many of the far eastern produced handles this one is from carefully selected slow grown Ash and has a nicely rounded end for added comfort.

It's pricey but will be the pride of your shed and in my opinion is also a work of art!

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Old Fashioned Digging Tools

Irish Spades, Cornish Spades and West Country Shovels

Long handled round point Irish Spade, also known as Celtic Spade, Cornish spade, Irish Spade, and West Country Shovel

West Country Shovel

Known to some people as the Cornish Spade this tool is slightly wider and flatter than the Irish Spade and although strictly speaking it is a shovel.

This tool is superb for digging holes and can also be used like a shovel.

The sharp nose, or round point of the metal blade penetrates the soil easier than a traditional spade.

This is a large tool with a 54" wooden handle (you could cut it down easily). The head is 10.5" wide and 11.5" long.

Bulldog West Country Shovel



Square  Head Irish Spades


It is longer than a standard spade to enable trench and deep hole digging.

To make things clear a spade is designed for digging into soil and a shovel for moving material. However a very strong shovel can be used to dig sand and soil too, especially if it has a pointed end.

The T handled Irish Spades is one of my favourite tools. They are superb for digging planting holes, and of course trenching.

The quality and design of these tools have not changed for over 100 years.  Rabbiting or Agricultural planting spades are also good for digging holes or narrow trenches.

 Spear & Jackson Neverbend Professional Irish Spade


Other Easy Digging Tools

Bulldog T handled Rabbiting or Planting Spade

Bulldog Premier Rabbit/ Planting Spade

Spear & Jackson Agricultural Planting/Rabbiting Spade

These short handled thin bladed spades are great for planting jobs. Bulldog is one of the most famous brands of British digging tool and I have had enquiries from around the world for them.  I used Bulldog tools as a kid and my dad used them too, (in fact I still have one from that time).

Which is the best spade handle? T handle or D handle ?


No significant difference - more a matter of personal choice.

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Modern Lightweight Shovel

Fiskars Xact Shovel

This excellent wide headed shovel for moving heaps of soil, sand or gravel.

It has a huge comfortable handle and oval section shaft for strength and lightweight.

Made in Finland, this shovel is a quality tool, made to last.

 Fiskars Large Xact Soil Moving Shovel



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Digging Tools for Shorter People


 Bulldog Premier Border Fork and Spade

These shorter and lighter tools are suitable for people of a similar stature and are popular amongst ladies and older folk

The total length is around 94cm where a full size fork or spade will be 106 cm and a "long handled" tool up to 126cm.

Bulldog Premier Border Fork

Bulldog Premier Wood Border Spade


Also if you are a bit short and want even lighter weight forks and spades then it is worth considering the Draper Young Gardener range which are cheaper and made of carbon steel.

Draper 20680 Young Gardener Digging Fork

Draper 20686 Young Gardener Digging Spade

Spear and Jackson make some nice Stainless Children's tools

Spear & Jackson Traditional Children's Fork

Spear & Jackson Traditional Children's Fork

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Now we live in the throw-away society spare parts like handles are not easily available for the tools that are sold in garden centres and DIY superstores.

Most of these tools are made in China or India and just labelled with traditional English names for UK sales, fixing their handles is probably not worth the effort.

If you have an old tool that was made in the UK and the handle has snapped then the best advice I can give you is to either try the ones on the links below or contact a local woodworker or blacksmith type person to see if they can help.

Apart form these links below I do not supply or know anyone who supplies wooden handles for garden forks and spades.

Faithfull Ash Yd Handle Straight Taper 28IN

Am-Tech Replacement Fork/ Spade Handle


Replacement D shaped handle for shovels, spades or forks  

5 Rivets for shovel spade fork handle repair 50 x 6mm

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Soil Cultivating Tiller

Wolf Soil Miller

This well made German tool that has been in production for at least 25 years. It is ideal for re-cultivating large areas of soil without the need to dig or bend. It will not clear away large weeds as they will get caught in the spiked wheels that are designed for breaking down the soil.

The rear of the tool has a swinging blade that cuts down to 4 inches in the soil. It is used in a backwards and forwards motion to enable the spiked wheels to break down the soil dug up by the swinging blade.

I have used this fantastic tool for over 15 years and recommend it to people who have good soil and regularly prepare open soil for vegetable planting.

The Wolf Soil Miller is part of the excellent Wolf Multichange system where around 50 tools and handles are interchangeable.

Many manufacturers have introduced this type of tool system but none have lasted as long as Wolf or made them to the same quality or had the consistency of distribution in the UK.

Wolf Garten DAS Multi-Change Soil Miller - handle sold separately


Ridging Tool

 Wolf Garten JAM20 Multi-Change Ridger

Another superb attachment to go with Soil Miller is the plough shaped ridger which is a popular tool for allotment and small holders who grow a lot of plants in lines.


Kikka Digga Digging Attachment

 Kikka Digga Garden Fork & Spade Digging Attachment

This clever UK designed device screws onto most forks and spades with the 2 plastic knobs at the front.

It enables you to lift the soil easier and flick it forwards without any bending when digging over areas of open soil. It can be reomved very quickly if you want to use your spade for digging a planting hole or shovelling .

I tested the Kikka Digga when it first came out when it was painted white, it is now grey and has quick release knobs.




Backsaver Garden Tool and Wolf Terrex Autospade Spares - NO LONGER AVAILABLE

Backsaver Spade (spade and spares no longer available)

The original Wolf Terrex Autospade was replaced and improved with stronger components and fork head option

The newer version was known as the backsaver garden spade.

This excellent tool is used for digging over open soil and enables larger areas to be dug without the user having to bend or strain.

It was developed around 40 years ago and was very popular with allotment holders and vegetable growers. Although it is a spade it is not suitable for digging planting holes or shovelling.

A special technique is used which requires a shallow trench to be dug first across the width of your plot. Then you start behind the trench and flip the soil into the trench using the lever and spring to do the hard work. As you work backwards you will also be digging the next trench.

Remember to release the small spring when you store your spade as this will make it last longer!

Sadly replacement springs are no longer available!


The bad news is that the spade and parts are no longer available!

Try Ebay for  "BACKSAVERGARDENTOOLS" for spare parts and second hand spades.


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Still can't find the tool you are looking for?


If you found my advice helpful and would like to support my work, please return to this page and use my links when purchasing your tools.

Also any other products bought from Amazon at the same time will produce a small commission that helps cover my hosting costs.


Or - if you prefer you can make a small donation using the PayPal button below thanks, Fred



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