Alternative Digging Tools

Fred's guide to specialist digging and cultivating tools

Tried and Tested By Fred-in-the-Shed

Updated 26th May 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


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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!

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. Its 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 won’t 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 pickaxe handle should last years but fibreglass is even more durable as it is not affected by heat and moisture.

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

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.

Pry Bars and Root Diggers

(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 inches) 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!.

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 as 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.

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 the 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.

Other Easy Digging Tools

Bulldog T handled Rabbiting or Planting Spade

These short handled thin-bladed spades are great for planting jobs. Bulldog is one of the most famous brands of British digging tools 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.


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

Soil Cultivating Tiller

This well made German tool 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 Multi change 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.

Ridging Tool

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

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

Kikka Digga 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 removed 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

Backsaver Spade

The obsolete Wolf Terrex Autospade has a replacement from a new company and was improved with stronger components and the availability of a fork head AND stainless steel spade head!

The new version is known as the back saver (for obvious reasons) and is available with carbon steel or a stainless steel spade head. It also has stronger springs than the original Wolf Terex Autospade

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!

The good news is that the parts for the new version also fit the original version.

Google “BACKSAVERGARDENTOOLS” for spare parts and new spades.

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

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