The word "shovel" comes from Old English "scofl" or "scofan" meaning "to thrust away". The shovel is a versatile tool often used for digging instead of a spade. But, first and foremost, the shovel is designed to lift and throw.
The blade of the shovel is scooped rather than flat. This dish shape facilitates carrrying and throwing dirt without spillage. The best shovels have tapered blades. The blade will be thinest at the end to allow for easier penetration and thicker at the top of the blade where the bending stresses of digging are focused. If a shovel has a tread on the top edge of the blade, this will help protect your feet from bruising caused by repeatedly applying your weight to drive the shovel into the ground. Nevertheless it is advisable to wear sturdy thick-soled footwear for digging.
The shaft of the shovel can be made of wood, fiberglass or steel. Fiberglass and steel are stronger than wood but not as good in absorbing the shock if the blade strikes a rock. We recommend a wooden shaft of straight-grain ash. Cheap shovels tend to be open-backed (have a hollow depression on the back of the shovel where the shaft is fitted to the blade). These open-backed shovels are less durable and have a tendency to snap. The strongest shovels have a closed back and are forged from a single piece of steel.
When selecting a shovel, choose one that has the blade set at an angle to the shaft. This allows you to push the blade into a pile without bending your back.
This is the most common type of shovel and is an excellent all-rounder for most garden tasks. Some jobs may be best performed with a specialist shovel but such specialist tools have a limited scope of use. The round-point shovel is ideal for breaking hard ground because the all the force is focused on a single point.