Shovels changed the world. Ten thousand years ago, the hunter-gatherer communities of Neolithic era began to make the transition into agrarian societies. They dug in. They stayed in one place and began to farm the land. Early farmers are known to have used shovels crafted from the shoulder blades of a large animals. Today, we take the efficiency and practicality of the stainless steel shovel for granted.
Steel, the metal that would revolutionize farming and gardening tools, would not come into general use until the 17th century. Stainless steel would not be used for tools until the 1900s.
About the same time that stainless steel was beginning to be manufactured, the American mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor began to study the design of shovels. Taylor, one of industry’s first “efficiency experts,” used time and motion studies to analyze shoveling, with the aim to increase the productivity of manual laborers. Taylor and his associates designed differently-sized scoops for shovels, based on the density of the material being dug up.
There are two scoop or head shapes commonly used in gardening. Shovels with rounded or pointed ends are sometimes called spades, and are used for garden tasks that involve digging. Shovels with straight ends are most often used for moving soil or other materials.
Modern Stainless Steel Shovels
Modern shovels are available in a variety of materials, including aluminum, plastic and fiberglass, but for many gardening experts, the quality of the stainless shovel has not been surpassed. While carbon-steel heads are strong, they encounter greater friction than stainless steel. A stainless steel shovel cuts through dirt with less resistance. Shovel heads constructed from steel will be thicker at stress points and thinner at the blade edge, allowing for a strong, sharp blade.
Stainless steel shovels often have a hem at the back to form a socket for the handle. This folded seam adds rigidity to the blade, increasing its strength. Handles are normally riveted into place. The end of the handle may be T-shaped or O-shaped to allow for an easy grip.
The wide variety of shovels available on the market today can make choosing the best shovel for you and your particular gardening needs challenging. Selecting a high-quality stainless steel shovel can simplify the task. There are other aspects to consider when purchasing a shovel as well. Size is an important consideration. A good shovel should allow you to work the tool with a straight back. The blade of the shovel should be wide enough for the width of your foot to press upon it comfortably. The shovel’s weight should have enough heft to it to enable the shovel to cut easily into earth, but should not be so heavy that your arms tire quickly.
Taking Care of Your Stainless Steel Shovel
Once you have purchased your shovel, you’ll want to prolong the life of the tool with proper care. Sharpening your shovel will make it easier to dig through heavy soil or other material. Start by securing the shovel to a workbench with clamps. For sharpening the shovel by hand, choose a large file, hold the file at a 45° angle, and grind the edge from one side to the center. Repeat on the other side. For a power drill, attach a rotary sharpener to the drill.
Applying a small amount of mineral oil to the blade can help prevent rust form forming. Another method for preventing rust is to fill a bucket with sand, then add enough motor oil until the sand is slightly damp. After gardening, dip the shovel into the bucket a few times. Brush off the sand before storing. Keeping the bucket handy provides an easy way to keep other gardening tools clean and rust-free as well.