In many ways, shovel design has not changed overmuch since prehistoric man first thought of using the shoulder bone (scapula) of a large animal to cut into the soil for any sort of digging process. All that is needed is a flattish “blade” that can be forced into the ground and then subjected to leverage to lift up a portion of the soil for removal. Whether this action is called digging or shovelling is a moot point linguistically but the terms are interchangeable for most people.
Time passed and mankind developed. Hunters might wish to dig holes to make pit like animal traps and, maybe they needed to shovel debris out of a cave from time to time but, once we became crop planters, “tilling” the soil became more important and this was probably when most of the evolution of our spades and shovels came about.
Animal bone can break easily and, once we had invented wood working tools, some wooden shovel blades would have come into existence. As and when harder materials like bronze and iron became available, these would also have been used for shovel blades. With metal shovel blades came the opportunity to give the blades special shapes to match certain individual digging or scooping requirements.
Whether it is a piece of bone, wood or iron, holding it directly in your hand and digging with it is a wearisome experience. A digger’s life became so much easier once some ancient “mastermind” came up with the idea of fixing the shovel blade onto the end of a wooden shaft and, thus, invented the shovel handle. Refinements like “T” pieces or “D” shaped handles would have come much later. Wood would have been the automatic material of choice since it was the most readily available and the easiest to make to the required shape and size.
From this point on, the antique shovels and spades are easily recognisable by comparison to today’s examples. The only changes having been more by way of refinements to customize a shovel for a particular use. Coal shovels, snow shovels, digging shovels, etc, etc – all very similar but each with a slightly different blade shape.
About the biggest basic change has been with alternatives to the wooden handle. Due to human activity, wood is no longer in such abundance as it was in the past. This means that it is no longer a cheap raw material and modern synthetic materials can (and do) replace wood in the name of economy and/or added strength.
No doubt a space age carbon fibre or graphite composite would make a great shovel handle but it would hardly be economic. However, a Fiberglass Handle Shovel will possess good strength and relatively low production cost and these are currently gaining in popularity.
Curry ToolWorks produce a uniquely shaped shovel blade known as the EarthTalon which is available as either wood or a Fiberglass Handle Shovel. Check them out at
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