The shovel is one of the most basic and indispensable tools ever created, being used across the globe today whilst still being found in excavations of human settlements from thousands of years ago. It is a tool for digging, lifting and moving materials such as sand, snow and soil. Most shovels consist of a wide flat blade attached to a long handle, or medium length handle. The blade is commonly made of sheet steel and has a fold on the back that adds strength.
The oldest known instance of a recognisable shovel tool was found alongside artefacts dated to 5000 years ago. Interestingly, the fundamental design has not changed significantly in that time, although many subtle improvements have been made in terms of materials used and method of manufacture.
After it's creation early in history the next big innovation came in the form of mass production. The first cast iron shovel was produced by the pioneering American blacksmith John Ames in around 1774. By the 1870s, Amesʼ company was producing over 5000 shovels a day, ushering in an early period of mass production.
The shape of the blade and the long length of the handle from that time are still very much characteristic of modern shovels.
There are many uses for shovels, and they tend to be designed with a specific purpose in mind.
These usually consist of a flat wide blade without upward curves at the sides. They often use plastic for the blades as this is lighter to carry than metal, and wood for the handle. Aluminium may also be used to avoid rust issues.
Similar in design to snow shovels but are more geared towards digging into tight compacted snow, so are often made from harder materials such as metal or carbon.
These are a common form of shovel often used by gardeners, and are named after the square shape of the blade. This is in contrast to the more pointed blades that are usually know as spades. The sharper point is for breaking into the ground, whereas the square blade is more suited to moving larger quantities at a time. There is no fully agreed upon difference between a shovel and a spade, but the shape of the blade is a common distinction. They are usually made from sheet steel, with a long wooden shaft. More modern manufacturers may use fibreglass for the shaft and polypropylene for the handle, if required.
A small, often brass or iron shovel used for scooping cold ashes out of a wood or coal fireplace.
Commonly used for gardening, these consist of a short, pointed blade, curved up at the side, with a small, single-hand-sized wooden handle.
Similar in shape to the hand shovel, but with a longer handle for use standing up. Again the blade is likely to be carbon or sheet steel, with an Ash wood or fibreglass handle.
Camping and emergency shovels
These are usually small and foldable, allowing them to be stashed away somewhere out of the way until needed. They often have a medium sized blade but with a shortened handle with a hinge, and often come with a case. The blades can be carbon steel or plastic, depending on the make, and the handles usually plastic.
Generally a long thin blade with pronounced upturned side flanges. Used for digging trenches.
As with many products now, there is a very wide range of shovels on the market, the sizes and materials used will depend on use, manufacturer and budget.