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I was just reading this article, When would I prefer a shovel with a rounded blade over one with a pointed blade?. The answers said something like, "That's a spade not a shovel".

So what is the difference between a spade and a shovel?

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4 Answers 4

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Seems it depends where you live!

In the UK, a spade is most definitely not a shovel, they're two different tools intended for different usage. A shovel is broader, more curved from left to right, and sometimes longer in the blade, sometimes slightly broader at the sharp end, sometimes with a sort of ledge running either side down to the tip. Occasionally you find a shovel with a pointed tip, and the other difference is, they come in numbered sizes. It's the sort of thing builders use when shovelling sand or concrete into a mixer, or mixing cement by hand, for instance, or for shovelling coal, or shovelling loose topsoil from a pile into a wheelbarrow.

A spade is what's shown in the pictures under the question you refer to, whether it has a rounded tip or not. Its shape and weight are designed for digging in the ground - try doing that with a shovel, and you'll quickly discover the difference between the two, apart from their appearance.

Googling 'shovel' should produce images of actual shovels... at least it does when I do it.

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At least in America, distinctions fade with distance from our more rural past. Today the words are used interchangeably except by specialists, but the spade is for digging, the shovel is for scooping. This difference manifests itself as an angle in between the handle and blade of a shovel while the spade is more or less straight from handle to blade. The snow shovel is a good example to imagine. You hold the handle and the blade approaches parallel to the ground so you can slide it under the snow. A spade has a nearly straight handle for the same reason a chisel has a straight handle, so you can easily judge the angle the blade is entering the ground to control the shape of your 'excavation.' A spade would be used to break up the ground and then a shovel would be used to heave the dirt out of the hole or into a wheelbarrow. Its just digging though, no one will complain as long as you move the dirt.

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yes, this is the distinction for me, digging vs scooping and the angle of the blade to the handle. –  Kate Gregory Jan 19 '13 at 15:30

Ok this one gets on my nerves! I live in the UK and have worked as a landscaper/labourer etc. But I'm pretty sure I've known the distinction between a spade and a shovel since I was a kid. Two different things! I've done work for friends before and I've said "fetch me a shovel" and they've brought me a spade. And vice-versa. I was thinking how can you not know the difference. It's a like a pen and a pencil or a car and a bus!!!

A shovel : from which you get the verb To Shovel. Often you will be shovelling loose material (eg gravel) from a hard flat surface (eg a road). Requires tool with angled blade so it can be flat on the ground whilst the handle is not. Getting the blade flat on the ground means it can be pushed under the material more easily than attempting to push directly into the material itself (especially true for coarser material with big lumps in). Usually has a broad straight leading edge to gather most material. And also has fluted sides to hold material in. Useless for digging out earth (see next)

A spade : Used for digging. Straighter almost totally straight angle of blade so most cutting force can be generated. Narrower blade, usually of thicker more stiff construction than a shovel blade. Can be propelled into compacted earth etc with great force in order to dig out material. Can be used for shovelling but somewhat inefficiently and will have you desperate for a shovel.

You can also get a long handled cross between the two often with a pointed blade. Not so good for shovelling from the floor. I call this a French spade. Don't know why, and I tend to only use the short handled varieties described above. In fact I think the "original" spades and shovels were long-handled. Then came the industrial revolution and mining - and in the confines of a coal-seam a long-handled tool is impractical, hence the short-handled equivalents were born and are still here.

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That's correct. In the US, most dictionary definitions follow those clear and different descriptions ... although colloquially both are frequently called shovels.

When people in the US talk about shovels, it's important to know whether or not they call a spade a spade.

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since there are two other answers, it's hard to know what you are deeming correct. Perhaps this should be a comment on one of the other two answers? –  Kate Gregory Jan 19 '13 at 15:31

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