Difference between spade and shovel

shovel vs spade

Shovels and spades are often confused. They look alike and are commonly used to for  similar tasks. This article is designed to help you determine the difference between a spade and shovel. We start by providing some definitions and then dig a little deeper into a spade vs a shovel toward the end of the article.

The Spade – Definitions

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a spade as a “tool used for digging especially soil or sand, with a long handle and a flat blade.

Oxford Dictionary states that a spade is a”tool with a sharp-edged, typically rectangular, metal blade and a long handle, used for digging or cutting earth, sand, turf, etc.”

Dictionary.com provides the definition as a “tool for digging, having an iron blade adapted for pressing into the ground with the foot and a long handle commonly with a grip or crosspiece at the top, and with the blade usually narrower and flatter than that of a shovel.”

The Shovel – Definitions

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a shovel as a “tool resembling a spade with a broad blade and typically upturned sides, used for moving coal, earth. snow or other material.”

Oxford Dictionary indicates that a shovel is a “tool consisting of a wide, square metal or plastic blade, usually with slightly raised sides, attached to a handle, for moving loose material such as sand, coal, or snow.”

Dictionary.com defines a shovel as “an implement consisting of a broad blade or scoop attached to a long handle, used for taking up, removing, or throwing loose matter, as earth, snow, or coal.”

Difference Between Spade and Shovel

Blade Differences –  The big difference between these two tools is the shape of the blade.

The blade of a spade is square or rectangle and is typically narrower than a shovel blade. The edge that hits the ground is sharp and flat. 

A garden shovel has rounded sides that often come to a point at the end of the blade where shovel first hits dirt.

Handle Differences – A shovel typically has a long handle that is straight. A spade commonly has a D-grip on the end like the photo above or a T-grip. The handle or shaft of the spade is often shorter than the shovel.

Construction Differences – Spades and shovels are typically made from the same material. They are just shaped differently.

Uses – The blade of the shovel is commonly pointed, so it is good for breaking through tough dirt. Its primary purpose is for moving things such as sand, soil, gravel, and other loose material.

The primary purpose of a spade is for digging and it is commonly used to plant bushes or trees. Its sharp and flat edge make it ideal for edging around the garden or cutting through roots.


We have laid out the differences between a spade and a shovel in general terms above. There are, of course, variations to the above. If you look at our article on car snow shovels, you will see that a lot of these shovels look like spades. This is at least partly why these tools so often get confused. Overall, both the spade and shovel can typically perform the same tasks. It is just a matter of finding which one is more effective or practical for a given job.