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Trench Shovel. What Professionals Say

There are always projects where you need a narrow and deep trench in hard or compacted soil for pipelines, planting trees, or creating garden edgings. This is where a trench shovel excels with its long handle and narrow blade, providing leverage and maximum soil removal with each scoop.

Trench Shovel:

A trench shovel is a gardening tool to dig shallow trenches, clean out, and tidy up deeper holes. It has a sharp, narrow blade that is tapered to get the maximum digging performance and extract large clumps of soil with easy transportation. Apart from digging trenches, these shovels can also flatten out trench beds for underground pipelines.

In this article, I will explain what tool you should use for digging trenches, what a trench shovel is used for, and how to dig in rocky soil. At the end of the article, I will look at what does make soil compact and how to loosen compacted soil.

Is There a Tool for Digging Trenches?

It becomes inevitable to dig trenches when burying anything, from a single, thin wire to multiple large pipes. Several tools and power trenching instruments are available for digging trenches, each with a different level of performance, cost, and efficiency. A few of these tools are:

1. Drainage Spade

The drainage spade digs uneven, rough, deep trenches up to 12 inches deep and 5 inches broad. The Drainage spade’s narrow circular shape and blade length help to penetrate hard ground.

However, remember that it forms a trench with a rough and rounded bottom. You can use a trench shovel or a trenching hoe if you want deeper trenches with a neat, leveled base.

2. Trenching Hoe

The trenching hoe is designed to dig flat-bottomed trenches at least 5 inches broad and up to 24 inches deep. It lifts hefty loads, digs trenches and pits, and draws the load back toward the operator. Its blade should be kept sharp and wiped after every use to ensure the best results and prevent rust.

3. Trench Shovel

Trench Shovels create 18-inch deep, 4-inch broad, narrow flat-bottomed ditches. These shovels are also known as step-trench shovels due to their raised back surface. This design allows you to walk on them when digging.

They are challenging to use, but their high lift angles are helpful when moving soil from the trench.

4. Walk-Behind Trenchers

A walk-behind trencher can be an excellent choice if you have to dig long trenchers. The gas engine or electric motor powers the machine, making it less exhausting. They are ideal for digging nimble, medium-depth trenches. Most of the time, they only go down three feet, but some may go as far as four feet.

The controls are located near the front of the machinery, where the operator stands. A digging chain is situated at the rear. A walk behind trenches is much more expensive and needs much more maintenance than most other options.

5. Mini Powered Trenchers

A mini-powered trencher looks slightly like a chainsaw, with scoops attached to the chain. The engine will make the work somewhat less exhausting and helps dig through tough soil. But as you have to carry the machine, it is less convenient as a walk-behind trencher.

What Is a Trench Shovel Used for?

The trenching shovel, also known as a ditch shovel, is a tool made specifically for digging and clearing trenches. 

The best tool for digging a trench is the one that needs the least amount of labor, effort, and fatigue. And this is what a trenching shovel is best at. Some trenching shovels have long, slender, pointed blades, and others have tapered mouth blades. They are narrower at the cutting edge than at the shoulder, which helps build smooth trench walls and minimize soil disturbance.

The long, pointy-tip trench shovels have narrow blades 4-6 inches wide. They are designed to dig narrow holes and are often used when installing irrigation pipelines. Some models also include box sides to help remove excavated material without damaging the trench.

Most trenching shovels have straight handles; however, some variants with D handles can be found. Similarly, the heads can be straight or angled depending on the use. The angled heads aid in the soil removal process.

What Shovel Is Best for Breaking Through Soil?

Sharp, thin, rounded shovels work best for breaking through the soil since their blade can easily cut through dense, hard soil. 

I recommend picking a shovel with a pre-sharpened blade, as it will easily cut through the soil and provide better soil penetration.

What Are Round Point Shovels Used for?

A round point shovel is used to lift heavier material, including pebbles or damp dirt, or to dig a large hole. These shovels can cut through the soil with their sharp edges, and their bowl-like design makes removing and moving plants from the ground easy. 

The shovel’s blade is slightly bent for scooping, and the base is spherical. The long handles are made from wood or fiberglass, and the blade edges are very sharp.

What’s the Difference Between a Trenching Shovel and A Clean Out Shovel?

The Trench Digging Shovel is used to dig into the ground, whereas the Clean-Out Shovel is used to clear loose soil from the base of a freshly dug trench. This creates a stable, flat surface for pipes carrying water or sewage to rest on.

The handle of the clean-out shovel is angled higher to minimize back bending when digging into the trench bottom. It also can cut or dig at high areas of the trench bottom.

Trench-digging Shovels are hand trenching tools that can dig up to 18″ deep. It is occasionally useful for clearing loose soil from the bottom of a trench, even though it lacks the clean-out shovel’s boxed sides.

How Do You Dig in Hard Rocky Soil?

There are two tools to help dig into hard rocky soil:

1. Deep Spaders for Hard Rocky Soil

In some gardens, the soil needs to be broken up or loosened for improved mineral absorption. Deep Spaders resemble a bulkier, heavier garden fork and help to break up and loosen heavy clay soils.

For this purpose, insert a deep spader into the ground with all the force and draw it out at an angle.

2. Using Garden Forks

You can also use a garden fork to break up the top hard and rocky soil layers. Forks are more likely to keep earthworms in the soil than mechanical tillers.

You can loosen the soil by inserting the fork deeper into the ground and turning the handle. A D shape fork is better for maintaining a stronger hold on the end. A cultivator fork is a type of garden fork with its tines bent at a 90-degree angle.

Why Does the Soil Compact?

Soil compaction refers to the hardening of soil when its particles are pressed firmly together. Compaction reduces the soil permeability for water and other nutrients, thereby affecting the soil’s fertility.

Numerous factors contribute the soil compaction. Some of them are:

1. Soil Overturning

Soil turning means breaking up the soil into much finer particles with a tiller. Despite being beneficial for improving soil structure, excessive tilling or overturning can instead press the soil particles together and increase the overall hardness.

This affects the soil porosity and inhibits the flow of water, air, and other essential soil nutrients.

2. Adding Sand

When sand is added to the soil in large quantities, the additional weight may cause the soil to press and harden. Also, adding sand into finely broken soil without mixing it can create patches of dense sand that decrease soil porosity.

3. Improper Irrigation

The prolonged water stays on a patch of soil, causing the soil to harden when the water dries out. If you work on a crop field, ensure proper irrigation arrangements and prevent soil saturation with water. Apart from compaction, this can also save your soil from water logging.

4. Compression under Weight

The soil in construction sites, areas with a lot of foot traffic, parking lots, or urbanized places receives considerable weight and pressure daily. This reduces the tiny spaces between soil particles and increases its overall compactness. The soil in such areas may not be suitable for plant growth.

How to loosen Compacted Soil?

Ground Breaker is a soil penetrant chemical for lawns and gardens that penetrates quickly and can be used for even the most heavily compacted surfaces. It is a powerful, safe-for-plants soil penetrant which improves soil porosity and stimulates plant growth.

Here are a few other methods to help loosen up compacted soil

1. Restricting Heavy Machinery

Suppose you have a lawn subjected to high pressure from heavy machinery such as tractors, tillers, harvesters, or ground vehicles. In that case, you should consider limiting the exposure of your soil to these conditions to improve its structure.

2. Lawn Aeration

Aeration primarily loosens the soil and provides passages for minerals, water, and air to seep into the ground and be available for plant uptake.

For soil aeration, multiple tools are available. Hand-held aerators are excellent when working on small lawns or tight spaces. For large lawns, aerator shoes with spikes are a perfect choice since they gradually make holes in the ground as you walk across it.

Mechanized lawn aerators are also available. They are similar to lawnmowers, using ground spikes instead of cutting blades. They can aerate large surface areas within minutes with the trade-off of added cost. Renting one could be a good option.

3. Increase Organic Matter

Organic matter such as manure or compost tends to benefit your plants as it directly improves the nutritional content in the soil. Indirectly, it can also help prevent soil compaction.

Proper manure mixing into the soil improves the soil structure and water-holding capability. Another thing to remember is that adding organic matter to soil might attract earthworms, which will only further break up your hard ground.

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  1. Charlie May says:

    How deep of a trench can a trenching shovel dig?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      A trench shovel can dig a narrow, 18-inch deep trench in hard soil. However, if you need a deeper, cleaner trench, consider using a drainage spade or a trenching hoe.

  2. Kirk Obrien says:

    The section on how to loosen compacted soil was very helpful.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you for your feedback, Kirk! I’m glad you found the section on loosening compacted soil helpful. Happy gardening!

  3. Jo Carpenter says:

    I never knew there were so many types of trenching shovels!

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Jo! Trenching shovels are indeed versatile tools for various projects. Happy digging!

  4. Margie Wells says:

    What’s the best way to store a trench shovel?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      To store your trench shovel, clean off any dirt and debris and hang it on a hook in your garden shed or garage to keep it easily accessible for your next project.

  5. Zoe Mcdonalid says:

    Is there a specific technique for using a trench shovel?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      “A trench shovel is perfect for creating narrow and deep trenches in hard soil. Use the long handle and narrow blade for leverage and maximum soil removal with each scoop. Happy digging!”

  6. Colleen Simpson says:

    Interesting read, I always struggled to dig in rocky soil.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Colleen! A trench shovel with its narrow blade is perfect for digging in rocky soil. It provides leverage and maximum soil removal with each scoop, making the job easier.

  7. Caroline Hall says:

    Thanks for explaining the difference between trenching shovels and clean-out shovels.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you for reading, Caroline! I’m glad the explanation was helpful. Let me know if you have any more questions.

  8. Joe Rivera says:

    Do all trench shovels have wooden handles?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Yes, trench shovels typically have wooden handles. They provide a sturdy grip and are comfortable to work with, making them a popular choice for digging trenches.

  9. Deann Reed says:

    Can you recommend a trench shovel for beginners?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      A trench shovel with a long handle and narrow blade is great for beginners, providing leverage for maximum soil removal with each scoop. Check out the Drainage Spade or Trenching Hoe for deeper trenches.

  10. Renee Parker says:

    Great visuals in the article, they really help understand the tools better.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you for your feedback, Renee! I’m glad the visuals were helpful in understanding the tools better. Happy gardening!

  11. Joyce Romero says:

    This article has inspired me to invest in a trench shovel for my gardening projects.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you for your comment, Joyce! Investing in a trench shovel for your gardening projects is a great idea. It will definitely make digging those trenches much easier and efficient. Happy gardening!

  12. Sergio Lawrence says:

    Can trench shovels be used for planting as well?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Yes, trench shovels can be used for planting as well due to their narrow blade and long handle, providing leverage and efficient soil removal. Happy planting!

  13. Lucille Garza says:

    I never knew about walk-behind trenchers, that’s interesting!

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Lucille! I’m glad you found the information interesting. Trench shovels are indeed a handy tool for specific projects where a narrow and deep trench is needed in hard soil.

  14. Samantha Jensen says:

    Are trenching shovels easy to clean?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Trenching shovels are easy to clean as they are designed for efficient soil removal. You can easily wipe them down after each use for maintenance.

  15. Kaylee Walker says:

    Are there any safety precautions to keep in mind while using a trenching shovel?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Hi Kaylee, it’s important to wear closed-toe shoes, gloves, and eye protection when using a trenching shovel. Stay hydrated and take breaks to prevent fatigue. Happy digging!

  16. Andrea Jenkins says:

    Can a trench shovel be used for other gardening tasks?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Yes, a trench shovel can be used for digging shallow trenches, planting trees, creating garden edgings, and more. Its narrow blade and long handle provide leverage for maximum soil removal.

  17. Marian Montgomery says:

    Very informative article, I had no idea about the different types of trenching tools.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Marian! I’m glad you found the article informative. Trenching tools are essential for various projects that require digging narrow and deep trenches.

  18. Kenzi Fields says:

    I appreciate the tips on how to dig in hard rocky soil.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Kenzi! I’m glad you found the tips helpful for digging in hard rocky soil. Keep up the good work in your gardening projects!

  19. Jean Gonzalez says:

    Do trench shovels come in different sizes?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Yes, trench shovels come in various sizes to suit different trenching needs, from narrow and deep to broader and shallower. Each size offers specific advantages for specific trenching tasks.

  20. Dan Bennett says:

    Thanks for the detailed explanation on different trenching tools!

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      “Thank you for your feedback, Dan! I’m glad you found the information on trenching tools helpful.”