Skip to Content

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.