Tips On Using A Garden Fork – Learn When To Use A Garden Fork


What is a gardening fork? A gardening fork is one of the most important tools to have around the garden, along with a shovel, rake, and pair of shears. Available forks include large versions for upright work and small ones for more detailed, low-to-the-ground tasks.

Types of Gardening Forks

First, there are the forks used for digging or aerating soil: the garden fork, digging fork (a.k.a. spading fork), and border fork.

  • Garden fork – The garden fork is the largest of these and is useful for larger spaces. When to use a garden fork? These tough tools are great for heavier tasks like breaking up hard soil or establishing a new garden. Other garden fork uses include double digging and aerating soil. They are especially useful if you have heavy clay or compacted soil.
  • Digging fork – A cousin of the garden fork, the digging fork (also known as the spading fork) is used for digging or turning over lighter soil types and for harvesting root vegetables. Like garden forks, digging forks most commonly have four tines.
  • Border fork – The border fork is a smaller version of the garden fork, so is it’s good for small people as well as small spaces. You want to purchase a border fork if you have a small garden where a larger fork would be overkill. They’re also useful for borders, raised beds, or other tight places where a larger fork may not fit.

Then, there are the pitchforks, which are sharp-tined forks used for moving or turning over materials like hay, straw, compost, or manure. Farmers use them for moving small hay bales and replacing the bedding in livestock stalls, among other tasks.

Pitchforks can have two, three, four or more tines. Unlike garden forks, the tines are usually curved upwards to provide more scooping ability. Common types of pitchforks in gardens include:

  • Compost fork – A compost fork is a pitchfork with very sharp tines that are designed for cutting into the compost. This makes it easier to grab and lift the compost when turning over the compost pile.
  • Potato fork – The potato fork is a specialized fork that makes harvesting potatoes easier and more efficient. These have varying numbers of tines, usually with blunt ends designed not to damage the potatoes.

All of the above forks are used while standing upright. Hand forks are designed for times when you want to work close to the ground. These small forks are held in one hand and are better for smaller, more detailed tasks.

Purchasing a Gardening Fork

Choose a fork that is strongly made, because poorly made forks can bend with use. Forged tools are stronger than those put together from multiple pieces. Selecting a well-made tool will make using a garden fork much easier, especially if you have heavy clay or compacted soil. A good tool will also save you money over time, because you won’t have to replace it every few years.


Heavy-duty

HOW TO SELECT THE PERFECT

Selecting the wrong tool for the job is the #1 biggest mistake people make when weeding, digging, or cultivating. It can lead to unnecessary exertion and back strain.

That’s why we want to make it easy for you to select the right hoe for every project, every time.

Scroll down past our list of gardening hoes for sale to see the chart of What garden hoes are used for. Also see Why a long hoe handle is important (or just click the links).

Explore Our

All with 5 foot long hardwood handles!

Grub Hoes

This forged digging tool easily tills the soil and chops through sod. Quickly cut through hard soil, grass, stems, and small roots. 4" and 6" versions. Easier than a spade!

● Use to dig & till the soil.
● Forged steel blades.
● Remove sod & big weeds.
● Good for digging trenches.
● More Info

Italian Grape Hoe

For weeding big spaces and garden rows. It's time-tested design easily slices even the toughest weeds. This sharp 2 pound tool head is forged steel for long-lasting durability.

● Quickly weed garden & paths.
● Sharp forged hoe blade.
● Do shallow cultivation.
● Move soil or gravel.
● More Info

Fork Hoe

The forged steel tines of this English tool easily penetrate firm soil. Then pull to stir and aerate the soil, or raise the long handle to remove weeds and their roots.

● Cultivate soil deeply.
● Forged eye hoe design.
● Prepare fine seedbeds.
● Remove matted roots.
● More Info

Pointed Hoe

The large forged steel blade easily cuts through sod and penetrates firm soil. Great for digging and tilling gardens. Also ridges (pulls & piles) soil around plants like potatoes.

● Easily dig hard soil or sod.
● Forged eye hoe connection.
● Create planting furrows.
● Ridge and hill the soil.
● More Info

Ploskorez Hoe

Compact stainless steel blade can weed between close plants, while sharp enough for big weeds. Adjustable blade angle. Complete with 5 foot handle, weighs just 3 pounds.

● Pointed tip weeds between plants.
● Sharp stainless steel blade.
● Wide edge for larger spaces.
● Long flat handle for good control.
● More Info

Hand Hoe

Get up close to your plants and soil. This tool is also called a Hand Mattock. 2 inch wide forged steel blade, and 13 inch hardwood handle.

● Till raised beds & flower gardens.
● Weed tight spaces & under shrubs.
● Chop out large weeds.
● Create planting holes.
● More Info


List of 5 garden hoe categories:

  1. Digging hoes: for digging and tilling, with a chopping action
  2. Draw hoes: for weeding, with pulling / scraping action
  3. Reciprocating hoes: for weeding, with a scrubbing action (has a blade that moves)
  4. Flat hoes: for weeding, with a push-pull action (has a blade that lays flat on the soil)
  5. Sweeping hoes: for weeding, with a sweeping action (handle held fairly straight up)

(each group name is clickable link that will jump you down to it's section)

Group #1: Digging Hoes

Action = Chop
Purpose = Digging and Tilling in all soils

The first (and oldest) style are the ones that started way back when agriculture began. They are used to chop through sod to make a garden space. They are also used to keep that soil tilled up and loose.

These tools typically have a heavy blade or tines that chops into the soil at a 45 degree angle. The handle makes about an 80 degree angle with the blade. The heavy weight is important because it builds momentum as the tool swings downward,and helps them easily penetrate the soil. *Note - remember this paragraph because it also explains why part of the "Draw" category below is hard to use.

It is best to chop thin slices of sod or soil (an inch or two) and then pull the handle back towards you to move or till the slice. (See our article)

Although these tasks can now also be done with a plow or rototiller, these tools are still used here and around the world by those practicing small-scale agriculture, and by normal gardeners who want to avoid the cost and hassles of gas powered equipment.

These tools typically have a heavy blade or tines that chops into the soil at a 45 degree angle. The handle makes about an 80 degree angle with the blade. The heavy weight is important because it builds momentum as the tool swings downward,and helps them easily penetrate the soil. *Note - remember this paragraph because it also explains why part of the "Draw" category is hard to use.

It is best to chop thin slices of sod or soil (an inch or two) and then pull the handle back towards you to move or till the slice. (See “How to Use a Grub Hoe” article)

Although these tasks can now also be done with a plow or rototiller, these tools are still used here and around the world by those practicing small-scale agriculture, and by normal gardeners who want to avoid the cost and hassles of gas powered equipment.

Here are ones with a blade.

● Grub Hoe
● Field Hoe
● Ridging Hoe


Grub Hoe


Field Hoe


Ridging Hoe

● Fork Hoe
● Potato Fork
● Pull Spork


Fork Hoe


Potato Fork


Pull Spork

Group #2: Draw Hoes

Action = Pull / Scrape
Purpose = Weeding in hard or soft soil

This group contains the ones that people are most familiar. If you ask someone to sketch a “garden hoe”, this is what you will get.

The word "draw" also means "to pull". These tools are used by pulling or drawing them towards you. The blade scrapes at or below the the soil surface. If scraping at the surface, the blade will rip or slice the weed stems. If scraping below the surface, it will uproot the weeds.

The hoe head is light - it does not need to be heavy, because this design is not meant for digging deep into the soil.

The blade should contact the soil at a 20 to 30 degree angle, which is optimal for scraping. And the angle between the blade and handle should be about 60 degrees, plus or minus depending on the handle length and your height. And here is where the trouble starts.

The trouble, or problem, with many Draw Hoes is that people do not adjust the neck of the hoe. The "neck" is the rod that connects the blade to the handle. The only reason the neck is there is to allow the user to allow to fine tune the tool so that the end of the handle is at comfortable level for their height, AND AT THE SAME TIME allow the blade to make the proper angle with the soil.

See our article "Adjust your garden hoe" for full instructions and a printable bending template.

The hoe head is light - it does not need to be heavy, because it is not meant for digging deep into the soil.

The blade should contact the soil at a 20 to 30 degree angle, which is optimal for scraping. And the angle between the blade and handle should be about 60 degrees, plus or minus depending on the handle length and your height. And here is where the trouble starts.

The trouble, or problem, with many Draw Hoes is that people do not adjust the neck of the hoe. The neck is rod that connects the blade to the handle. The only reason the neck is there is to allow the user to allow to fine tune the geometry of the tool so that the end of the handle is at comfortable level for their height, AND allow the blade to make the proper angle with the soil. See the article "How to easily adjust a garden hoe to match your height".

Let's list the types of Draw Hoes, and tell their pros and cons.

Standard Draw Hoes:

These are the most common hoes. You can find them at every hardware or big-box store in the land. and they are the worst ones.

This is the group that people have the most trouble with, and the ones that create the general impression that hoeing a garden is really difficult, back-breaking, and time-sucking.

They are rarely made with the blades at the right angle, and many are built with such thick necks that they can not be adjusted. Since the angle is wrong, people often end up hacking at weeds with these hoes, which is what gives hoeing the garden it's bad rap as an exhausting chore.

Why is the most commonly available garden hoe also the worst one to use?

Here is my educated opinion, from being in the garden tool business for 11 years. The reason is that many decades ago, digging hoes became hard to get, and some tool company beefed up a standard draw hoe in a poor attempt to create a replacement for digging hoes. Look at the drawing, see how the geometry matches?

It does not work for two reasons:

One, the hoe head does not have enough weight to allow it to chop through hard ground. The weight ratio for a digging hoe head is 1/2 pound per inch. This means that a 4" wide blade needs to weigh 2 pounds, and a 6" wide head needs to weigh 3 pounds. Standard draw hoes heads are much lighter than this, so they just bounce off of hard soil.

Two, the head-to-handle connection is not strong enough. A real digging hoe has a beefy connection that is designed to withstand the chopping forces. But a draw hoes has a light cone connection, so an hour or two of chopping with it usually results in the head breaking off the handle.

Why is the most commonly available garden hoe also the worst one to use?

Here is my educated opinion, from being in the garden tool business for 11 years. The reason is that many decades ago, digging hoes became hard to get, and some tool company beefed up a standard draw hoe in a poor attempt to create a replacement for digging hoes. Look at the drawing, see how the geometry matches?

It does not work for two reasons:

One, the hoe head does not have enough weight to allow it to chop through hard ground. The weight ratio for a digging hoe head is 1/2 pound per inch. This means that a 4" wide blade needs to weigh 2 pounds, and a 6" wide head needs to weigh 3 pounds. Standard draw hoes heads are much lighter than this, so they just bounce off of hard soil.

Two, the head-to-handle connection is not strong enough. A real digging hoe has a beefy connection that is designed to withstand the chopping forces. But a draw hoes has a light cone connection, so an hour or two of chopping with it usually results in the head breaking off the handle.

So is there any hope for this sub-group of draw hoes?
YES - if the neck is light enough, check out our INSTRUCTIONS for how to properly adjust the blade.
BUT -if the neck is too thick to adjust, they are still good for things like pulling loose soil into hills or ridges, spreading gravel, and mixing concrete.

● American Standard
● Draw Hoe
● Paddle Hoe
● Pattern Hoe
● Gooseneck Hoe


American Standard
Typical big-box model


Draw Hoe
Neck too thick to bend


Better design!
Angle easy to adjust

Light Draw Hoes:

These are much better that the standard models, even though they are called “light”. The reason is that it is much easier to adjust the angle, because the necks tend to be lighter and longer. Once these are properly adjusted, they quickly and easily scrape through the top layer of soil to tumble, slice, or uproot the weeds. They are not made for hacking, which could bend the necks.

● Swan Neck Hoe
● Floral Hoe
● Onion Hoe
● Trapezoid Hoe
● Half Moon Hoe


Swan Neck Hoe
Long neck easy to adjust


Onion Hoe


Trapezoid Hoe
Replaceable blade

Heavy-duty Draw Hoes:

These are the oldest and strongest models. Their blade angle is not meant to be adjustable. So it is important they be designed properly, and have a long handle to give you options of where to hold it to create the proper angle.

These are strong enough to hack through big weeds and grass clumps, but also sharp enough to scrape through the soil to slice and uproot small weeds. When designed properly, they are very fast aggressive weeders. But they are too big for fine weeding up close to crops, so best used for for paths, rows, and open spaces.

● Grape Hoe
● Scovil Hoe
● Eye Hoe


Grape Hoe


Scovil Hoe


Eye Hoe in use

Pointed & Plow style Draw Hoes

This bunch is together because the blades are long and pointed, and they are drawn through the soil in longer strokes. Some can be used for weeding in tight spaces, but the more common uses are to create long straight furrows for seeding, or to loosen and till the soil by plowing it.

● Warren Hoe
● Pointed Hoe
● Korean Ho-Mi
● Plow Hoe
● EZ Digger


Warren Hoe


Pointed Hoe


Ho-Mi Plow Hoe

Miscellaneous Draw Hoes:

This is the last of the odd-and-end draw hoes, before we move on to the reciprocating hoes.

Tined Hoes: These have either a single or multiple tines, and are pulled through the soil to loosen and till it. They are good for opening up crusted soil. The single-tine models can be used for weeding in tight spaces between crop plants.

Circle Hoe: I have never used one, though they have some good reviews. Not sure how adjustable that blade angle is, your experience will probably be very dependent on your height and your soil situation.

● Cultivator Hoe
● Cobra Hoe
● Circle Hoe


Cultivator Hoe


Cobra Hoe


Circle Hoe


Watch the video: How to Use a Garden Hoe: Garden Tool Guides


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