On the face of it, there isn’t much to a garden fork. The number of tines, and their type and what sort of handle or no handle are about as much as the common Joe thinks about forks. To be perfectly honest most people, other than gardeners and farmers don’t see much difference between using a fork and using a spade.
That shows how much you know.
A spade moves soil. That basically is all it does. The US Army once called a spade “A terrain reconstruction implement”.
A fork is much more versatile. It is used like a spade, but in most circumstances it is better than a spade. In hard soil, the tines make it easier to push it into the ground. You can sift out stones and weeds. Stones are much less of an obstacle and a fork does not cut through weed roots or root-crops.
Garden forks are made of carbon steel or stainless steel. In medaeval times they were made of wood. It was only after the Industrial Revolution that they came to be made of metal.
Back in the day, a fork was a fork was a fork. The common Joe’s approach to forks was probably about right. Nowadays, we have garden forks, hand forks, digging forks, potato forks and pitchforks to name but a few. It’s no longer a case of just asking the shop for a fork, the fork inquisition will arrive and grill you about the type you want.
On that note, here are some considerations when selecting a fork:
- Area to be forked
Have a look at the area to be cultivated, your working space. Small gardens will need only small garden forks. Perhaps you fancy working while sitting down. Larger areas, perhaps your vegetable patch will need a bigger fork, and you standing up.
You will be doing hard physical work, well work, with the fork. You want one that is comfortable in the hand and won’t give you blisters after ten minutes. Weight too is important. A heavy fork will make short work of rough terrain but you will be knackered very quickly. Too light a fork and it won’t deal easily with anything other than sandy soils.
Balance is also important. A fork with good balance and weight distribution will make work so much easier.
Basically, think about where are you working, and how long you want to work for. Most gardeners will take the middle road and choose a fork that is heavy enough for their garden, but light enough for them to be able to turn in a good days work. Unless you are using digging as part of your fitness regime, where building muscles by turning over the concrete slab buried in the back right‑hand corner of the garden is your aim.
Some other considerations:
Beware of cheap forks made of aluminium alloy. They tend to be weak and break in use. They will also bend and could put your toes in danger. Forks forged from a single piece of metal are better. Many cheap forks are made of an aluminium alloy, which is inherently weak and tends to bend and break at the joints.
- Types of fork
We mentioned several type of fork above, and you should choose one suited to what you want to do:
- Digging or Garden Fork
This is the most basic, usually with three or four tines. Great for soil work
- Hand forks
As it sounds, a small fork that you hold in one hand for small jobs in the herbaceous borders.
- Potato forks
Specifically for those of you that need to dig up spuds. Has blunt tines so it doesn’t damage them.
Everyone knows what a pitchfork is, having seen pictures and films of happy farmers throwing bales of hay into the back of a waggon. Ideal if you need to muck out a stable or need to toss hay around.
Wear safety boots, not beach flip-flops. A tine through the foot can ruin your day. If you are going to work for more than a few minutes, wear gloves. Sunscreen for an extended period outside in the summer. Just be careful out there.
Here are three suggestion for a good garden fork.
Roamwild Multi-Digger Garden Spade
The RoamWild Multi-Digger claims to be the next step in the evolution of garden digging tools. It is described by the manufacturer as being ultra-lightweight and reducing digging effort by upto 80%.
It is made of fibreglass and weighs only 4.5Lbs. The unique V-Shaped design and cutting edge at the side of the business end combine the best of spade action in picking up earth, and at the same time give the fork’s ability to break up clods of earth. The fibregalss construction contributes to the light weight.
The large grip handle provides excellent comfort and flexibility to cope with different types and styles of digging.
Bulldog 7103772890 Evergreen Digging Fork
Like its animal namesake, the Bulldog is a solid forged digging item. The fork has a long socket for durability. It has an ash shaft. For ease and comfort the new ergonomic forward angled hilt sports non-slip comfort feel grips.
The Business end is manufactured from durable carbon steel, and for rust resistance and reduced soil adhesion is epoxy coated. This digging fork is ideal for confined spaces, for example, digging between existing plants and shrubs.
It has a ten-year guarantee, and you should register it with Bulldog.
User reviews are in general very favourable.
Spear & Jackson
Spear and Jackson have been around since the mid 1700’s and have an enviable reputation as one of the mainstays of British gardening equipment. They have a world-wide presence.
The Spear & Jackson Select Stainless Steel Digging Fork is designed for digging and cultivation and is manufactured to exceed the British Standard (BS 3388) load test. The mirror polished stainless steel head provides resistance to rust and ensures minimal soil adhesion, which makes for easier cleaning and ground penetration. The polypropylene shaft features a grip on the shaft for comfortable use and an ergonomic extra wide forward tilting handle for the ideal digging angle during use.
This item carries a 10 year guarantee.
Please note, whilst this item exceeds the British Standard load test it is designed for digging and cultivating. This item should not be used for levering or prising objects, if so used and a tine becomes trapped all pressure is transferred to the trapped tine causing it to fail. What you are levering might then fall onto your foot.
While bearing the S&J name, it does not appear to have the reliability of other S&J products. It looks like manufacture has been subcontracted, and the manufacturers do not have the same commitment to quality as S&J.
Users report it as being poorly made, and prone to failure after a few outings. Not to be recommended.
Of the three items reviewed, we can discount the S&J offering as poorly made and not value for the money.
That leaves the Bulldog and the Roamwild. Because of the innovative design and light weight, The Roamwild seems to be worthy of the best title.