Fred-in-the-shed's Guide to Garden Forks and Spades

Updated 21st May 2022

A collection of tools in use and my trusty old S&J Neverbend spade

In the UK many of us grew up using old blackened forks and spades owned by our parents.

These British made tools last forever and I still come across 100 years old examples still in use.

Most garden forks and spades sold today are of inferior quality and design and made in the Far East.

They are made to cater for gardeners who don’t want to spend much on tools.

Some are made to look like quality tools and use posh sounding names to fool the public into thinking they are getting the best.

On This Page

Whatever the label says - No one really makes forks and spades in the UK anymore.

Luckily you can still buy top quality, solid forged forks and spades made using the original British forges and under the supervision of British experts.

 You can also buy superb Dutch-style tools if you don’t mind spending around £80.

This page is my attempt to help you find the best tools and avoid the shiny fakes

Another piece of landfill from a “leading” manufacturer and sold by a “leading retailer”

CASE STUDY - BUYING A FORK AND SPADE

If you try to buy a fork or spade you will find that they range enormously in price, for no apparent reason. Why does that shiny stainless steel spade cost less than that dull and boring painted one?

It could be because one is a poor quality duffer. But which one? I will lead you through the marketing hype to the truth about buying tools.

I WANT TO MAKE A BIG AND IMPORTANT POINT

STAINLESS STEEL DIGGING TOOLS ARE NOT THE STRONGEST

EVEN IF THEY COST MORE

IF YOU WANT STRENGTH THEN DON'T BUY SHINY!

This is me being shown the Wigan forge by one of its owners.

The stages of a Bulldog Spade are forged from one piece of solid metal.

In 2009 I visited the forge in Wigan to see how the best forks and spades are made. It was the only factory left like this in Britain and was over 200 years old when the forged part shut and moved to India in 2014.

This hot solid forging technique makes the tool as strong as possible, and as important as light as possible. This is because the tool head is one piece of metal with the same crystalline structure. When metal has welded this changes and can introduce weakness in certain points.

Most forks and spades you find in shops and catalogues are NOT hot solid forged, they are pressed and/or welded. This is to cut costs but creates inferior tools.

Luckily Bulldog and Spear & Jackson still make some solid forged digging tools after moving their forges to India.

Not all of their tools are this quality so if you want the best please read this page and use my links.

Fred's current recommendation for the best fork and spade

These Neverbend tools are solid forged and the spade has the flat treads that you won’t find on cheaper spades.

They have a carefully selected ash shaft with a wood and metal, double riveted, YD handle.

The Kew range is the same tools but with old fashioned, arguably nicer, all wooden handles.

Both ranges are way stronger than any Stainless Steel tool.

You can find prettier and cheaper forks and spades but they won’t be as good.

You get a genuine 10-year guarantee from a company over 200 years old.

Do keep your receipt and remember not to use forks for levering up rocks and roots as this is not covered.

Any tool, and particularly forks because of the thin tines can be bent by a strong man with a small brain.

I rate these tools as the optimum for price/quality.

Please read on – and if you decide you like my information please come back here and use my links if you buy some tools.

If there is a supply issue with the Neverbend Pro forks the equally good Kew Fork is a good alternative and usually cheaper.

Use the links below to buy proper full size – solid forged British style tools

Neverbend for metal handles          Kew for more traditional wood

Links below for full size Kew gardens inspired digging tools

Links to S&J Border size tools below

These are smaller and lighter and more suitable for smaller modern gardens

Stainless Steel Forks and Spades -Claims By Various Manufacturers

Stainless steel tools look nice and do slide into the ground easier. However, the metallurgic properties of stainless steel are weaker than solid forged carbon steel.

NO company makes solid forged stainless steel forks and spades

Hence, most of the stainless tools are inherently weaker than solid forged carbon steel,  especially forks, (even though they may cost more)

Sneeboer of Holland made hand-forged stainless steel forks and spades but these are not solid forged, which would be even better.

Made in the UK?

No one really makes solid forged forks and spades in the UK. In either carbon or stainless.

If you see any spade or fork labelled “made in the UK” – be aware this does not apply to the metal parts!

By law, fitting handles and painting the steel now qualifies as made in Britain – sad but true.

A so called “top quality” Stainless Steel Spade sold by a Top Brand Company.

This product has failed because it is made of 2 pieces welded together (badly).

It came with a 10-year guarantee and was a replacement for the previous one that broke. Your time and petrol are not covered by the guarantee.

The environmental cost of manufacturing products for landfills is not covered by the guarantee.

Stainless Steel Forks and Spades

(not solid forged)

Stainless steel digging tools look better and are easier to clean and also slide into the ground better than painted or rust-covered tools.

However, they are NOT as strong as the boring looking, solid forged tools so take care to only use them in good soil for gardening – not building work.

I have used a set of these Spear and Jackson Neverbend stainless tools for many years and they are about as good as you can get.

My 12-year-old S&J Neverbend stainless fork and spade.

They have lasted well but as they are stainless I have made sure they are only used in good soil.

Spear and Jackson make a nice version now with traditional wooden handles.

Another good make for stainless digging tools is Burgeon and Ball.

If your soil is stony or poor - don't buy stainless steel digging tools.

Get yourself a Mattock and use that first.

USE LINKS BELOW FOR THE SMALLER “BORDER” SIZE TOOLS

Craftsman made Dutch Stainless Steel Digging Tools

The Sneeboer family have been making garden tools for generations. Their tools are made from the finest steel and hardwood by a family of craftsmen with tool making in their blood.

Jaap Sneeboer is currently the boss and I have known him for many years now.

When you pick up a Sneeboer tool you feel the craftsmanship and take pride in the work you do with it.

The metal parts are hand-forged and then welded together, which is different from solid forging but still makes a very strong tool.  I particularly love their spades.

A large range of Sneeboer tools are now available in the UK and there is a tool for every job. Jaap Sneeboer even made one for me some years back!

Spear and Jackson make a nice version now with traditional wooden handles.

The spade shown above is a rather chunky tool but Sneeboer also has smaller and lightweight ladies forks, spades and hoes.

As the forks are welded stainless steel and not solid forged do not buy them if you have hard or stony soil.

I think that for really tough conditions a solid forged carbon steel fork should be better.

BEST OF BRITISH – FRED’S GUIDE TO BUYING BRITISH STYLE FORKS AND SPADES

Solid Forged and British –  There was nothing better.

Sadly British made now means putting the handles on.

Which Garden Tool Companies are REALLY BRITISH?

Wilkinson Sword –  American owned – forks and spades made in the far east.

Spear & Jackson  – American owned –  tools made in India but using the old British forge equipment relocated from Walsall.

Bulldog – 100% British owned – some tools made/assembled in Wigan, most in India (including all stainless steel)

Wigan Forge closed in 2013 and forged parts are now shipped in for assembly in the old Wigan factory.

Best value Solid Forged Forks and Spades

Bulldog Evergreen Forks and Spades

One range down from the Premier tools these Epoxy coated carbon steel tools have hardwood shafts but plastic soft-touch ergo handles. The metal parts are forged from one piece for strength and lightness.

Solid forged forks always cost more than spades as there is a lot more skilled work involved in making them.

The Bulldog Evergreen Range are the best value of the top quality solid forged tools

Evergreen Range – Same solid forged heads as the premier range, more modern handles, lower price.

As used by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Please come back and use my links if you are purchasing garden tools and help me find the best tools for gardeners across the globe!

Solid Forged Digging Fork with longer handle

This traditionally made digging fork has an extra-long handle to make digging easier for taller folk.

It is arguable that most forks and spades sold today are too short as they are the same length as tools made hundreds of years ago when people were shorter. It is also obvious that longer tools suit longer people and this fork has the strength to be able to take the extra strain.

It is possible to bend ANY fork if you try hard enough or use it inappropriately

Garden or digging forks are designed for soil and are most commonly damaged when use to lever roots and rocks which is a task more suited to a crowbar or pickaxe.

The handle on these Bulldog tools is 4 inches longer than the standard version.

Would You like toSupport Fredshed?

If you found this page useful and decide to buy a fork or spade please use my links when you do as this helps keep my site going, thanks, Fred

Lightweight Forks and Spades – Not Solid Forged – But Strong Enough

Fiskars Xact Range Including Extra Long Forks and Spades

Fiskars has made tools like this for many years and have now improved the design further and offered versions with longer handles.

 The oval section aluminium shaft makes this possible without introducing weakness and they back this up with a 10-year warranty.

 Other nice features are treads on the spade, a curve at the bottom of the shaft and a big comfy grip handle.

There are 2 types of spade, one has a pointed blade for tougher soil and both come in 2 lengths

The pointy edge spade is called the “digging Spade” and is the one I would choose.

The fork is available in 2 lengths 1.08 and 1.2m.

The longer tools are  1.2m so ideal for the taller gardener.

The tallest tool is an excellent wide headed shovel for moving heaps of soil, sand or gravel.

Fiskars has been making tools in Finland since 1649 and from my experience offer the best genuine warranties

USE LINKS BELOW FOR MEDIUM LENGTH TOOLS

108cm total

USE LINKS BELOW FOR LONGER  LENGTH TOOLS

120cm total

LIGHTEST FORKS AND SPADES EVER!

BUT STILL STRONG

REALLY LIGHT STRONG TOOLS

These tools are smaller than the Exact range but have a similar design so are even lighter!

There is also a black pointed spade that is 5 inches longer, a fraction heavier,  but much cheaper

Lightweight, Forks and Spades -Traditional Style and Very Strong

Bulldog Premier Fork and Spade

The classic British gardening tool

Irish Spades and Irish Shovels

These Indian made solid forged tools are the old design made using the old British machinery

They are good value and very strong

Irish Spades and Irish Shovels in a range of handle shapes and sizes

For the above tools and any other specialist digging tool use the link below for my other page

Children’s Garden Forks and Spades -Non-solid forged

Draper Young Gardener Tools

These scaled-down traditional-looking tools are great for the younger gardener and are of good value too.

Bulldog Tools make solid forged children’s tools but they are rather expensive, heavy and a bit over-engineered considering there should not be that much force put on them.

Also as your children grow quickly they will soon need longer tools if they get the gardening bug as I did!

Spear and Jackson make some nice Stainless Steel children’s tools that are reasonably priced.

Solid Forged Children’s Digging Tools

Real Garden Tools For Children

4 Children’s garden tools

Most garden tools sold for Children are a bit flimsy and do not last very long. Bulldog make child-size mini versions of their solid forged fork and spades.

These tools are so well made that your children could pass them on to your grandchildren.

These tools are so well made that your children could pass them on to your grandchildren.

Also, any other products bought from Amazon at the same time will produce a small commission that helps cover my hosting costs.

Or if you prefer you can make a small donation using the PayPal button below thanks, Fred

FIXING BROKEN FORKS & SPADES

Sadly we now live in the throw-away society so spare parts like handles are not available for most of the garden forks and spades that are sold in garden centres and DIY superstores.

Most of these tools are made in China or India now and are just labelled and branded for UK sales.

If you have an old tool that was made in the UK and the handle has snapped then the best advice I can give you is to either try to make the spare ones on the links below fit or find a local woodworker or blacksmith type person to see if they can help. If you have a cracked shaft you may be able to repair it with FiberFix Repair Wrap tape.

Fibrefix is a new product that is designed to permanently seal holes and cracks in a range of materials.

It is widely used by boat and kayak owners in case of emergencies but I have seen it used to fix broken tool handles and legs of tables and chairs.

BUY SPARE & REPLACEMENT FORK HANDLES

(that’s fork handles – not four candles! )

If you found my advice helpful and would like to support my work, please return to this page and use my links when purchasing your tools.

Also any other products bought from Amazon at the same time will produce a small commission that helps cover my hosting costs.

Or – if you prefer you can make a small donation using the PayPal button below thanks, Fred

Copyright Fredshed 2022