Digging into tough, compacted soil can be challenging work. Over time, fallen rain, heavy snow, and footsteps from people and animals can cause dirt to compact, making something as seemingly simple as planting a flower a challenge. When working a section of dense soil, you’ll need one of the best pitchforks to help get the job done.
These gardening tools can plunge deep into your soil, breaking up soil clumps and aerating the top layer. After working the soil a bit with a pitchfork, it becomes much easier to dig in with a shovel or spade. The best pitchfork can lessen the load on your back and, despite being an extra step, actually speed up the digging process.
- BEST OVERALL: Truper 30293 Tru Tough Spading Fork
- BEST VALUE: Bully Tools 92370 Spading Fork with Fiberglass Handle
- UPGRADE PICK: Gardena 17013 ErgoLine Spading Fork
- COMFORT PICK: Radius Garden 203 PRO Garden Digging Fork
- BEST DIGGING FORK: True Temper 2812200 4-Tine Spading Digging Fork
- BEST GARDEN FORK: Fiskars Ergo D-handle Steel Garden Fork
- BEST BORDER FORK: Spear & Jackson Select Stainless Border Fork
- MOST VERSATILE: Roamwild Multi-Digger Garden Digging Spading Fork
- HONORABLE MENTION: Radius Garden 25302 Carbon Steel Digging Fork
Types of Pitchforks
First, none of these forks are traditional pitchforks. Traditional pitchforks are for tossing hay to livestock. Over time, folks began referring to all gardening forks as pitchforks. There are plenty of other styles, including traditional and manure forks, but those forks aren’t suitable for digging purposes.
The following styles of pitchforks are far better choices than traditional forks for digging and land cultivation.
When it comes to shaking your garden beds up a bit, there’s no tool better suited than a garden fork. Gardening forks usually have three or four sturdy, pointy tines that you can plunge deep into the soil, breaking up hard-packed beds quickly and easily. Their handles are generally full length, allowing you to apply a bit of leverage to tough garden soil. However, you can also find shorter-length handles for use while kneeling.
Some gardening forks aren’t as robust as some other types of pitchforks, making them a poor choice for heavy-duty digging projects. That said, they work very well to aerate a garden bed and provide a way for moisture to penetrate through hard-packed top layers.
When it comes to heavy-duty earthmoving projects around your property, a digging fork is the tool for the job. These long-handled tools have thick triangular or rounded tines with fairly blunt tips. They’ll help loosen and break up earth and soil, as well as rocks and stones.
The strong tines of digging forks make them suitable for prying in the densest of soils. Also, since you can use them to remove heavier chunks of dirt and debris (like manure), they often have ergonomically designed handles to make lifting an easier process.
If you’re working in a tight garden bed, you might want to check into a border fork. Border forks are much like garden forks yet are even smaller in stature. Their heads are more compact, and the tines are shorter. The handles tend to be shorter as well, allowing you to maneuver them in tight flower beds without disturbing plants.
Since border forks are so closely related to garden forks but come in a more compact size, they’re better suited for smaller-framed gardeners or children. They’re lighter and easier to use since the shorter tines are less likely to get stuck and they require less leverage.
What to Look for When Choosing the Best Pitchfork
The quality of the best pitchforks depends on several factors. To get the most out of your purchase, you need to match its materials, dimensions, and shape to your needs. The following considerations are worth keeping in mind on your hunt for the best pitchfork.
When shopping for the best pitchfork, or any garden tool, note the tool’s materials. The most common material for the head is tool steel. It’s robust and durable, providing plenty of strength for digging and prying applications. It’s also flexible enough to retain its shape if a rock deflects a tine. There are high-end stainless steel digging forks, but stainless steel heads are expensive and often unnecessary for garden use. However, they are an easily maintained garden tool.
When it comes to handles, there are two basic choices: wood and fiberglass. Forks with wood handles generally cost less than those with fiberglass, and the handles are easy to replace if they break. Fiberglass handles are more expensive, but they’re more durable and absorb shock better. However, they’re more difficult to replace if they break.
When choosing the best pitchfork, handle length might be a factor. For instance, when working in a tight corner or between plants, some folks might prefer a shorter-handled tool like a border fork. They can drive the tines into the soil, and the shorter handle will leave enough room to pry with the handle and create leverage.
When it comes to digging, some might prefer a long-handled tool. The longer handle allows the user to apply more leverage while digging. They’ll also have an easier time reaching into a hole to dig with a long-handled tool than with a shorter model.
Weight might not be the ultimate factor when deciding on a pitchfork since most tools weigh within 2 to 3 pounds of one another. But there are benefits to both heavier and lighter pitchforks.
A heavier pitchfork will benefit from an increase in inertia while digging. As the user drives the pitchfork into the soil, a heavier pitchfork’s mass in motion will allow it to dig deeper than a lighter pitchfork.
However, a lighter pitchfork is easier to use over the course of a long day. A pound or two might not matter much when lifting the pitchfork just three or four times, but after 300 times, the increased weight can wear the user out.
Number of Tines
The number of tines built into a pitchfork has a lot to do with its capability. Too many tines can make a fork difficult to drive into compact surfaces. Too few, and it’ll have a hard time removing the material the user is digging into.
When it comes to digging, look for a pitchfork with three or four tines. These pitchforks are easy to drive into a surface, but their compact head size can still lift piles of dirt without them slipping between the tines. When moving piles of manure, however, the user will do better with a fork that has five or six tines since manure is soft enough to drive these forks into but can slip through widely spaced tines.
There are a few things to consider when it comes to the shape of your pitchfork’s tines. You’ll need to choose a pitchfork with tines of the right shape and consider the overall shape of the head.
- Flat-faced tines are best for turning and mixing soil because their flat surfaces work like paddles, moving the dirt as you go.
- Rounded tines and triangular tines are best for simply loosening the soil, as they can glide through when you apply leverage to the handle.
- Curved tines that mimic a scoop can aid in lifting materials with your pitchfork. These pitchforks will do a better job of holding materials in place as you lift them. For digging, a slight curve will help to increase leverage without being difficult to drive into the soil.
Handle and Grip
Choosing the best pitchfork might also hinge on choosing the handle and grip. Using the correct grip for the job will ensure the user stays as comfortable as possible without undue fatigue or hurting their hands.
Generally speaking, there are two main styles of handles: straight and D-shaped handles. A straight handle is usually lighter and easier to drive into the soil, and the straight version is common with full-length tools. D-shaped handles make it easier to stabilize a load without holding the handle with a double death grip. These handles are far more common on shorter tools but can go a long way to improving ergonomics.
Shoppers might also find tools with handguards on their handles. A handguard can go a long way in saving the user’s hands from blisters and fatigue over the course of the day. They’re rarely available on wooden handles, being much more common on fiberglass models.
Our Top Picks
Now that you know what to look for when choosing the best gardening tool for your needs, explore these pitchfork varieties for tackling different tasks:
The Truper Tru Tough is a good choice for anyone looking for a digging pitchfork with a bit of extra control and handling. The Truper comes with a 30-inch North American ash hardwood shaft, a four-tine design, and a metal D-handle with a hardwood grip.
The Truper’s tines have a clear-coat finish to help protect them from rusting prematurely. The metal D-handle also has a protective finish in the form of green enamel. The flat tines and D-handle make this fork handy when it comes to moving dirt and turning over a garden bed. It weighs 3.74 pounds, so it’s light enough to use all day but still has enough heft to dig deep.
Keep in mind that the 30-inch handle is easy to work with, but isn’t ideal for digging and loosening heavy objects.
- Type: Spading fork
- Handle Material: Wood
- Weight: 3.74 pounds
- Finish on steel tines protects against rust
- Ergonomic D-shaped handle
- Flat tines for mixing soil
- Shorter handle isn’t ideal for digging
Gardeners, landscapers, and other pitchfork users don’t have to spend top-dollar for high-quality. The Bully Tools Spading Fork has a steel head with four tines, and a fiberglass handle, as well as an affordable price tag. Its overall length is 44 inches from the tip of the tines to the handle, giving the handle roughly 34 inches of length.
It’s not just good for saving money, either. This pitchfork boasts plenty of useful, well-designed features, such as round tines with chiseled tips and a wide footstep, the combination of which adds up to easy digging. Just understand that this pitchfork does weigh 6 pounds and may be heavy for some users.
- Type: Spading fork
- Handle Material: Fiberglass
- Weight: 6 pounds
- Affordable tool
- Chiseled tips for easy digging
- Slightly long for more leverage
- Wide footstep for better control
The Gardena spading fork is worth a look for gardeners needing a quality pitchfork with flat tines. This spading fork can aerate soil underneath mature plants as easily as it can remove and churn dirt. It has four thick and sturdy tines made of alloy steel. The extra-wide D-handle grip includes a comfortable non-slip coating for enhanced performance.
The shaft sits deeply in the alloy steel head, providing a wobble-free design that lasts long, designed for home gardens but durable enough for heavy-duty work. At just under 5 pounds, it should dig easily but might tire the user out.
- Type: Digging fork
- Handle Material: Metal and plastic
- Weight: Under 5 pounds
- Deep-set shaft for stability
- Ergonomic D-shaped handle
- Durable build for heavy-duty work
- Slightly heavy for all-day work
For anyone looking for a sturdy digging fork with the construction to last through years of planting, the Radius Garden 203 PRO should make the list. This compact pitchfork measures 42.5 inches from tip to handle and weighs about 4.5 pounds. It has four stainless-steel tines and a resin-encased carbon handle, meaning it will last for years without rusting.
The round handle of the Radius Garden 203 PRO has an ergonomic design to improve control and reduce fatigue, especially while prying up tough plants and rocks. The handle allows this fork to help gardeners do some heavy-duty work, although its weight could lead to a bit of fatigue over a long day.
- Type: Digging fork
- Handle Material: Steel and resin
- Weight: 4.5 pounds
- Ergonomic round handle
- Durable stainless steel tines
- Compact design
The True Temper digging fork is worth a look for anyone on the hunt for a durable, short-handled pitchfork for digging and garden work. This fork has a 30-inch hardwood handle, a polymer D-grip, and four diamond-pointed forged-steel tines for durability.
The True Temper has flat-faced tines for digging and turning soil, and the D-grip can help gardeners maintain control when lifting a pile of dirt. The diamond points on the end of the tines will dig in easily, while their slight curve provides a bit of extra leverage when prying stubborn rocks and other buried obstructions out of the soil.
This tool weighs just under 4 pounds, so it should do well for deep digging in dense soils. Just beware that for large, heavy buried objects, the 30-inch handle might not provide enough leverage.
- Type: Digging fork
- Handle Material: Wood and plastic
- Weight: Under 4 pounds
- Genuine hardwood handle
- Ergonomic D-shaped grip
- Sturdy forged steel tines
- Flat tines with curved design for improved leverage
- Handle might not provide enough leverage for large objects
Hardcore gardeners need a hardcore garden fork, and Fiskars Ergo D-handle Steel Garden Fork might be the answer. This garden fork features a welded, all-steel head with a steel shaft and a fiberglass D-handle for long-term durability and strength. The overall length is approximately 47 inches, providing more leverage than shorter models.
The Fiskars Garden Fork features four flat tines, with pointed tips for easier digging. The flat tines are helpful for moving mulch, dirt, and other materials. The handle has an ergonomically designed steel shaft, with an offset bend for leverage. While this is a durable pitchfork, if the steel shaft does receive damage, it’s not possible to replace it.
- Type: Garden fork
- Handle Material: Welted steel and fiberglass
- Weight: 4.72 pounds
- Highly durable
- Ergonomic designed shaft and D-shaped handle
- Extra leverage due to longer length
- Shaft is not replaceable
- Slightly heavy
This border fork from Spear & Jackson durable garden fork that’s built to last. The company has been making similar models since 1760, but this border fork has a few modern twists. First, it has a stainless steel head for strong tines, and its polypropylene shaft can hold up to any weather.
This stainless steel fork measures in classic dimensions, with a 28-inch handle, 5.5-inch-wide head, and 9-inch tines, but it weighs less than 4 pounds. These dimensions make this tool easy for a small-framed gardener to use but also allow it to fit and dig between plants, aerating the soil without damaging plants.
The stainless-steel head will stay in great shape for years to come, as will the ergonomically designed polypropylene handle. Note that the Spear and Jackson’s tines might be a bit thin for moving lots of soil—it could just spill off.
- Type: Border fork
- Handle Material: Polypropylene
- Weight: Less than 4 pounds
- Long lasting steel build
- Ergonomically designed handle
- Lightweight and easy to maneuver
- Tines might be too small for serious digging
Roamwild’s Multi-Digger Garden Digging Spading Fork is a highly-versatile pitchfork that bridges the gaps between digging, spading, and garden pitchforks, and can even function as a shovel in a pinch. It has four tines that taper to 3 points, and angled tines to break up clumps, chop tough soil, and provide extra surface area for lifting soil, mulch, and manure. This design also leads to minimal soil adhesion, ensuring that clumps don’t weigh the fork down.
This steel garden fork features steel tines, and a fiberglass shaft for durability. The handle is plastic and features a two-position grip, allowing the user to use different hand positions for a variety of digging applications. The handle is also designed to be positioned directly over the points of the tines for ergonomics and easy digging. Just recognize that the non-traditional design might take some getting used to.
- Type: Garden/digging/spading fork
- Handle Material: Steel with fiberglass handles
- Weight: 4.5 pounds
- Multifunctional tool, including use as a shovel
- Ergonomic, two-position handle
- Angled tines make digging and breaking up soil easier
- Non-traditional design might take getting used to
- Slightly heavy
A capable and ergonomically designed garden fork makes digging easier on the gardener, and the Radius Garden 25302 adds ergonomic features. The steel fork’s rounded handle provides an ergonomic alternative to a standard D-handle. It allows the user to hold it in a variety of ways to maintain stability under heavy loads while also providing more surface area for prying and churning tough soils. It’s also got an extra-wide forward step for easy foot leverage on deep digging.
This garden fork weighs almost 5 pounds and has a heat-treated carbon steel head with four square tines for strength and durability as a heavy-duty fork. It also has a fiberglass shaft to absorb impacts with rocks and buried obstructions while also being a long-lasting tool that is tough to break. Do realize, however, that it might be a little heavy for some users.
- Type: Digging fork
- Handle Material: Fiberglass
- Weight: Just under 5 pounds
- Ergonomic round handle
- Fiberglass shaft absorbs impact
- Heavy-duty carbon steel tines
- Square tines for all-purpose digging
Anyone looking for a high-quality, all-around pitchfork will appreciate the Truper spading fork for its traditional, durable design. But those who prefer a less expensive model should check out the Bully Tools spading fork, with its similarly strong materials and effective chisel-tipped tines.
How We Chose the Best Pitchforks
When it comes to choosing the best pitchfork, we relied on extensive product research to ensure we’re suggesting the best of the best models. Here’s how we did it:
- First, we looked for pitchforks made from the best materials. We looked for products made from steel, fiberglass, and other high-quality materials.
- Then, we looked for pitchforks that utilized ergonomic designs to ensure they’re easy to use.
- Finally, we broke the contenders up into several categories to offer only the best of each type.
The result of all this research is a complete list of some of the best pitchforks on the market.
The Advantages of Owning a Pitchfork
Pitchforks are highly useful and versatile tools when put to work on the lawn or in the garden:
- Pitchforks can aerate your soil. If your garden’s soil becomes too compacted, water and oxygen won’t make their way into the soil, which could cause your plants to suffer. A pitchfork can plunge into the soil and provide a little wiggle room for moisture and air, increasing the quality of the soil.
- A pitchfork can be a big help when it comes to turning and spreading compost as well. The flat tines of digging forks make it easier to turn large piles over while also allowing you to pick up and spread the compost over a garden. Very fine compost might require a five- or six-tine fork, however.
- These tools can simply loosen soil for digging. When it comes to digging trenches for pipes or wires in hard-packed soil, a pitchfork can be indispensable. By plunging the tines into the ground as you go, you’ll be able to loosen the dirt quickly, making digging a much easier process.
Q: What are pitchforks used for?
There are several uses for pitchforks, including scooping hay and grain for livestock, cleaning manure, digging in soil, turning compost, aerating gardens and grass, as well as harvesting some root-type vegetables.
Q: What is a spading fork used for?
Generally speaking, spading forks are for lifting soil around plants gently and carrying it to another place. They’re also useful for cultivating soil and turning manure or fertilizer into loose dirt.
Q: What’s the difference between a digging fork and a border fork?
They’re relatively closely related, but the main difference between a digging fork and a border fork is that the border fork is much smaller, meant for working in tighter spaces.
Q: What makes a good garden fork?
There are a few things to look for in a garden fork, but the most important are the tines and handle. The overall length should be roughly around 40 inches, and the tines should be a quality metal like carbon or tool steel, and the handle should be wood, fiberglass, or metal for long-term durability.
Q: How do you use a pitchfork to loosen soil?
To loosen soil, plunge your pitchfork’s tines deep into the ground. Then, push and pull the handle back and forth a few times. This action loosens the soil underneath the garden without disturbing the plants on top.
Q: How dangerous are pitchforks?
If you use your pitchfork correctly, it is safe. There are a couple of things to keep in mind, however:
- Don’t kick down the shoulder of the pitchfork; push it with your foot instead. Kicking can cause the handle to swing around at your body or face with quite a bit of force.
- Be sure the tines are in contact with the soil before you step on it. The pitchfork will be much easier to control, and you’re less likely to strike yourself with the tines or handle.