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. If you’re working a section of dense soil, you’ll need one of the best pitchforks to help get the job done.
These gardening and landscaping tools can plunge deep into your soil, breaking up soil clumps and aerating the top layer. After you work your 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: True Temper 2812200 4-Tine Spading Digging Fork
- RUNNER-UP: Truper 30293 Tru Tough Spading Fork
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Burpee 20″ Stainless Steel Fork
- UPGRADE PICK: Gardena 17002 NatureLine Spading Fork
- BEST DIGGING FORK: Radius Garden 203 PRO Garden 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 gardening 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, 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.
When it comes to handles, you have 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 for your needs, handle length might be a factor. For instance, if you’re working in a tight corner or between plants, you might prefer a shorter-handled tool like a border fork. You can drive the tines into the soil, and the shorter handle will leave enough room for you to pry the handle and create leverage.
When it comes to digging, you might prefer a long-handled tool. The longer handle allows you to apply more leverage while digging. You’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 you drive 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 if you’re only lifting the pitchfork three or four times, but after 300 times, the increased weight can wear you 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 you’ll have a hard time removing the material you’re digging into.
- When it comes to digging, you’ll want 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.
- If you’re moving piles of manure, however, you’ll 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 for your needs might also hinge on choosing the handle and grip. Using the right grip for you will ensure you stay as comfortable as possible without undue fatigue or hurting your 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.
You might also find tools with a handguard on the handle. A handguard can go a long way in saving your 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 pitchfork for your needs, you’re ready to start shopping. The following list of recommendations considers pitchfork type, material, size, handle, and tines to help you choose the best tool for your projects. Keep the key shopping considerations in mind as you shop through these top tools.
The True Temper 2812200 4-Tine Spading Digging Fork is worth a look if you’re 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. It also weighs just under 4 pounds, so it should do well for deep digging in dense soils.
The Truper 30293 Tru Tough Spading Fork is a good choice if you’re 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 30293’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 the 30293 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.
If your garden doesn’t require a long-handled pitchfork for loosening the soil but you still need more capability than a hand spade, the Burpee 20-inch Stainless Steel Fork might do the job fine. This simple tool is light and easy to use and will dig up compacted soil for easy planting. It is an affordable choice for gardeners short on storage space or who often dig while kneeling.
The handle of the Burpee fork is an ash hardwood, measures 20 inches long, and weighs just 1 pound. The three-tine fork is 6 inches long for an overall length of 26 inches. The tines are made from stainless steel, meaning they are strong and will last for years. It also comes with a leather strap threaded through the handle for easy hanging in a garden shed or garage.
The Gardena 17002 NatureLine Spading Fork is worth a look for gardeners needing a quality pitchfork with long, flat tines. This spading fork can aerate soil underneath mature plants as easily as it can remove and churn dirt. It has a four-tine, hardened-steel head. It also has a wooden D-handle grip made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)–certified ash, so you’ll know it came from a responsibly managed forest.
The ash handle sits deeply in the hardened 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 you out.
If you’re looking for a sturdy digging fork with the construction to last through years of planting, the Radius Garden 203 PRO Garden Digging Fork should make your list. This fork 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.
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.
FAQs About Pitchforks
Though pitchforks are not a new invention, you might still have some questions about how they work and what they can do. Below are the most frequently asked questions and answers about pitchforks. If you have any more questions, you can check with the customer service departments for any of the products in this guide.
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. 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.