In this post I will be writing about Garden Digging Tools – Mattocks and Picks.
I believe these two tools to be very important to a gardener. Many times I have seen people struggling to dig in heavily compacted soil, clay soil or soil with lots of roots in using a digging fork or spade. This may be achievable but it is very much hard work.
If they just had a mattock or Pickaxe they would find this labourious task so much easier.
The most common way that the heads of Mattocks fix onto the handle is very simple.
The heads of the handles taper outwards. The heads of the tools have a central eye-hole. You put the tool head onto the thin end of the handle and let it slide down as far as it can, then you bang the head end of the handle on the floor (must be a hard surface) and it wedges onto the tapered part.
The head can work loose again relatively easily, therefore mattocks are meant to be swung from hip height and not higher in case the head slips down the handle onto your hands. OUCH…
The idea is that you swing the mattock form around waist height between your legs and into the ground.
It may sound a bit awkward or weird even, but believe me, you will soon get used to it and realize it’s actually easy to do.
Pickaxe heads can be fitted more commonly in 2 ways.
Either the way mentioned above with the tapered handle or you will get a handle with a slot cut through the middle of the head end. You fit the pickaxe head onto the handle and then hammer a wooden wedge in the slot, forcing the wood apart and keeping it tight against the eye hole of the tool head. Once you have hammered to wooden wedge in, then you cut it flush with the top of the handle.
It’s a good idea then to hammer in 1 or 2 smaller metal wedges in at right angles to the wooden wedge. This will make it super secure and safe to use.
Watch the video below to see how it’s done the first way I mention, which is the same way the mattock handles are fitted, and to also see about applying boiled linseed oil to the handle if it’s a wooden one, which will help protect it and stop weathering or rotting.
When using either mattocks or pickaxes be sure to wear the right PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). E.g. Safety glasses and safety boots. It’s also a good idea to be wearing long trousers as bits can easily fly into your legs and cut you.
You may also be interested in one of my other posts: Digging tools for the garden – Forks & Spades.
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My Mattock is one of my favourite tools for digging and breaking up soil when I’m working.
It is especially good when the ground is hard, has lots of stones in it or has lots of roots in.
There are 2 types mattock you can get. A Cutter Mattock and A Pick Mattock. The one you choose will depend on your own preference and what you will be mainly using it for.
The heads are made from metal and the handles will be wood or fibreglass, although you can get handles that are metal.
I personally have both types of mattock, but mainly use my cutter mattock as I have a pickaxe I use as well. So it saves me carrying 3 different kinds in my van at the same time
Both types of Mattock have an Adze blade on one side.
Find out more about the history and uses of mattocks here: MATTOCK
I will tell you a little bit about the 2 types below.
The cutter mattock has an Adze blade (A flat blade about 3-4 inches in width) on one side and an Axe blade on the opposite side.
See the picture below, which it the head of my own cutter mattock.
The Adze blade is used for breaking heavy and compacted soil up. You can also drag the loosened up soil towards you using the flat blade.
The Axe blade is used for chopping through roots in the ground.
Both sides can be used for breaking through the roots of some plants though and makes it a much easier task then trying to struggle with a Fork or Spade.
Plants such as Pampas grass for example can be difficult to dig out using a garden fork or spade. These type of grasses spread out over a wide area which causes a problem if trying to dig out with a fork or spade.
Trying to work your way round digging underneath to get it out is back-breaking work.
Using both sides of the cutter mattock makes it much easier and you can break through it bit by bit, using the Adze side to get underneath it and wrench it up and the axe side to break through any tougher more stubborn roots.
The pick mattock has an Adze blade on one side and the opposite side has a pick (A sharp pointed spike).
This kind of mattock is great to use in stony ground or concrete as that’s where the pick side of the head is at it’s most effective.
Take a look at the photo of my pick mattock below.
The pickaxe is another great tool that can be a great help when gardening and landscaping.
Pickaxes have been dated back as far as Prehistoric times where they were used for agricultural purposes, which shows you how well this design of tool has stood the test of time.
The heads of pickaxes have a spike (pick) on one side and normally a chiseled edge on the other side, although sometimes you will get them with spikes on both sides of the head.
The handles of pickaxes are generally made from wood, most usually Hickory or Ash, but you can also get handles made from fibreglass or metal.
The picture below is of my pickaxe which I was lucky enough to be given by one of my customers.
When you have a pickaxe with the spike/chiseled head, the chiseled side can be used much like the axe side of the cutter mattock for chopping through roots in the ground.
Like on the pick mattock, the pick (spike) side is brilliant to use in stony ground or concrete and breaks the ground up very well.
Using the weight for momentum and hitting such a small area it splits the ground very easily and then makes it much easier to then use a fork or spade to finish the job you’re doing.
Find out more about pickaxes here: PICKAXE
I believe that any serious gardener/allotmenteer should have one of the two kinds of mattock or a pickaxe in their tool collection.
I have all 3 and use them all on a pretty regular basis.
If there is a spell of really dry weather and the ground is really hard, then it’s a hard slog to break it up using Forks or Spades, but if you have a Mattock or Pickaxe it becomes a much easier process.
The 2 photos below are from a job I done recently when there had been no rain for 8 weeks.
You can see in the first photo how hard and dry the ground was. So dry it was cracking.
This made it almost impossible to dig it using a fork or spade, but using my Mattock (the Adze side) I got the job done.
You have to put the effort in, but believe me it’s a lot less effort then trying to use a fork or spade.
When you look at how other countries make use of Mattocks, Pickaxes and Adze Hoes it makes me wonder why they are not more widely used in the UK.
They really are brilliant tools and I would always recommend to anyone.
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