Complete & Comprehensive Buying Guide for Garden Forks
When it comes to buying gardening tools, almost every gardener in the UK will be familiar with some type of garden fork. A garden fork is simply a handle which is attached to a set of tines which are often referred to as prongs. (usually 4). Forks are used to loosen soil and also to lift and turn over soil. They are also used for weeding.
Garden forks are easier to push into the ground than a normal garden spade, and that is what makes these such a popular gardening tool. Rather than have to lift a heavy sod with a spade, a fork does a much better job of breaking through the soil.
Forks tend not to get stopped by stones, and as such it is a faster way to get through stony ground. Forks also work much better on soil that is of a clay mature.
The older style forks all used to have a wooden handle and steel tines. These days that wood has been replaced with lighter and longer lasting carbon or stainless steel materials.
There are, believe it or not, ten different types of garden forks and all of them are available on the UK market. Now the reality is of course, that most gardeners will typically have 2-3 garden forks that they use on a regular basis.
Most gardeners will own a simple hand fork used mainly for weeding in borders and in flower or vegetable beds. They will also own a general purpose digging fork. Some gardeners do however prefer to use what is called a border fork, which is simply a smaller and lighter version of the more traditional gardening fork.
In this comprehensive garden fork buying guide we do cover off all of the options available. That way, you will fully understand what types of forks are available, and what they are used for. Just remember though that the vast majority of gardeners will settle for a hand fork, and either a digging or a border fork.
Most garden forks comprise of two simple parts which are the handle/shaft and the head. The head of the fork consists of the tines, or are as they are more commonly referred to the prongs. These tines are part of a steel head which then attaches to the main shaft, via a socket. At the top of the fork is a handle and this is of course where you grip the fork.
With some of the better forks the handle, shaft, socket and tines are all made from one single piece of forged steel. That type of fork is always much more expensive, as there are simply no pints of weakness in the fork, as it is made from one single piece of steel.
When Should You Use a Fork Instead of a Spade?
In most cases when it comes to digging, most gardeners will go straight to the spade. In most cases they are right to do just that. However there are times when using a garden fork is just a better idea. It very much depends on the nature of the ground and earth that you are working with. It also depends on the type of gardening task that you are undertaking.
Forks are better for getting through tougher ground. That is because the pressure from your foot is focused on to the four points of the prongs. With a spade the pressure is spread across the bottom cutting blade of the spade. The four prongs have a much better chance of getting into the solid ground, than that of a solid straight edged blade.
Garden forks are also better at turning over and aerating garden soil. Aeration in a garden simply means that the soil is perforated with small holes. That allows for better air circulation in the soil, and ultimately better and healthier soil.
Forks also do a better job at getting out stones and weeds. They are better at breaking up clumps of soil. Finally they are also less likely to damage the roots of any existing plants.
Using a Spade
You may well ask then when do you actually use a spade. we mentioned earlier that the condition of the soil is what the main decision is, as to which digging implement you should pick. Spades work better and faster on sandy or loam types of soil. That is because that type of soil is easy to penetrate.
In other words any soil that is in good condition and is easy to cultivate is ideal to use a spade on. They are also much better for moving larger quantities of soil around. The most common use of spades though is to create straight edges such as borders and flower beds.Forks can't really offer that as an option.
Different Types of Gardening Forks
There are a number of different types of gardening forks, and they all have slightly different purposes. In total there are actually 10 different types and we will explain all of those below. It is important to know the differences before you make any type of buying decision. The 10 types are:
We have included a simple table below, that neatly summarises which each fork type is suited for, when it comes to doing a variety of tasks in your gardens.
Fork Description & Use
This is the most popular type of garden fork. It can be used for all types of digging, and is suitable for digging vegetable gardens, lawns, flower beds, and borders.
This is a smaller and lighter version of the digging fork. It can be used for digging narrow borders and raised beds. This is preferred for lighter digging work.
This is as the name would suggest is suitable for digging trenches and also for working with hard core. It is also good for working on harder and stony ground.
This is as the name would suggest is suitable for working with manure, compost heaps and also very good for mulching. The most common have four tines with very fine points that allow it to get through the fibres of rotting compost. These tines are usually widely spaced and also curved.
These small hand forks are a great choice for working on borders, tubs and pots. They are really useful for weed removal and for breaking up the soil before planting. These are usually sold along with a small gigging spade/trowel.
The pitch fork is mainly used to move straw and hay around, and for mucking out at farms and horse stables. These are usually either 2 or 3 pronged with sharp ends.
The pitch fork is of course to help dig up potatoes without damaging them. These forks are also good for working with other root vegetable such as carrots and radishes. They typically have 9 tines and each tine has a rounded end.
This looks like a compost fork but is made to be able to tougher work, such as working with hard core. They typically have 8-9 closely placed tines and the tines form a basket shape.
The pitch fork is the only choice if you suspect that you may be digging close to buried electric or telephone cables. They are made from fibre glass and will have 1 or 2 layers of insulated material around the shaft and handle.
With the telescopic fork you can adjust the shaft length to suit your frame. These are really only available as weeding forks, though there are a few digging forks available with this telescopic feature.
That is a summary of the various types of garden forks that are available on the market. We have explained these different types in more detail just below. However as we mentioned earlier, most gardeners will be likely to own a digging or lighter border style fork, and a hand fork for weeding and help with planting.
Garden Digging Forks
These are by far the most popular choice for most UK gardeners. These are the forks that you will find in sheds and garages up and down the UK. They are made by brands such as Spear & Jackson, Rolson, Draper, Bulldog, Wilkinson Sword and Fiskars to name but a few.
Some of these, like the one pictured to the left have a traditional wooden handle, but many now come with a steel handle, or a hollow steel handle. The four tines at the bottom of the fork will always be made of some type of steel and are designed not to rust.
These can be used for any type of digging. That includes borders, raised beds, flower beds and larger vegetable gardens. That is why they are usually referred to as a general purpose "digging fork."
These types of garden forks vary in price from as little as £8 and all the way up to £45. The price essentially all comes down to the quality of the fork that you want to own. You will also find that some of the better gardening brands are also a little more expensive than the more general tool brands.
You can buy these with longer handles, as lightweight forks and they are available in different materials. The most popular are made from either stainless steel or carbon steel.
As mentioned some will come with the more traditional wooden handle, with the tines being made from some form of steel. The material these are made from generally speaking will be reflected in the price point.
Garden Border Forks
These are lighter and easier to use than the standard garden fork that we have described above. These are also very popular with many gardeners in the UK.
They are especially popular with ladies who want something more manageable than a heavy digging fork or spade. When you read the many reviews you will discover that these are popular with anyone that is simply not as strong as they used to be.
They are also suitable for people with bad backs and shoulder or knee problems.
They are made by brands such as Spear & Jackson, Rolson, Draper, Bulldog, Wilkinson Sword and Amtech to name but a few.
These are suitable for digging borders, or any area of the garden that is considered to be a tight space, such as a small flower bed or a raised bed.
They are smaller than a normal digging fork, but are still a very popular choice for many UK gardeners, and especially for older gardeners.
It is fair to say that these are becoming just as popular as the standard digging fork.
Garden Trench Forks
Garden trench forks are not as popular a choice when compared to the digging and border forks that we have explained above. These can however be used as a general digging fork, but are also suitable for digging trenches and working with hardcore.
Most of these will have four square prongs. These prongs or tines have got specially made chisel points on the end. That is to help the fork penetrate through really hard ground, stony ground, or on heavy clay ground.
They are usually forged from one piece of steel, which helps increase their overall durability and strength. That makes these forks useful for tougher ground.
Generally speaking these are considered to be a heavy duty fork and used for tough tasks such as breaking up stubborn soils, and preparing stony ground for digging out a trench.
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As the name would suggest these are best used for composting, working with manure and also for mulching. The majority of them will have 4 tines with very fine points. Those are used for jobs such as aerating and transplanting compost or manure.
These forks are also used for working with compost and other garden waste. The tines or prongs are usually quite sharp and the tines are also well spaced. The distance between the curved tines makes it much easier to insert into the compost.
It is also worth noting that many of these forks have a curved handle. That helps anyone who has had surgery and allows them to maintain a back-friendly posture.
Most people buy these to turn over compost heaps or for mulching.
It is worth mentioning that there are also compost forks with up to 10 tines that are not as widely spaced. These can be used to pick up stones and other loose material such as wood chips, bark and leaves.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT GARDEN COMPOST FORKS
These small hand garden forks are mainly used for weeding, or for gently breaking up the soil just before planting. You can purchase these as an individual item, but more often than not, these are sold a long with a small digging spade or trowel.
These are a very useful tool to have in a garden or allotment, though you do need to get down and dirty with the garden and soil. These are useful to be able to work in borders, pots and tubs.
There are a lot of really cheap versions of these forks around and you should avoid buying those as they will bend very easily and become useless. You want one from a good gardening brand, that has been built to last.
Many weeds like dandelions have pretty deep and strong roots. You need something that can get through the soil, and be able to twist and turn to help get rid of the weeds.
That does take quite a bit of physical effort, and you do not want the tool letting you down. The main drawback with these is that you will either have to kneel down or bend over to use these. That can be hard on the back and knees.
Manufacturers have for this reason made long handled versions, and also long shaft versions of these weeding forks.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT GARDEN HAND FORKS
We included this fork as it is classed as a garden fork. The reality is that most gardeners will have no need to own or to buy a pitch fork.
These are used to move straw or hay around. As such they will be usually found on farms, or at horse stables. Most of these will either be 2 or 3 pronged in style with a light wooden handle.
This type of fork is normally used for what is called "mucking out." Some UK gardeners will use this type of fork for mulching or for spreading out straw that acts as mulching.
Some of these you can buy with four tines, and those are used for manure and compost heaps.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT PITCH FORKS
If you plan on having a vegetable garden, and growing potatoes and other root vegetables, then you should consider investing in a good quality potato fork. Other root vegetable include carrots, beets and radishes.
A typical traditional potato fork has 9 prongs with blunt ends (bulbs) that prevent damage to the crops. the more modern potato fork has the classic 4 prongs, which have been specially shaped to be able to lift potatoes.
This design has broad and flat tines that avoid damaging the crops. Many farmers refer to these as gripes
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Generally speaking a ballast garden fork is a heavy duty fork, that is used to do the really tough work around the garden. These are tasks like moving stones, ballast and even tarmac.
They have between 8-10 solid tines, which are very closely spaced and very hard wearing. The end of the tines will be either pointed or chiselled. The head also looks like a basket.
These heavier duty digging forks are usually made from a one piece forged steel as they need to be really tough, strong and highly durable.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT GARDEN BALLAST FORKS
Insulated Garden Forks
These are mainly used by contractors where they suspect there may be buried wires or cables. These types of forks are mostly made from fibre glass, and will also have 1-2 coats of some type of insulation.
This insulation is usually some form of plastic such as polymer or polypropylene. The principle behind this is that the user inadvertently hit some type of electric cable, the insulated fork will offer the necessary protection, to help prevent an electric shock.
Most gardeners will not have to worry about this. Just be aware though that some telephone companies will use the borders in the garden to run their cables. Make sure you know where these are, otherwise you may have an angry family member with no Broadband and no TV.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT INSULATED GARDEN FORKS
Telescopic Garden Forks
Many gardeners will be familiar with telescopic garden tools. These simply allow you to adjust the length of the heads, by adjusting the shaft length.
When it comes to garden forks, these are really only available for weeding. The normal hand fork style will have an adjustable shaft and this allows you to adjust the fork to your height and frame size.
You will find that these will be slightly more expensive that a standard digging fork.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT TELESCOPIC GARDEN FORKS
Long Handle and Long Shaft Forks
We have already explained the small hand held weeding forks, which are an essential tool for many gardeners in the UK. The biggest drawback with these is that you either have to be bending over, or kneeling on the ground to use these effectively.
That can of course be back breaking work, and for anyone with ailments, can simply be impossible. Manufacturers realised that, and started to make two types of longer hand forks which are
- Hand forks with longer handles and more leverage
- Hand forks with longer shafts and even more leverage
For many gardeners, and especially taller people, or those who want to avoid back pain, these are a very good option. You can buy handles in different lengths and from different materials.
You can also buy digging forks with longer shafts, and again these are suitable for taller gardeners, and for anyone with back issues.
Professional Garden Forks
There are also "professional" garden forks available on the market. These are the types of long lasting durable garden forks that would be used by very experienced gardeners, by landscapers, and also by some general gardening companies.
As you might expect, these are usually more expensive than the types of forks, that you will find around the typical home in the UK. These are made by companies such as Fiskars, Truper, Kingfisher and Spear & Jackson.
They will be made of long lasting and easy to clean stainless steel heads, and usually a treated wooden shaft.
Full & Comprehensive Buyer's Guide for Garden Forks
Just below we go into a lot of detail about garden forks, and explain the importance of each of the component parts. We also answer many of the most frequently asked questions about using garden forks.
Forks are always a better choice for digging in sticky, wet or clay type soils. They do a really good job of breaking up and turning over soil, and getting air into the soil, which helps it breathe. They can also be used for composting and mulching. Many gardeners will also use a garden fork to remove larger weeds.
Finally the vegetable gardener will use these to dig up potatoes and other root crops.
How Important is the Weight of a Garden Fork?
We start with this question because we believe it to be the most important question to ask. Digging of any kind, be that with a garden fork or a spade is tough physical and manual work. It is also tiring work and can impact on the hands, wrists, arms shoulders, the back and on the legs.
The longer you use the garden fork, the tougher and more tiring this activity will become. The weight of the fork therefore becomes very important. Typically garden forks weigh anything from 3-7 lbs in weight. (1.5-3.5 Kg) To put this in perspective a normal bag of sugar weighs 2 lbs (1 Kg approx).
That means even the lightest of forks weigh around 1.5 bags of sugar, and the heavier ones about 3 bags of sugar. It may not seem a lot to begin with, but after some time, that weight will take its toll on your body. Bear that in mind when picking out a garden fork.
Your Body Size and Condition
To a fit and healthy man or woman, the weight of a fork doesn't have to be that big of a decision. However if you have a small frame, are elderly or have some type of ailment, the weight really does matter. Border forks for example are a lot lighter than a full blown digging fork. So if you just need a fork to do borders or raised beds, then a border fork would be a much better choice.
The Task That Needs Done
If you plan on digging up heavier or harder ground, then most likely you will need a heavier and more solid type of garden fork. For light digging a border fork is just fine, but for digging trenches, or working with hard core, then a heavier fork will be required.
Garden Fork Handles
Apart from the hand fork and the pitch fork, all other garden forks will come with two types of handles. These are referred to as:
- T- handles - the handle is a simple T shape, which is where you can grip it with your hand.
- D-handles - the handle is a D shape, and with this type you can get your fingers in and around the D part of the handle.
Most forks will come with a D handle as that seems to be the preferred type of handle made by manufacturers. Those users who prefer the T-handle do so, as they state they can get both hands on to the T handle, whereas that is more difficult to do with a D handle.
There is really no big difference in using either and in the main buy whichever type you prefer. We certainly wouldn't make it a big part in your buying process.
If you want the ultimate in ergonomic design then there is also an "O-ring" handle. These have been designed specifically to be able to offer reduced user fatigue, especially on the hands and wrist.
Garden Fork Tines
The tines or prongs are the most important element of any type of garden fork.
Garden Forks at Wikipedia