What is a Trowel?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Trowel is the name of a number of construction and garden tools. Appearing in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, these tools usually consist of a metal blade of any of various shapes attached to a short handle. Some are flat, while others are curved, and they are variously used to spread, dig, scoop, and place.

Brick trowel.
Brick trowel.

Construction trades. Tile, marble, and terrazzo setters; bricklayers; cement masons and concrete finishers; drywall finishers; plasterers; and others who practice the crafts known as the Trowel Trades use these tools as part of their everyday equipment. Construction versions are usually metal-bladed and many have a V-shaped back. These are some of the important types:

Finishing trowel.
Finishing trowel.

* Brick trowel. This tool has a slightly rounded, diamond-shaped blade. Brick trowels come in several patterns, including the London pattern for laying brick and the Philadelphia pattern for laying block. They are also used for tamping bricks, and experienced masons use them to cut bricks.

A brick trowel is the tool used to spread concrete or mortar when laying bricks.
A brick trowel is the tool used to spread concrete or mortar when laying bricks.

* Float or Finishing Trowel. A tool with a large, flat rectangular blade with a handle and used to smooth a surface. Finishing trowels are available in a variety of widths and lengths to suit the job.

Plasters use trowels almost everyday.
Plasters use trowels almost everyday.

* Flooring Trowel. Designed for laying concrete, this tool is shaped like a lancet arch, with a rectangular back and a pointed front made to fit corners.

* Gauging Trowel. This type is distinctive in having a rounded tip, along with the characteristic V-shaped back. It is designed for gauging, or mixing in specified proportions, small amounts of quick set plaster.

* Corner Trowel. V-shaped, this tool is made to fit the inside of a corner joint and apply joint compound there. The drywall corner trowel, for feathering and tapering joints, is made with a somewhat flexible angle.

* Margin Trowel. A tool with a V-shaped back but a rectangular front. It can be used to mix thinset and other material, for scooping, and for spreading material such as adhesives in tight spots.

* Notch Trowel. There are square, rectangular, scoop and v-notch versions. V-notch, square and scoop types are for spreading ceramic tile adhesive. Square and rectangular notch versions are used to apply thinset mortar for floor tile.

* Pointing Trowel. This type, a smaller version of the brick trowel, has several functions — it is used to separate concrete from the forms it is poured into, for finishing joints in brick walls, and for spreading material in tight spots.

* Tuck pointing Trowel. A long, thin tool with high lift, it is designed for packing mortar between bricks.

Gardening. A gardening or garden trowel is a multipurpose garden tool with a blade of metal or polymer and a handle. The blade may be attached to the handle with a curve or lift, as in a shovel, or straight, as in a spade. Sometimes they are, in fact, described as miniature shovels or referred to as hand spades. Long-handled versions allow the user to avoid stooping and bending.

The shape of the blade may also differ, with some being more rounded while others come to a point. Blunter tools are better for scooping and mixing, while trowels with a point excel in digging. Most basic types are fairly broad, but some have a narrower design, similar to a transplanter, and some of these, like transplanters, are marked with graduated measurements.

A trowel can serve many purposes — cultivating the soil in a small area after it’s been initially broken up; digging, planting or potting in situations in which a transplanter is too small; weeding; and like an oversized spoon to mix, for example, soil with additives like fertilizer of vermiculite. They are often sold in garden sets along with several other garden hand tools, such as a cultivator and a garden fork. There are several types of specialty garden tools, including a weeding trowel which can fit between cracks in pavement, and even a specific “dandelion trowel.” Another specialty version has serrated sides to slice roots and weeds.

Larger slabs, such as garage floors or house foundations, may require the use of a power concrete trowel.
Larger slabs, such as garage floors or house foundations, may require the use of a power concrete trowel.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


@nextcorrea - There are a couple of ways you could fix the handle, but honestly, if I was you, I would just go out and get a new one. Good trowels of all sorts are relatively inexpensive and getting a new one will last a lot longer than any repair you might do.


I had an old trowel in my garage, but when I went to use it the handle broke off. Is there an easy way to fix a trowel handle?


In college I got to participate in a few digs for ancient Indian artifacts. We used a lot of specialized equipment including an archaeology trowel. The trowel came to a sharp v point at the end and was raised in the middle so that it could be used as a small shovel if held one way or a clearing tool if held another. This was one of the standard tools and I spent most days with one in my hand. Trowels, I guess, are useful if you are trying to build a brick building or dig up the ancient world.


@chivebasil - Trust me, invest in a tuck pointing trowel. If you want to do the job well and quickly, the design of the tuck pointing trowel will really help a lot. I have used other kinds of tools, and while the job got done, the process was hardly smooth. Tuck pointing trowels allow you to cover a lot of area and get mortar deep into the cracks and crevices you are trying to fill. If you use another tool, the work might not be as solid as you would like and you will have to redo it in a couple of years. Get the right tool, its money well spent.


@chivebasil - That really depends on how much time and patience you have to dedicate to a project. All trowels share certain qualities and are, to a large extent, interchangeable. But they are also designed and optimized to be the best tool for a specific job. So while it would probably be possible to use a dry wall trowel to do some tuck pointing, you may just be giving yourself a headache.

I have improvised with tools in the past and had varying degrees of success. Sometimes it works great and you save yourself the cost of buying new tools that you will rarely use. Sometimes you get so frustrated you just want to tear your whole project to pieces. You will have to consider your experience level with tuck pointing and the quality of the job you want done. That dry wall trowel could be your best friend or worst enemy.


I am interested in doing some tuck pointing in a section of my basement. I have a bunch of old tools that I inherited from my dad and I found a trowel amongst them. After I read your descriptions, it sounds like this trowel is designed more for drywall than tuck pointing. Will it still work or should I go out and get a tool specifically for this job?


I have been a backyard gardener for years and a gardening trowel is one of the most handy tools that you can keep at your side. I have a whole shed filled with gardening tools and gadgets that I rarely use but I always pick up my trowel when I head out to tend my garden. There is just so much that it can be used for. You can dig things up, till the soil, mix together soil additives and hack away at stubborn weeds and vines. I think with a trowel and a garden hose just about anyone could plant anything.


A trowel is one of the oldest simplest and most useful tools that mankind has ever known. Masons of all sorts have been using trowels for millennium now. And what is most amazing to me is that the design is essentially the same as it has always been.

It is a handle connected to a flat surface. It could not be any simpler but this tool has facilitated the construction of some of the greatest structure in human history. It sounds kind of silly, but we should all be thankful for the trusty trowel.

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