What is the Difference Between a Shovel and Pick?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2019
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Picks and shovels are two basic tools that are used for a variety of purposes in construction, gardening, and other projects around the home. While there are some tasks that can be performed with both a shovel and pick, each tool is actually designed for unique purposes. Because of this factor, there are a number of important differences that should be noted before selecting either tool for a specific job.

The main function of a shovel is to lift and move material from one location to another. Generally, the material is already loosened before the shovel can be used for this task. There are all sorts of shovels designed to move different types of materials. Power shovels are used to move large quantities of dirt at a construction site, while snow shovels come in designs for individual projects like clearing a walkway or sidewalk. Garden shovels can be used to dig up and move loosened dirt, allowing for easy planting of various plants and shrubs.


By contrast, a pick, also referred to as a pickaxe, is used to break up stone, masonry, and hard ground. Composed of a head featuring two sharpened points and a wooden or metal handle, the tool is easy to swing, making it possible to apply a lot of force to whatever object is struck. Some distinguish between a pick and a pickaxe, describing the former as having two sharp ends on the head, while the latter sports one sharpened end and one flat end.

Like the shovel, the pick is used in gardening, construction and general land clearance. With gardening, the pick can be used to loosen hard areas of dirt, making it much easier to prepare the soil for cultivation. A pick can also be used to dislodge rocks from the garden area, making it easier to create uniform rows of crops.

With construction projects, the shovel and pick are sometimes used in tandem in order to complete a job. The pick may be used to break up concrete or hard ground. Once the material is loosened, the shovel can be employed to remove the excess dirt or concrete fragments, effectively preparing the way for the new construction.

A shovel and pick also come in handy for general land clearance, such as with landscaping projects. The pick is helpful in prying old tree trunks and the attached roots from the ground, while the shovel can be used in the process of removing the trunk and roots from the area. In like manner, the pick can be used to loosen tracts of sod from one area, while a flat shovel can be used to transport the sod to a new location.

Both the shovel and pick are available at most hardware stores as well as many home and garden shops. Industrial sized versions of the shovel and pick can also be purchased direct from manufacturers. The larger versions are often preferable with construction jobs while the traditional handheld tools are ideal for simple projects around the home.


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