The Independent Woman's Guide to Shovelling
I work with my hands. A lot. And over the years I’ve been asked by countless women to dig for them. Holes. Gardens. Shifting piles of rubble. Anything. Mostly though, they ask me to dig myself out of the holes I’ve put myself in: a skill I’ve yet to master.
Now, the cynic inside me suspects that they’re using their feminine wiles to craftily procure my services, and – being the tremendous fan of women that I am – I don’t even mind one bit. But, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that ignorance plays a greater role, and that most women ask the men in their life to do their shovelling out of an outdated misconception that shovelling is “man’s work”- requiring pure brawn and brute strength to even attempt. Unfortunately, it’s just not true.
As much as we men love an excuse – any old excuse – to work up a sweat and be all useful and stuff for the women we love, the truth is that shovelling – like making love - is less about brute strength, and more about technique and knowledge. Yes, that comparison just happened.
Being a confirmed feminist, it’s only fair that I do my bit for gender equality, and teach women how to shovel, giving them the ability to affirm their independence one clod at a time. You’re welcome.
Yes ladies, you too can now dig yourself into all manner of holes and awkward situations, free of any reliance on men.
And it starts like this...
Choose the Right Type of Shovel
Though if you don’t know what the “right type” is, and are offered assistance, just lower your voice and – with authority – mumble incoherently and gesture broadly towards the “shovel section” in your local hardware store. And under no circumstances should you publicly admit ignorance of the type of shovel you’ll need.
The type of shovel you’ll need to demonstrate your independence – and maybe move a little dirt – will depend on what exactly it is you’re trying to dig.
Digging a post hole – and lots of them? You’ll want the obscurely named post-hole shovel. Long bladed, long handled and with large pads at the base of the blade for you to use your weight to push it deep into the ground, a post-hole shovel will be most easily recognised by the 3 sided box shape of its blade.
Digging a loosely packed lighter material free of rubble or tree roots like fresh garden soil or sand? You’ll want a spade. It looks a lot like a shovel, but with a wider, larger head – allowing you to take larger loads per shovel, and thus work more efficiently with larger mass of low weight materials. A good spade will also have a strong hand grip perpendicular to the shaft of the handle, allowing you to have a greater degree of control over the tool.
Digging in hard soil, through tree roots or rubble? You’ll want a shovel. The Audrey Hepburn of garden tools, a good shovel is known by its resistance to rust, the squareness and narrowness of its blade, the presence of foot pegs at the base of those blades, and the inclusion of a strong hand grip perpendicular to the end of the shaft of the handle.
Hold it Correctly
And never admit you’re wrong if you aren’t.
There’s at least two ways to hold a shovel or a spade, and again, it depends on what you’re moving.
The “standard grip” is where you take your leading (non-dominant) hand – the one that will be closest to the material you’re digging or moving, and grasp the part of the shovel nearest the head. It should end up about 6 inches or so away from the blade of the shovel. Your dominant hand should grab the hand grip at the end of the handle shaft. In this grip, the thumb of your non-dominant hand should be pointing towards the material you’re digging. This is the standard way to hold a shovel, and will be more than adequate for 70% of the work you’ll do with it. As a rule, the closer your hands are to each end of the shovel, the more strength you’ll be able to bring to bear on the task.
The second type of grip is more useful when you come across particularly hard or rubble-y materials. Essentially you simply switch the direction of your non-dominant hand to have the thumb facing away from the material you are digging. This allows you to really put your weight into the digging motion – you almost lead with your shoulder when digging like this. You probably won’t get much on the shovel blade, but you’ll certainly loosen the material you’re digging enough to switch back to the standard grip to move it.
And try not to over think things by wondering where you’ll put the stuff you remove, or worry about the wheelbarrow having a flat tire before you start. Just charge in - sweet lady luck has your back.
I’ve always found – no matter what I’m digging – that when it comes to shovelling, consistency beats record breaking shovel loads every time. You want to build up a rhythm. That’s where the progress lies. Sure, giant loads of soil piled high on a single shovel load look great – and we all love the swearing and manly grunts that go along with them – but you’re only tiring yourself prematurely. Pace yourself, build up a rhythm, and always err on the side of smaller, more petite shovel loads.
Shovel like a French woman might. It’s better for your back, and makes the work much easier.
Oh, and as with all manual handling tasks: lift with your legs, not your back!
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labour
And make sure you exaggerate how hard it was to do, so that others will gush with admiration for your exertions. You love that.
Admire that hole. Marvel at that pile of rubble that is now 4 feet further away than it was at lunch time. That’s right – the finesse and knowledge required to dent the earth like that is all you, baby.
Finally, Stop Once You’ve Worked up a Sweat, and Untie your Hair to Cool off
Preferably in slow motion, and preferably with the chorus from Foreigner’s 1984 hit “I Want to Know What Love is” playing in the background. Yeah, just like that. I mean...ahem.
And there you have it. Not only do you have a brand spanking new hole to admire, but you’ve also earnt the admiration and respect of the man in your life for being able to do your own shovelling – he’ll be impressed by your initiative and independence, and even more impressed you found the time to dig up half the garden AND have dinner ready by six o’clock.
Oh wait...there’s that hole I’ve dug for myself again...