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Pitchfork or Garden Fork? There is a BIG Difference

Updated on August 3, 2014

Garden tools plus gardener = vegetables, fruit, and flowers!

Pitch fork, hayfork, garden fork, spading fork, digging fork, dessert fork -- What's the difference? They're all forks, right?

When it comes to gardening, the saying "the right tool for the right job" couldn't be truer. The right gardening tool can save hours of work, blistered hands, and an aching back.

Years of gardening have made me lazy. I don't like to waste effort using the wrong kind of shovel, tiller, hoe, rake or fork.

Most people know the difference between a leaf rake and a garden rake. Fewer can tell a grub hoe from a garden hoe.

Do you know the difference between a pitch fork and a garden fork? I sure didn't! There is a BIG difference!

Both tools are perfect. For completely different jobs.

Photo credit: Melodi2 from

American Gothic Pitchfork
American Gothic Pitchfork

Grant Wood Made the Pitch Fork Famous

So did Frankenstein's monster, who was chased by villagers bearing torches and pitchforks.

And of course the devil carries a pitch fork to torment the damned.

The pitch fork is light with tines that are quite sharp, perfect for "pitching" hay or straw.

In case you don't know the difference, hay is for feeding animals, straw is for bedding, and the pitch fork is perfect for moving both from one place to another.

A pitch fork also works pretty well at the early stages of compost, turning light materials and keeping them aerated.

Even better for compost is a manure fork. After all, compost is known as "green manure."

And, yes Virginia, there is a compost fork.

Pitch Fork, Manure Fork, Compost Fork - Each has its own heft and strength. As the load gets denser, the fork gets beefier.

Pitch forks whose tines range from four to 10.

5 Tines Forged Pitch Fork with Long Fiberglass Handle
5 Tines Forged Pitch Fork with Long Fiberglass Handle

Light and long, the pitch fork is for light materials.

Truper 30314 Tru Pro 54-Inch Manure Fork 5-Tine, Ash Handle
Truper 30314 Tru Pro 54-Inch Manure Fork 5-Tine, Ash Handle

A bit beefier with a shorter handle, the manure fork is lighter than a shovel

Union Tools 74156 Compost Fork 36"
Union Tools 74156 Compost Fork 36"

Similar to the manure fork, the compost fork is perfect for turning compost to keep it "cooking."


The garden fork, sometimes called a "spading fork" or a "digging fork" is a serious garden tool that can power through the most compacted soil, even sod. You would not use a garden fork to pitch hay, any more that you would use a crowbar to shovel snow.

Both the pitch fork and the garden fork are levers.

The pitch fork works like a broom -- you use your left hand as the fulcrum and convert a short stroke with your right hand into a big long sweep to throw a light load.

On the other hand, the garden fork works like a crowbar. The fulcrum of the garden fork lever is waaaay down in the tines. You use a long sweep of the handle to convert that motion into a shorter but more powerful motion in the lower half of the tines.


The effect is impressive!

A garden fork is just like a shovel. You use your foot to get the tines into the soil and lever back the handle to power through the hardest soil.

I own a Mantis tiller but for many jobs the garden fork takes less time. In just a few minutes a garden fork can till up a patch of soil, and really gets deep. Great for mixing in compost. In many ways, your best tiller is a garden fork.

Lots of roots and weeds? The garden fork doesn't tangle. Unless you want it to. Once the ground is tilled up, use the garden fork to sift out the roots.

The tines of a garden fork are stout and strong to take the leveraged force. And yes, you can exert enough force to bend the tines!

If you are a gardener who has used a shovel or spade to turn a garden bed, try a garden fork.

Because the garden fork uses mechanical advantage, even a weaker person can use their entire weight to really tear up the soil. It's Garden Judo! A shovel offers leverage, too, but holds onto much more soil. Imagine a garden tiller with big paddles instead of tines -- wouldn't get very far. Shovels are good for moving soil. A garden fork breaks up and mixes the soil. It's the difference between a spoon and a whisk. You just have to try one to see and feel the difference.

You can stir compost and soil by twirling the garden fork using the D-shaped handle, which by the way is much more comfortable than a straight handle. I personally find most garden fork handles a bit short and get the longest handle, 46 or 47 inches.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Save Money, Build Muscles, Eat Fresh

Save Money, Build Muscles, Eat Fresh
Save Money, Build Muscles, Eat Fresh

Long Handle Make This Garden Fork A Comfortable Garden Powerhouse

Easy on the back if you are tall and gives you more leverage. Get the right garden fork because chances are you will have it for many growing seasons.

Fiskars Ergo D-handle Steel Garden Fork (47 Inch)
Fiskars Ergo D-handle Steel Garden Fork (47 Inch)

Ergonomic design incorporates 47-inch length and D-shaped handle. Made in Poland.


Ever Use a Garden Fork?

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    • profile image

      Emyr Richards 

      3 years ago

      What a job to find a handle for a pitchfork , and I mean the one with two sharp tines, yes the one you use to bed and feed the stock ,.

    • profile image

      Lynn Klobuchar 

      5 years ago

      I have. And I have a lovely compost fork as well. Thanks for the hint below -- I will keep my eye on the queen.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 

      5 years ago from Royalton

      Sitting her contemplating the kind of garden I would like to plant next summer when I ran across your article. I have always used whatever tools I found around the house. After reading about garden forks, I believe that is just what I need to make gardening more pleasurable for me. Digging potatoes was difficult last year trying to use a garden rake. Digging up new sod or trying to get out old roots with a shovel wasn't working for me. I can hardly wait to try using a garden fork.

    • norma-holt profile image


      5 years ago

      Great idea to list these different forks and educate us into the types and uses of them. Learned a lot and thanks. Wondered why my garden fork did not do such a good job turning the compost over,

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 

      5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      After all these years of gardening, I didn't know the difference. I've got a pitch fork, missing a 'tooth.' I've tried using it for loosening soil, with not much luck--what I need is a garden fork. Thanks for the education!

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 

      6 years ago from Europe

      I have one heavy duty garden fork. I use it as a pitch fork when necessary, which isn't often. It wouldn't work the other way around.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Most of the garden forks you described are new to me because I use only one. Learning is an extraordinary experience and your lens contributes the most. Thank you for publishing this lens. It was an enjoyable read.

    • AstroGremlin profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @vineliner57: Vineliner you are right on the money! A garden fork may pierce a potato every now and then, but it is THE tool for digging spuds.

    • AstroGremlin profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @bushaex: Bushax, which fork to use a classic test of table etiquette. You can either watch the Queen, or use this simple trick: use the fork on the outside for each course. But when it comes to hay, manure, or compacted soil, it takes a bit more finesse.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      thanx for share,, :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      You handled the difference between the two with expertise...I have used a pitchfork before but never had the pleasure of using a garden fork, what an excellent tool! :)

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I have never heard of a garden fork till now. I think I've seen them but thought it was a thicker pitch fork!

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Forks can be difficult to understand whether we are in the garden or in the kitchen. But where would we be without forks?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      The pitch fork rules. I live in Iowa, the home of Grant Wood and American Gothic. I think we have to use pitch forks here!

    • vineliner57 profile image

      Hal Gall 

      6 years ago from Bloomington, IN

      Garden forks are great for digging up potatoes. Much better than a shovel.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      6 years ago

      We have a garden fork, but I seldom use it. I probably should have used it today when I was putting down mulch, but a large dustpan did the trick. I love American Gothic!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      I use one for raking.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 

      6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I have used a garden fork, never a pitch fork. Now that I see the pictures, I know what to call what I used.

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 

      6 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      I have one that came with my house, but I seldom use it. I thought it belonged to the devil ;] I promise I will now.

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 

      6 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      Yes, I have.



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