Digging Up Dirt? How to Choose a Metal Detecting Shovel

How do you dig when metal detecting? A shovel is a key piece of metal detecting equipment to have in your arsenal. In fact, they are one of the most popular metal detecting digging tools. They range in size, quality, blade/handle angles, blade shapes, and handle type. There are a number of factors you should consider when choosing a good metal detecting shovel, so let’s review.

Choosing the right metal detecting shovel makes for a better detecting experience. Key considerations are quality and durability, length, handle type, blade shape, blade angle, edge design, and portability. Cost will be driven by those factors, and you should buy the best digging tool for your budget.

One of the more useful things to consider regarding these accessories is how you’ll travel with your digger, especially if you’re taking a commercial flight. We’ll cover that, too.

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If you’re interested in best-selling metal detecting shovels on Amazon, you can find them by clicking hereOpens in a new tab.

Why use a shovel?

There are other ways to dig your finds out of the ground. Those are:

  • Hands
  • Screwdriver
  • Trowel (garden variety or serrated-edge trowel)

The issue with these is efficiency. Hands aren’t the best diggers, they get tired and can’t penetrate the ground easily (even with gloves.) Screwdrivers can’t really make holes, but they do have the advantage of minimizing ground damage produced and they’re good for pulling small items out like buttons, bullets, and coins

However, shovels are the a superior tools. Here are the most popular types of metal detecting shovels to choose from:

  • Plain old standard shovel from a big box store
  • Foldable entrenching tool (you’ve seen these called military shovels)
  • “Trenching” shovel
  • “Relic” shovels

Standard shovels:

If you visit LowesOpens in a new tab. or Home DepotOpens in a new tab. you’re going to find a shovel and there’s nothing wrong with that. Well, except it’s probably a bit bigger than you need. Oh, and it digs pretty darn big holes. It’ll do the job but there are better options with less weight, more localized hole size, and more portability.

Military entrenching tool:

The entrenching tool is what the military has used for a long time to dig in with. This is a small, portable and foldable shovel that is strong, foldable, and usually includes a pick head. These are very useful features for a detecting shovel. This shovel is rugged, lightweight, and travels well. Popular design that it is, watch for cheap copies. One thing to look for on the good ones is the “US” stamped on the shovel, sometimes including a year.

Trenching shovels:

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A trenching shovel has a design that favors good plugs. It has a sharp edge with a narrow blade. The handle joins the blade at a slight angle and you can use some foot pressure to help in hard soil. In softer sandy ground you can sometimes guide the blade by hand while kneeling.

Relic Shovels:

These are more like regular-size shovels but instead of having that clastic “bend” where the handle joins the metal shovel blade, the shove is almost completely straight. This does work nicely for getting the blade into the ground but you have to go in at a bit of an angle and could knick or impact whatever target you’re after.

What about a knife for metal detecting?

I’ve used a kitchen knife for many years to cut nice clean grass plugs. The problem is that a long pointy knife out in public doesn’t sit well with a lot of people and police officers might even consider it a weapon. These days I wouldn’t recommend it unless perhaps you’re well away from people or on your own property. Instead get a purpose-built digging tool like this one that I bought and tested:

Travelling with a metal detecting shovel on airplanes

  • TSA Rules
    • As of this writing, the TSA website does not mention shovels
    • Knives: If you do choose to use a knife for recovering your metal detecting finds, as of this writing the TSA does allow knives in checked baggageOpens in a new tab., but always check and ask questions before you travel.

When traveling on public transportation to go metal detecting (bus, train, plane) you will want a solid shovel that can fit in a suitcase. That likely means a folding shovel. Three choices come to mind:

  • Military entrenching shovel – it folds and it’s sturdy
  • A larger shovel that you modify by cutting the pole in the middle and devising a method to reattach the pole halves. You could do that with some PVC pipe and a little ingenuity
  • Small-by-design shovel – one model that comes to mind is an “Anaconda” – it works as good as it looks cool, and it’s 100% made in the USA by Anaconda Treasures. You can get one thereOpens in a new tab. or on Amazon:
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Metal Detecting Equipment – Tips regarding shovels

Safety: A quick reminder that serrated metal detecting shovels are great if you’re working in rocky soil, creek bedsOpens in a new tab., or areas with small roots, but they are sharp. Watch your hands, consider wearing gloves.

Public Perception: A good shovel will help you dig up your target and leave the absolute minimum damage. Metal detecting shovels are built for the hobby and so you’ll see separated edges and sharp points on them.

Handle Design: Shovel handles are either ball-shaped or have a “T” or “D”shape. Choose whatever gives you the most control and efficiency. A handle like you find on a snow shovel provides a bit more stability and you can find these on both long pole and short pole shovels. A pole without a handle is a little less bulky. It’s a personal choice and something to give some thought to.

Quality: When looking for a quality shovel, look for good welds and a smooth pole so you don’t get splinters.

Depth: Digging deep holes will require some foot assistance, so shop for a blade with a small area to push against. Some models even have optional foot pads to make the task a little more comfortable.

Longevity: Don’t buy cheap when you shop – it won’t last.

Metal: Don’t get aluminum shovels, look for stainless steel metal which is much stronger.

Pole Material: Shovels typically have a wooden or metal handle, though you can find models made from fiberglass. These are lighter, yet strong. Carbon fiber hasn’t quite made it into the mainstream for garden or metal detecting shovels and is a bit more expensive than wood or fiberglass poles.

Pole Length: Short shovel poles require you to bend over a lot to get down on the ground to dig. Longer shovel poles reduce that strain. Factor that into your decision.

Metal Detector Shovels – Consider when you shop for products

FatigueA longer shovel pole reduces bending and back strain
Blade materialSteel and not aluminum
CompactnessFoldable or short pole length is best, easier to pack for travel
Shovel controlA key factor, driven in part by T- handle, D- handle, or Ball handle
Round plugsLook for serrated blade edges
Roots in groundLook for sharp, knife-like blade edges
PriceQuality costs more, BUT consider what we’ve discussed here as you decide what to purchase. Online customer reviews are very helpful, and visiting stores like Cabela’s, Bass Pro ShopsOpens in a new tab., Home DepotOpens in a new tab., and LowesOpens in a new tab. can allow you the chance to get a hands-on feel for the shovel.

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