Monday, July 7, 2014

Something Old, Something New, Shovels For Me, A Review For You

We've had this shovel for nearly 40 years.
When my husband and I first were married, we started accumulating things that one needs when setting up a proper household. A key to the front door.  A large garbage can.  A shovel.  The shovel wasn't on my list of necessary things, because my husband was the gardener of the family back then.

As is the case with many couples starting out, not everything you get is brand new. Family members are happy to hand down those things that they have to spare, and our first shovel came from my parents. (I think. It's hard to remember details that are 39 years old.) That shovel has gotten a lot of years of use and it shows it. But it still works, even if the tip is a little worn.

Times change though, and we now both know that a shovel is a necessary member in the tool shed.  I'm just as likely to use one as Romie.
So when Ames Tools contacted me earlier this year to see if I might be interested in learning more about their products, I thought about shovels. We sure could use a new one and they were happy to send a couple of them out for us to try.  In fact, I got to take a trip to Camp Hill, Penn., in April to actually see their shovels and other tools being made.

That's a story for another day, but let me just say this - I love this company. They've got an incredible history. Their tools "built America," and that's no kidding.  Ames was a company before the United States was the United States. Established in 1774, they're still going strong today.  That speaks volumes, doesn't it?

These are just a very few of the tools that the Ames company makes.

But about those shovels...

Ames Tools makes more shovels (and other tools) than you can imagine. Round point shovels, border spades, transfer shovels, floral shovels, drain spades, snow shovels, even a rice shovel. Not only that, they make them in varying levels of quality.  That's not to say they aren't all great shovels, but it depends on how much you're going to use it and how much you want to spend. Ames has a shovel for every use and budget.

Jim Maffei, Director of Marketing and
New Product Development at Ames
We wanted a good basic digging shovel and we needed something that would handle our clay soil as well as our old one shown above did.  Remember that shovel (not an Ames) with the zig-zag cutting edge that came out a few years ago?  We broke it. We broke the BLADE. That's how tough our soil can be.

As I looked through the Ames catalog, trying to figure out which shovel would work best for us, I got it narrowed down to four different ones, but I was still indecisive about whether I wanted the ash-handled round point, or the heavy duty professional fiberglass one. I needed help choosing.

So, I got on the phone one day with Jim Maffei, Director of Marketing and New Product Development for Ames, and we talked shovels. Since Ames was sending me the shovel(s) of my choice, cost wasn't really a factor for me. But there are all kinds of things that enter into why people choose the shovels they do and at first, I didn't choose one based solely on function.

I decided it was either going to be the Ames Long Wood Handle Round Point Shovel or the Razor-back Long Handle Super Socket Round Point Shovel. Razor-back is one of the professional lines of tools that Ames manufactures and they're now making these available to the general public, for those who want something a little heavier duty.

While this has nothing to do with function, I like my tools to look attractive.  The modern vintage look of the Ames wooden-handled shovel appealed to me a great deal, as well as the fact that it's made entirely in the U.S.  On the other hand, the Razor-back's signature color is red. I'll choose red for just about anything.

But it doesn't really matter how a shovel looks if doesn't perform well.  So my husband and I put both shovels to the test. We had several garden tasks this spring that were good for giving both shovels a workout.  We needed to remove shrubs, plant a tree, and of course, plant new perennials.You can use pretty much any shovel to plant most perennials, but when it comes to digging a hole to plant a tree or shrub and especially when you're removing either of these, you need something that's tough enough for the job.

Here's what I thought about each of these shovels:

 Ames Long Wood Handle Round Point Shovel

  • I loved the feel of the wooden handle (ash) and I felt like it had some flex to it, but when I applied some pretty heavy leverage, I heard a crack. Nothing appeared to be broken though and I kept on using it quite a bit after that. Minor creaking sounds, but no problems. 
  • The step feature on this shovel is sufficient for really standing on it to get more power behind your digging. I don't think I'd buy a shovel without the step for the kind of digging we do around here. (I like to jump on my shovels. Clay, you know.)
  • The grip is a bit cushioned and I like the feel of it.  It also helps prevent a gloved hand from slipping.
  • 60.5" long, weighs about 4.5 pounds.
  • Nice weight - not too heavy and not too light.
  • It's got an attractive modern retro look to it, as do other tools in this line.
  • Has a 15-year warranty.  
  • $14.97 at Home Depot.

Razor-back Long Handle Super Socket Round Point Shovel

  • This one has a fiberglass handle and I expected that to make it a little more lightweight, but it was just the opposite. The tempered steel blade is a bit heavier, so that contributes to the extra weight. It wasn't so much heavier though that I would prefer the other shovel because of it.
  • The step on this shovel is wider and since there are times when I use both feet at once when putting my weight into digging, I'd choose the wider step.
  • This one also has a comfortable grip.
  • 62.25" long, weighs about 5.25 pounds.
  • Has the feel of a heavy duty tool that it is.
  • Has a lifetime warranty.
  • $25.97 at Home Depot.

So which shovel did I like better? That's really a hard choice to make. They both work well, and I don't think you could go wrong with either one. The only difference might be that over time, with use factors being equal, the Razor-back could hold up better and/or longer. Both wood and fiberglass can break, although the fiberglass is less likely to do so. And while I really like the wooden-handled Ames shovel a lot, if I absolutely were forced to choose, I'd have to pick the Razor-back. It just feels like a better shovel and I had a little more confidence in it when I was applying leverage. I would have no problem paying the extra eleven dollars for the Razor-back.
Interestingly, as I got ready to do my review, I looked a little closer at Old Faithful and what do you know...


I sent these photos to Ames to see if they could determine a general time period for when this shovel might have been made. Here was their response:

“The solid socket Featherlite shovels with the shock bands were made in Parkersburg, WV, during the '60s to mid-'70s.  We discontinued shock band production and use.” - Dave Combs, a 30+ year employee of Ames
That fit, since Romie and I got married in 1975. We also have an old drain spade that's made by TrueTemper (a division of Ames) that they identified as being about that age, too.

It seems that we've always been an Ames family.  :-)

Ames Tools sent both shovels to me free of charge so that I could try them out and compare the two of them. I have shared my experience and given my honest opinion of them. No monetary compensation has been given to me for the purposes of reviewing these products.


Colleen said...

Both look like they are great shovels and sounds like they worked out for you pretty well.
I especially like the idea that they are made in the U.S.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Nice review. Go Ames...USA.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Kylee. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on both of these shovels. Sounds like a great company. Made in the USA - YAY!

Dottie said...

I love tools! Thank you for reviewing them for us. I would love to win one of these shovels. They look like they are of nice strong quality. I love that they are made in the US,

Unknown said...

No shovel now compares to the ames no2 featherweight pony. .check auctions constantly to find one..have one let me know. Thanks

Kylee Baumle said...

Judd ~ Have you contacted Ames to let them know how much you liked their older shovel and why. They really like hearing from their customers.

Unknown said...

Until I came upon your info on this shovel I was not finding anything..thanks much appreciated

Kylee Baumle said...

Judd ~ Here is the 800 number for Ames Tools customer service: 800.393.1846. You can also fill out a contact form on their page here:

Good luck!

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