For the small-scale homesteader, a digging fork is almost as vital a tool as a shovel. Our forks see constant use, particularly because of our rocky soil. They’re great for breaking up dry, caked manure, where a regular pitchfork would bend.
I am a big fan of Harbor Freight Tools, since I frequently find myself in need of specific tools that will see only occasional, light use. So long as I pay attention to product reviews on the website to weed out the real lemons (I look them up on my phone in the store), I find that their cheap tools do the job 80-90% of the time. Here’s an example of one that didn’t. Last year we bought two D-handle digging forks there, for under $20 a piece.
I probably didn’t read the reviews before buying them. One of ours just gave up the ghost. I wasn’t even putting much pressure on it, when the middle two tines just bent right off. Judging by how the exposed metal on the broken surfaces looks, the head was cast, not forged. Not good.
I did check with the store, to see if they had any kind of guarantee or replacement program, but apparently that doesn’t go past 90 days for tools that don’t have the lifetime warranty. So it’s a clear case of caveat emptor, although I will say that the broken fork’s twin is still going strong. We knew these were a bit of a gamble when we got them, but we needed two, and funds were tight.
So, where can one get a real digging fork that’s made for real work? When I was growing up, my mother had a digging fork she’d gotten along with a matching D-handle spade from Bountiful Gardens, if memory serves. I used it to double-dig at least a couple of large beds, and for sundry tasks over the years. As far as I know, she still has it and it’s still as useful as the day she got it 20+ years ago.
I did some digging online (figurative digging), and discovered that English forged spades and forks are still manufactured by Bentley, Spear & Jackson, and Clarington Forge. Flexrake makes a fork that appears similar, but it gets very poor reviews at Amazon, mainly due to the poor quality of the metal.
It turns out that Bountiful Gardens now carries three different brands of forged digging forks, and has an extremely useful page that details the specs and differences between the different models. (I should point out that I am in no way affiliated with Bountiful Gardens, although I have always been happy with books and seeds I’ve ordered from them.) The stainless Bentleys look like particularly nice tools, although I’ve read some very mixed reviews elsewhere on the web.
It is possible that some types of work simply demand too much of the humble digging fork, and would be better left to a tool such as a spud bar. Lee Valley & Veritas‘ site says of the Clarington Forge tools they carry, “…these are the strongest gardening tools we offer, with a strength rating far in excess of the British standard (which specifies that digging tools bear at least 121 lb of force at the end of the handle, and border tools bear 88 lb, without breakage). Though robust, they are not indestructible, so we do not recommend them for uprooting saplings or prying boulders.”