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TM reader Gaute Amundsen asks an interesting question: “Can we improve upon the shovel and wheelbarrow? Shovels and spades are simple and versatile, but the physics of shoveling are just horrible — as your back will quickly tell you. Having recently taken delivery of a truckload of aggregate for filling a cable trench — and another truckload of soil for the garden — I’ve had reason to ponder the question. After some Googling, I’m both intrigued and disappointed.”

Some of the products Gaute ran across include the krafse (a sort of narrow shovel of Norwiegan descent, known for its ability to just skim the soil and pick up/move above-ground material) and the Wovel, which Toolmongers have weighed in on previously. Gaute wrote that he tried an improvised version of the Fresno scraper (pictured above) designed to be moved by two people and achieved some success in moving aggregate.

But the question stands: “Even in the age of hydraulics there’s need for moving soil by hand. Can this really be state of the art? If anyone can answer this it must be the readers of Toolmonger!”


12 Responses to Reader Question: Human Powered Digging Machines?

  1. Robbie_B says:

    The best solution? Hire some laborers.

  2. Jim says:

    Living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for many years, I came to love using my “Yooper Scoop” for moving mass volumes of snow. For those not familiar, it looks similar to the Fresno Scraper: http://www.squidoo.com/yooper-scooper

    In somewhat the opposite fashion, I found using my 42″ snowblower (with the auger disengaged) to be pretty handy when having to spread 10 yards of gravel. The gravel was wet and nearly impossible to effectively rake. Taking light cuts, using the snowblower to spread the pile out, I had my driveway covered in about 20 minutes…

  3. Stan says:

    So Jim, you used the snow blower as a hand held dozer. Nice work, I may have to use that someday. Better yet if I wind up with a lot of work like that actually put a blade on an old snowblower.

  4. Jupe Blue says:

    Not a digging tool, but material moving tool.


  5. Bill says:

    Use a square shovel for aggregate.

  6. Gaute Amundsen says:

    What got left out about the “krafse” is that it goes together with a tray, a “brett”.
    You do have to bend down to pick it up and dump the contents in your wheelbarrow, but it’s still much better than just a shovel.
    The curvature on the krafse blade makes it strong but light, and depending on the angle you hold it, you can get a concave, convex, or straight cut, and you can use it sideways as a “pick-light” to break up packed dirt.
    Apparently its a hit with archaeologists worldwide.
    There’s some more info here. Lots that I as a Norwegian had no idea about.

    Those “Yooper Scoops” are pretty much standard issue here in Norway.
    They depend on sliding on the snow. On dirt they would be unusable.
    On that page there is one with wheels as well, but its to wide to get around in our garden.

    What I did was to attach a rope to both sides of a snow “shovel” like this.
    With one guy pulling and one guy pushing and steering like a scraper, that was very efficient. On the same order as the snowblower-dozer hack I imagine, just more work.

  7. Gaute Amundsen says:

    Clever but very specialised.
    Perfect for double digging garden beds I imagine.

  8. Gaute Amundsen says:

    The link for the Fresno scraper is bad BTW.
    I think this one is a god description:

  9. Aleksejs says:

    2 Gaute, thanks for the term – “double digging”. Did not know that 🙂 Yes it is of more use for cultivating than for digging trenches.
    I think – the main improvement of spade/showel is using more ergonomic handle, than just straight stick.
    Some more interesting spades:

  10. Gaute Amundsen says:

    And here’s another ergonomic twist
    and animation

  11. Ralph Vucko says:

    So far was wheelbarrows go, put a 2nd wheel up front. Believe me after you’ve tried it with a load on a hill or grade you’ll never go back to one wheel.

  12. Jim says:

    Gaute, I’m not surprised that you’re familiar with the Yooper Scoop. That region of Michigan is inhabited by Finns, Swedes, and Norwegians. Thanks for all the other information.

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