Mattock

Anyone who has ever put their hands to work knows the value of a good tool. Those of us who do a fair bit of DIY even tend to become a little emotionally attached to certain tools that just make our life easier. While it is easy for me to get a little poetic about my favourite .22 rifle or marvel at how quickly my tractor chews through work that would take my aching back hours to accomplish, the single tool that I find both incredibly useful to me and almost unheard of by others is the mattock.

Mattock

Mattock

A mattock is basically a wide pick. In fact, it is most often offset with a regular pick in opposition in order to balance weight and give you some options. This is the configuration I use. To understand my love of this tool you need to understand the soils on my property. Towards the back of the property, the soil is a bit sandy and relatively easy to dig. The majority of the property is clay, though. Heavy clay. Heavy clay is notoriously difficult to dig and efforts with a shovel can be tedious. This is particularly true in early spring or late fall when you are contending with frozen clay, at least in the top few inches. The other factor plaguing my efforts to excavate is the sod where there is still grass on the property. With minimal or no mowing or grazing, our lawn has become lush, thick and fairly deeply rooted. Removing it has become problematic.

Excavating a pit composter on the property.

Excavating a pit composter on the property.

Fortunately, the mattock provides a nice balance of cutting and scooping. It is thin enough and can be swung hard enough that it will cut deeply through sod or frozen clay. In fact, I have come to prefer digging in lightly frozen clay because once an initial edge is opened up, the frozen clay can subsequently be broken off in large chunks that can be tossed about and don’t stick to your implements. The mattock still has an advantage over the pick, though, because it can be used to scoop some soil and, once wedged in, is broad enough that it will cleave and move sections of clay without cutting into them as a pick does.

Lastly, the mattock truly shines when it comes to digging trenches. I have run electrical lines to several outbuildings over the years and, with the exception of the 100 amp service to the largest outbuilding, have dug the trenches by hand. I also dug the trench for a drainage line to help keep the house’s crawlspace dry during the spring. That would have been a lot of earth to move using a shovel but, thanks to the ability of heavy clay to maintain straight sides, with the mattock I can dig a very narrow, very deep trench without having to remove too much material.

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