Pickaxes Mattocks

Guide to Gardening Picks: Pickaxes, Mattocks and their uses

Last Updated on May 2, 2023 by Editors

In this guide, we will take a look at the two basic types of gardening picks: The Mattock garden tool and the Pickaxe. Pickaxes and mattocks are essential tools for anyone who wants to break through the hard crust of the earth. When you are digging a hole for a garden, these tools give you the power to make quick work of the toughest soil.

In addition, there is a versatile tool called Pulaski which is often used by some people for garden tasks. We will break down all their differences and similarities so you can determine which tool is best for your gardening tasks.

Then we will focus on the types of picks for digging, their handles and maintenance. If you are shopping for the best pick axe or mattock, we have a few recommendations that we believe are the best affordable garden picks on the market. We hope you’ll find this guide useful.

Our Top Picks for Pickaxes and Mattocks

Best mattock suggestion:

Hooyman Pick Mattock with Heavy Duty Forged Head and No-Slip H-Grip Handle

The heavy Hooyman Pick Mattock

This well made pick mattock has a heavy head made of 1045 high strength carbon steel and a durable handle that contains a reinforced fiberglass core. Slightly heavier than other pick mattocks, this mattock tool measures 36″ in length and has a grip that feels great. In our opinion, the mattock tool from Hooyman is the best mattock at an affordable price. We really like its heavy head!

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Best pickaxe recommendation:

Truper 31646 Railroad Pick with Fiberglass Handle, 36-Inch, 6-Pound

Truper 31646 Railroad Pick with Fiberglass Handle pickaxes mattocks best gardening picks for garden

If you are shopping for the best pickaxes, then we believe that this sturdy pick from Truper is ideal for you. This pick ax is advertised as a railroad pick because it is a heavy duty tool. It can loosen very hard packed soil, break asphalt, concrete and you can use it to dig holes that most pick mattocks fail to dig. Available in two versions, one with a fiberglass handle and one with a wooden handle. However, we decided to recommend the fiberglass version because it has better striking absorption.

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About Gardening Picks and types of picks for digging

Gardening picks are great multi-purpose garden tools that are used for digging and cutting through roots. Also, you can use them for unearthing boulders, and other heavy gardening works. There are two basic types of gardening picks: Mattocks and Pick Axes.

What is a Mattock?

The Mattock tool is a heavy, strong garden tool with a long handle and a metal head. The metal head is able to break up soil. Also, with this sturdy tool you can dig, move rocks and cut roots.

Mattocks types

There are two kinds of the Mattock garden tool, the Cutter Mattock and Pick Mattock:

  1. Also known as Grub Axe, the Cutter Mattock features a heavy metal head with an adze blade on one side and an axe (cutting blade) on the other side.
  2. The Pick Mattock tool features a heavy metal head with an adze blade on one side and a pick blade on the other side.

Also, there are smaller, one handed, versions of both Cutter Mattock and Pick Mattock for more close-up work.

What is a Pick Axe?

The pick or pickaxe tool is a large heavy duty tool that has a curved metal bar with sharp ends fixed at the center to a wooden handle. You can use it to dig and chop through roots. Additionally,  it’s a great tool for breaking rocks or hard ground.

Pickaxes types

Pickaxes and Mattocks

There are two kinds of the Pickaxe tool:

  1. The standard Pickaxe, also known as pick or railroad pick. The pick axe features a heavy metal head with a pointed pick on one side and a wider pick (narrow chisel) on the other side.
  2. The second kind is the Pickaxe axe tool. The pick axe axe has a heavy metal head with a pointed pick on one side and an ax, instead of another wider pick, on the other side.

Like in the case of Mattocks, there are smaller, one handed versions of Pick Axes. They are just called small pickaxes.

Mattock vs Pickaxe – What is the difference?

The description details of their differences may be a bit confusing so in simple terms:

  • Pick Mattock: Mattock with pick and adze blade
  • Cutter Mattock: Mattock with a cutter (cutting blade – axe) and an adze blade
  • Pickaxe: Pick axe with a pointed pick and another wider pick (narrow chisel)
  • Pickaxe axe: Pick axe with a pointed pick and an axe

When to use Pickaxes

Generally, the Pickaxe head is heavier than Mattock’s or it should be heavier. You can use the Pickaxe for heavier works like landscape and construction tasks. This doesn’t mean that you can use it to break every kind of material. For example, you should not use it to break concrete. It can break it but it’s not the easiest tool to work with when trying to do this job. On the other hand, the pickaxe is good enough to break sandstone and great for hardened clay.

What is a Pulaski?

The Pulaski is a special hand tool, commonly used for opening paths and constructing firebreaks. It’s similar to the cutter type of the mattock tool. For this reason, the pulaski tool is sometimes called pulaski mattock. The Pulaski tool can be used to dig, move soil and chop wood.

Mattock vs Pulaski – What is the difference?

The Pulaski tool is similar to the cutter Mattock garden tool because it combines the functions of an axe and adze. They both have about the same size and identical shape, but the Pulaski tool is more focused on chopping, while the cutter mattock tool is more focused on hoeing. Simply put:

  • The Pulaski is an axe with a narrow grubbing blade
  • The Cutter Mattock is an adze with a cutting blade (axe)

Why is Pulaski a bad choice for garden tasks?

The Pulaski tool is the wrong choice for gardening jobs, because it is not a gardening tool. The Pulaski was developed as a foresting tool. For garden tasks there are far better gardening tools than the Pulaski tool:

  • The Pulaski can be used for digging and moving soil but it’s not as efficient as the Mattock.
  • According to the National Park Service, the Pulaski tool “is not as balanced or safe as the axe”.

What is a Mattock used for?

Since there are two kinds of Mattock tools it’s easy to distinguish how to use a Mattock for different garden jobs. The Mattocks’ primary use is for digging, breaking up and moving soil and rocks. In addition, you can use it to cut roots or to unearth big rocks.

  • The Pick Mattock tool is most useful in rocky or hard soil where the pick is used to break up the soil and pry.
  • The Cutter Mattock tool is more useful in deeper, rooty soil. In this kind of soil the cutter blade (axe) can be used to sever resistant roots.

How to use Mattocks

  • When swinging you should blend force with accuracy and keep your feet apart.
  • Don’t bend your back all the time, it’s exhausting. Stand a bit lower than the level which you are digging – if possible.
  • You should wear leather gloves and avoid choking up on the handle.
  • Let the heavy metal head strike down under its own weight.
  • Always wear safety goggles when you break rocks with this tool.
  • All of the above apply to Pickaxe tool usage too.

Pickaxes and Mattocks handles

The two main materials used for pickaxe and Mattock handles are wood and fiberglass.
Each one has advantages and disadvantages:

  • The wooden handles can easily fit to the head, are repairable if not damaged severely and easy to replace if damaged beyond repair. On the other hand, they are very sensitive to environmental conditions like moisture.
  • The fiberglass handles are lighter, more durable and sometimes have no-slip grips; but their long exposure to direct sunlight damages them severely, they cannot be replaced easily and are more expensive than the wooden ones.

As with other garden hand tools, you can purchase the head and handle separately. But you have to keep in mind that the Mattock and Pickaxe heads have an oval eye. Not a round (circular) one. So, in the case you want to buy a head and a handle or a handle as a replacement you’ll have to make sure that it is for a Pick axe or Mattock.

Pickaxe and Mattock handle considerations

Generally, the handle of Mattocks and Pickaxes is (or should be) stronger than the ones used for other garden tools like hoes. Also, their handles are (or should be) straight because both ends of the Mattock or Pickaxe heavy metal blade are used; except for their head section which should be bigger. The longer handles prevent excessive bending of the torso when working with a gardening pick. A 40-inch handle length is good. A 36-inch handle may also do the trick.

A decent quality wooden handle will resist cracking and weathering. If you visit your local hardware store and pick a wooden handle then make sure to inspect the wood grain pattern on the handle; it should be straight.

Where to buy Pickaxes and Mattocks

In the case you don’t have any hardware store in your neighborhood and plan to buy from online stores then you can look at Amazon’s big collection of Mattocks and Pickaxes. There are Mattocks, Pick axes, Mattock and Pickaxe heads and handles for every budget and every need.

Pickaxes and Mattocks maintenance

Garden Pick axes and Mattocks require the usual garden hand tool maintenance. Additionally, they may need some special care from time to time because they have edges that need to be a little sharp.

  • Remove the dirt or mud and clean your Pickaxe and Mattock with water after each use. You can use a brush to remove baked mud.
  • Use a rag to dry them really well. Make sure that there isn’t any moisture left on the wooden and metal parts of these tools.
  • Inspect each Pickaxe and Mattock and make sure that their heads are attached tightly to their respective handles.
  • Occasionally, deburr the blades if they are dull with a hand file and then sharpen them with a sharpening stone or a hand file but don’t get them axe sharp! Always, apply some oil to the metal parts before storing the garden tools.
  • If the handles of these gardening picks are wooden then, once a year, use a finishing oil to finish them. Additionally, you should use sandpaper to remove the splinters.
  • Store your Pick axe and Mattock in a dry place like a garden tool shed or an outdoor storage cabinet.

Summary for Pickaxes and Mattocks

To make the right choice for you and your garden, you must take your time in searching for the right pickaxe or mattock tool, when it comes to gardening picks. In our opinion you should avoid getting a Pulaski for gardening tasks. Also, when shopping for the best mattock or pick axe pay attention to the head’s weight. A garden pick with a heavy head will make your work in the garden much easier.

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