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What is a rabbiting spade or poacher’s spade?

What is a rabbiting spade (or poacher’s spade)?

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Or for digging deep, narrow trenches, land drains and post holes The rabbiting spade is perfect for digging small, deep precise holes particularly in confined spaces, for example, the narrow trenches in a vegetable patch or fence post holes.

Other uses include establishing sapling trees, perennials and shrubs without disturbing existing plants.

The blade

The blade is usually very long and tapers towards the end The long blade tapers towards the end and is designed to dig through hard, heavy earth, even penetrating rubble and thin tarmac with ease.

Its slim shape means that less soil will be taken out, giving a neat finish to your digging.

However, it is unsuitable for prolonged shovelling.

This blade has softer rather than sharp corners to avoid damaging pipes and cables. The tread provides a foothold when digging. Look for blades with rounded corners at the cutting edge to reduce the risk of damage to pipes and cables.

Some blades also have a tread on the top to give a better foothold when digging.

The length of the blade varies considerably with the rabbiting spade, ranging between 250mm (10") and 400mm (16").


The length of the blade varies considerably with the rabbiting spade, ranging between 250mm (10″) and 400mm (16″).

Take care when planting small perennials such as peonies or roses with a longer blade – over 350mm (14″) – as the extra length can disturb delicate roots and bulbs.

The width of the blade at its cutting edge is usually around 120mm (5″).

A solid socket connection The most robust heads (the blade and the socket) are forged from one piece of steel, which means that the shaft-to-socket connection is either a solid socket or, less commonly, a strapped socket connection.

The cheaper open socket blades tend to break easily under continual use.

  Wonkee Donkee says 'A solid socket means that head is forged from one piece of steel rather than stamped out of a thin sheet like an open socket, which creates a weak point at the neck. A solid socket connection is much sturdier.'
Solid strapped connection However, on a rabbiting spade with a strapped socket, the shaft is held in place with two straps. Strapped shovels are usually the most expensive but perform better than solid socket shovels.

For more information on socket connections, please see our section: How is the blade attached to the shaft?

The shaft

This will prevent water from entering any open points, lessening any damage A steel shovel should have high quality welds (metal joins) that have no open points to allow water to enter. This will reduce the risk of internal rust and damage.

There should not be any fractured seams: welds must look immaculate and as smooth as possible.

A rabbiting spade with an extra-long shaft The rabbiting spade usually has a long shaft – sometimes without a handle grip – making it ideal for digging deep holes or trenches.

The extra length gives a wider arm span for balance and control.  Please read: What do we mean by leverage? for more information.

The length of the shaft can be anything from the standard length of 700mm (28″) to 1.8m (72″).

Use an insulated shaft when digging around live cables For working around live cables or power lines, use an insulated shaft.

For more information, please see our section: Insulated shovels

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