Primitive wooden shovel, c.1870

This wins the prize for being the largest antique with an inventive repair in my collection. I found this grain shovel, hand carved from one piece of wood, at an antique shop only a few miles from my weekend house in upstate NY. It measures 36″ long by 13″ wide and I believe the wood to be pine.

It was not unusual for large utilitarian pieces carved from a single piece of wood to crack. The farmer who repaired this piece was quite thorough, using a large piece of metal and dozens of small nails to repair the split blade.

Wooden “one piece” shovels of this design were first made by the Shakers in the early to mid 1800’s.

A pair of iron straps were nailed to the back of the blade to help secure the break.

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12 Responses to “Primitive wooden shovel, c.1870”

  1. BB says:

    I had no idea that make-dos applied to shovels as well! You are opening my eyes up to a whole new world. I feel a treasure hunt coming on 🙂

  2. Sandra Thompson says:

    I have one just like that but in GREAT SHAPE . Do you know how much it worth ? I will send pics of mine if you give me your E – Mail ok ? I got mine from a friend . He was going to throw it out but he knew I loved old stuff and shiped it to me for my B – DAY along with a old hand made drill – rake – a rug beater . Thank you for sharing your fine . Sandra Thompson in Florida.

  3. admin says:

    Hi Sandra, Sorry, but I do not know the value of items in perfect condition, as I am only interested in repaired pieces. But if you do an online search for “antique wood shovel” you will most likely find similar examples with prices. Thanks for your interest and good luck! Andrew

  4. Sandra Thompson says:

    Thank you Andrew for responding. And Have a wonderful day . Sandy

  5. charlie says:

    I always thought you weren’t supposed to use metal in or on a grain shovel for fear of sparks.

  6. Chuck Stanton says:

    I have a perfect wood shovel; it looks like yours, only it is not cracked.

  7. Nancy Diodati says:

    I know a bit about these shovels because wooden shovel making was a family tradition as far back as anyone can remember and has been documented as far back as 1833.
    The shovel posted in the first image is highly recognizable to me. It was more than likely made by someone in my family from Upstate New York. I would be willing to exend an educated guess and say it was made by my great-great grandfather, Joseph C Ward who was born in 1865 in Liberty, New York. The reason I am suggesting it was one of his is because of the shape of the inside bowl. If the shovel is even older than that it would have been made by my great-great-great grandfather, Cornelius Ward, born in 1842.
    My great grandfather, Harvey Ward, was known as the last shovel maker and he carved the bowl out a little deeper and didn’t leave quite the same flat edge on the bottom and lower sides. A PBS documentary was made of my grandfather, Harvey and his shovel making, when I was about 10 years old and it is still circulating the film festivals today although he passed away in 1982 at age 92. He made shovels until the day he died. There was also a book small book written about my grandfather’s shoving making by David Goff, entitled “Wooden Scoop Shovel Making” published in 1973, which I have a copy of.
    The main reason I recognize this wooden shovel has to do the the slightly off center handle where it is attached to the bowl or “scoop” as grandfather called it. This off center handle has to do with the strained placed on the shovel when scooping heavy loads. Also, my family members was the only ones at the time (in the 1800’s) to make the “D” handle. Named after the capital letter “D.” There were other wooden shovel makers but they were making shovels with long stick handles like a broom handle.
    As far as the wood used, pine was not used until much later. Grandfather used different kinds of wood, all native to New York. His father before him used Chesnut.

    Here is grandfather’s video clip if you would like to see how it was made and hear about the wood he used:

  8. Nancy Diodati says:

    The wooden shovels were made for grain yes, but he majority of wooden shovels my family members made were designed for use in the gun powder factories in Pennsylvannia. They could not use metal shovels as the gentlemen stated due to fire sparks.

  9. Doris Fowler says:

    March 4, 2013

    I have a large wooden grain shovel that is overall 43″ tall with a crack down the middle of the scoop that has been covered with metal and two metal straps across the back. The scoop is 18″ high, 12″ across and 5″ deep.
    The very top of the handle is a little larger than the handle itself and has an indentation on the back for your fingers. My grandfather found this shovel under a chicken coop in Danbury, CT. I get lots of inquiries from people who see it and wonder what it was used for. I was happy to read the other remarks about these shovels – all interesting information.

  10. I wrote an article about my great grandfather and his scoop making with step by step photos. I will probably add more to it as time goes by. I thought your viewers may be interested in seeing the behind the scenes making of a wooden scoop by Harvey Ward. You have my permission to publish the link.

  11. Eve says:

    I inhereited one of these shovels and am really curious about the value. Anyone know?

  12. Stanley Thigpen says:

    Nancy D-M
    What a great story and family tradition. I found your comments on this site after viewing the video on the Last Shovel Maker. I was just searching if there was more info on your Great Grandfather and wondering to what age he lived. -a long lived gentleman.