"A Spade for Cutting Turf."1

By Mark Tully

A good, period-correct spade should be a part of every units' camp box. They were used for trenching around tents, building camp kitchens or firepits, and cutting sod for building fortifications.

Finding an appropriate camp spade is a real challenge. Spades of the period had a completely different profile than their modern counterparts, and modifying a modern piece to be period correct involves more than just burning off the brightly-colored paint.2 You could have a spade custom-made by a blacksmith, but it would likely cost more than you were willing to pay.

Well, our friend John White of Avalon Forge has come through for us again! John is now offering very nice period-looking spades and shovels for your camp. He was kind enough to send me a sample of the spade for review, and I can tell you this thing is great -- sharp, sturdy, a nice period-looking piece. In fact, it is almost a dead-ringer for the surviving spade on display in the Fort Ticonderoga Museum (see below).

These spades feature one-piece construction, a relatively straight socket, a rivet hole in the front of the socket, foot pads bent to the front -- all features identical to several surviving period spades.

The Avalon Forge spade is also a lot stronger than other reproduction spades I have seen. I tested the sample out in my backyard last January. It cut through the frozen Wisconsin sod with ease -- so you KNOW it's going to do a nice job for you in camp. I haven't tried it yet, but I'll bet these would cut out a camp kitchen in less time than it takes to raise a dining fly! In case you haven't figured it out yet, I can't recommend this spade highly enough. My one and only complaint is that I feel the factory-made handle is too long and will need a little extra work to make it fit right. Still, you can always cut it down and use the leftover part to make a nice "T" handle as evidenced on an original in the Fort Ticonderoga Museum.3

Left: Spade in the Fort Ticonderoga Museum. Note the shape and proportions are almost identical to the Avalon Forge replica. Blade dimensions; 7.5" (tapering to 6.5) X 10", socket (from shoulder) 2.5"; overall length 40" (dimensions approximate). Note the short, 1" long peg extension that probably once held a cross-piece. Photo by Steve Gilbert.

Right: New spade available from Avalon Forge. The size, shape and construction are virtually identical to several period specimens especially the Ticonderoga spade. Dimensions; blade 8" (tapering to 7.625 at the tip) X 10.25", socket (from shoulder) 3.5"; overall length 51". The dashed box shows where the haft could be cut and a cross-piece placed to more closely replicate the Ticonderoga spade. Photo by Mark Tully.

NOTES:

  1. Quote from the engraving entitled Military Architecture, describing all parts of a fortification... from the Fort Ticonderoga Museum. This engraving is reproduced in The American Heritage History of the American Revolution, American Heritage Books, 1971, p 161, and is also available as a poster in either the original French version or the "plagiarized" English version.
  2. See the June and August, 1996 issues of The Courier for more on spades.
  3. The Ticonderoga spade has a short peg extension that probably secured a cross-peg to form a "T" (see below). The engraving mentioned above shows a spade with the "T" handle as well.