The pickaxe: different shapes for different uses

The pickaxe is undoubtedly one of the oldest known tools. Its use probably dates back to the time when iron began to be worked. The pickaxe is mainly used in masonry for earthworks, in mines and especially in gardens. Its shape is slightly different for one or the other of the activities.

What is a pickaxe?

A pickaxe is a simple tool that includes a metal head with a point on one end and often a blade on the other, mounted on a long wooden or fiberglass handle. The piece of metal forms an angle of almost 90 degrees with the handle. The metal head has a sharp peak, which bends slightly, and nowadays often has a counterweight which is most often a blade or other peak. The weight of the pickaxe head is thus balanced and this improves its use.

A pickaxe is mainly used to break hard ground or stone. Its sharp end is mainly used for breaking hard surfaces like concrete, stone or dry hardened earth. Its other end is mainly used for lifting open slits in the ground or in stone.

The little story of the pickaxe

As said before, the pickaxe is considered to be one of the oldest tools used by mankind. Its use dates back to prehistoric civilizations and has been associated over the centuries with different fields ranging from cultivation of farmland to mining to war. In some ancient reliefs, soldiers are observed storming a city and these are depicted using pickaxes to destroy and loot the city. We find the tool used by warriors in the Middle Ages. They are riders who use it like a hammer. The main use of the pickaxe was during battle to knock the riders off their mounts or to pierce their thick armor that could not be pierced by a simple sword. Its heavy weight, however, made it unwieldy and was easily avoided by the enemy.

The pickaxes were then used for the construction of the 19th century. Then they were exploited in the coal mines. It is still a method of exploitation used in some countries today, such as Colombia, Peru and parts of Africa.

Finally, the pickaxes were used in the First World War. Sometimes in full, sometimes just their sleeves which allowed the creation of other weapons.

What is the difference between a pickax and a serfouette?

A hawk has a wide, horizontal blade, usually with a sharp peak at the other end of the head while a pickaxe has a sharp peak at one end of the head and a narrow blade at the other. Today the terms pickaxe and hoe can be used to mean the same thing, but they are in fact different tools.

What are the different types of pickaxes?

The digger’s pickaxe

The digger’s pickaxes get their name from their use in the world of masonry and construction. These are the most common type of pickax used today. They can also be used by archaeologists.

The miner’s pickaxe

The miner’s pickaxe was used in coal mines. It has a shorter handle than the previous one to facilitate its use in confined spaces of a mine. Mining Pickaxes are still available today although they are much less common than Digger Pickaxes.

The gardening pickaxe

It is undoubtedly the instrument that we know best. A garden pickaxe is used for a variety of tasks like digging holes or trenches and breaking up hard or rocky soil.

How to best preserve your pickaxe?


Pickaxes are no exception and like most tools should always be cleaned before putting away. Any mud or dirt should be brushed off whether it is on the head or the handle. And if the tool gets wet, it needs to be dried.

Rust prevention

If your pickaxe is to be stored in damp conditions, the head should be lightly covered with oil or wrapped in an oily rag to prevent it from rusting.

Maintenance of the wooden handle

You can coat your wooden handle with linseed oil to prevent it from warping. In particular, this will help preserve it and prevent it from rotting.