The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts


Spade making (forged heads)


The making of spades and shovels, specifically with forged heads and usually with wooden handles.


Status Critically endangered
Craft category Metal
Historic area of significance
Area currently practised
Origin in the UK County Antrim
Current no. of professionals (main income) 2 professionals

1 business (see ‘Other information’ for further details)

Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required



Spades are a popular gardening and building tool. Due to industrialization, there are very few craftsmen who still handcraft spades. Spades have been made and used for centuries. With the Industrial Revolution, the number of handcrafted spades, however, has been on the decline.



Basic forging techniques including punching, Fullering, forge welding, drawing, playing and shaping.


Local forms

Everywhere developed spades of their own kind and form at different times. But the Irish spade has 150 types and iron tipped spades we have are from coastal and boggy regions in Ulster.




Issues affecting the viability of the craft

The following sustainability issues were highlighted by Richard Carter Ltd., which manufacture bent steel spades, rather than forged spades.

  • Training issues/recruitment issues: Always a challenge to recruit new staff for physically difficult and dirty jobs in a predominately male environment. Also very hard to find suitable people with the right work ethic – many school-leavers have no idea what industry is like.
  • Foreign competition: Competition from cheaper foreign imports is always an issue
  • Market issues: There has been a change in consumer’s attitudes towards quality – customers don’t necessary see the value in paying for quality and would prefer to buy cheaper alternatives even if they don’t last as long
  • Market issues: Have to rely on making a high-end/niche product – the market just isn’t there if you rely on volume


Support organisations


Craftspeople currently known

  • Aaron Leach, Swifts Forge, County Antrim
  • Patterson’s Spade Mill – based in Templepatrick, County Antrim, Northern Ireland are also the last surviving water-driven spade mill in the British Isles.


Other information

Richard Carter Ltd, Huddersfield, do make spade heads, but these are made from bent mild steel, rather than by forging. They are the only company manufacturing spades and shovels on a commercial basis, primarily for contract/utility work but also a small amount for garden retail. Also manufacture handles, edge and other tools. Twenty people working in the factory.

Until recently, Bulldog Tools manufactured garden spades and forks in the UK. They have since out-sourced the forging of the heads to their factory in India, but still make the handles in Wigan and assemble the finished product in the UK.

Aaron Leach is attempting to start an apprentice programme for spade makers at the Ulster Folk Museum.