If I had severely limited storage, and had to limit the tools I use to work in soil to an equally severe degree, I would start with a long-handled round point shovel and a heavy-duty pick/mattock combination. If I could have a third tool, I’d choose a pick and change the mattock to a so-called axe/mattock. I’ll explain why a bit later.
Many people don’t know it, but round point shovels are a fairly recent innovation compared to the pick, mattock and square point shovel. The three latter have been around, in some version, for thousands of years; the round point shovel has probably existed for less than 200. Before then, all initial digging was done with a mattock, and the rubble was scooped up with a square point shovel and pitched or carried to wherever it was being moved. In rocky ground, the pick replaced the mattock. In lighter soils, a smaller, narrower bladed shovel called a “spade” could sometimes be used.
One reason that I prefer an axe/mattock is that the axe blade can be used to mark out the area to be dug up by chopping down through the sod. Just as important is that it can be used to more easily cut any roots that crop up than the mattock blade. I will say that unlike a Pulaski, which is an axe first and a mattock second, an axe/mattock is a mattock first and an axe second. As a result, the axe part is adequate for digging, but not for serious axe-work.
Now comes the task for which many folks would never think a mattock could be useful—building demolition. By slipping the mattock blade between pieces of wood that are nailed or spiked together and prying SIDEWAYS on the handle, it gives more separating pressure than even many crowbars. If the blade is kept reasonably sharp, you can actually strike into a tight joint to start the separation. I think the use of a mattock in demolition is especially helpful if you’re trying to save the materials for re-use. You probably WILL want to keep both blades ground a little sharper and thinner if you intend to use it mostly for demolition. ALSO, for demolition, be sure that you use only mattocks that have pick-type handles, NOT the thinner axe-style handles.
One final thought—if you keep a few tools in your vehicle in case of SHTF circumstances, a mattock MIGHT draw less attention if you needed to do a little low-budget requisition. It might also come in handy for “digging in” should the need arise, though I’d carry a round point shovel, too. © 2013-