UPDATED 9 April 2012

Which Military Shovel is Best, and What E-Tool Do We Need for 21st Century Combat?

The importance of digging in can best be seen in the writings of U.S. Army Colonel David Hackworth and others during the Vietnam war, where the protective cover afforded by the Earth was often the difference between being over-run or warding off asian light infantry infiltration attacks. The British experience in the Falkland war in 1982 verifies this:

Falklands Lessons Not Learned

The E-Tool also has a long and successful career as a close combat WEAPON.


Congressional Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company D, 8th Engineer Combat Battalion

Place and date: Near Kasan, Korea, September 4, 1950

Entered service at: Erie, Pennsylvania
Birth: Mahaffey, Pennsylvania

G.O. No.: 11, February 16, 1951.


PFC. Brown, Company "D" distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. While his platoon was securing Hill 755 (the Walled City), the enemy, using heavy automatic weapons and small arms, counterattacked. Taking a position on a 50-foot (15 m)-high wall he delivered heavy rifle fire on the enemy. His ammunition was soon expended and although wounded, he remained at his post and threw his few grenades into the attackers causing many casualties. When his supply of grenades was exhausted his comrades from nearby foxholes tossed others to him and he left his position, braving a hail of fire, to retrieve and throw them at the enemy. The attackers continued to assault his position and Pfc. Brown weaponless, drew his entrenching tool from his pack and calmly waited until they 1 by 1 peered over the wall; delivering each a crushing blow upon the head. Knocking 10 or 12 enemy from the wall, his daring action so inspired his platoon that they repelled the attack and held their position. PFC. Brown's extraordinary heroism, gallantry, and intrepidity reflect the highest credit upon himself and was in keeping with the honored traditions of the military service. Reportedly missing-in-action and officially killed-in-action, September 5, 1950.[4]

Our current 2.52 pound folding entrenching tool (E-Tool) lacks a pick feature to break hard ground and cannot chop wood. Don't even ask about use as a fighting weapon! The one good thing is it folds nicely into a compact size and while isn't too heavy acts as a bit of additional body armor on your body.



1. Rapidly dig fighting position by blade in 90 degree hoe angle

2. Must have pick feature to break up hard ground

3. Blade chops branches for camouflage, wood for overhead cover and survival/cooking fires


4. Ability to be used with 2 hands when digging

5. Useful for hand-to-hand combat

6. Can be thrown as weapon

7. Non-wood, tan-colored


Gerber E-Tool Folding Spade with Pick 22-01945



Cold Steel Spetsnaz Shovel


West German Army Shovel


Improving the E-Tool that You Have: To Paraphrase former SecDef Don Rumsfeld...

We had a machinist grind the edges of a G.I. E-Tool after first hardening its finish with Rustoleum BLACK BBQ Grill paint....

You could also sharpen the E-Tool's edges with a file after securing it by c-clamp or in a vise.

So yes, you can put a good edge on the blade so it can chop wood--or enemies.

Combat E-Tool Tactics

Here are some drawings of how to fight with the U.S. E-Tool from the latest version of FM 21-150 Combatives.

War Practice: Here are ways to create Targets for WarPrac


FM 21-150 Combatives (1992)

Has excellent material for running a RIFLE-BAYONET Qualification Course that could be adapted to be a Combat E-Tool Qualification Course SO EVERY SOLDIER IN THE ARMY DOES THIS at least once a year so we have some actual ability to close with the enemy and surprise him for a change--compared to the current motorized infantry-in-wheeled-trucks-restricted-to-predictable-roads/trails that gets us ambushed constantly. We have become the bureaucratic French Army of GM 100 (wiped out in Vietnam).

FM 21-150 Combatives (2005)

In the very beginning and ending of this manual is some great detailed info on how to make some RIFLE-BAYONET--or E-TOOL targets using old rubber tires (their proper use! NOT for mobility!).

FM 21-150 Combatives (1954)

Lots of fascinating, combat-proven techniques that are actually useful--not sports PT BS. We are here to be a COMBAT effective outfit---not a sports narcissist club for arrogant assholes.

Sound Off! Soldier: Help Willie with his Expose' of the Army Bureaucracy!


A Retired USAF MSGT writes:

A hand file can easily remove a substantial amount of metal. Good idea mentioning that.

"'We had a machinist grind the edges of a G.I. E-Tool after first hardening its finish with Rustoleum BLACK BBQ Grill paint....'

Experienced contractors and farmers sharpen their shovels for fast cutting. You can easily do this with an ordinary 4 1/2" angle grinder (even a cheap one) and a 60 or 80-grit 4 1/2" 'flap disc' which quickly makes a smooth, sharp edge and can be used for polishing and corrosion removal.

Great for axes, tomahawks, hoes (not THAT kind!) and Pioneer tools needing an edge.


http://www.google.com/search?q=80+grit+flap+disc&hl=en&safe=off&prmd=imvns&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&biw=1280&bih=665&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=fi&ei=9lJNT7WOKJHuggfMiLW8Ag "