To build a better snow shovel

There might be as many beliefs about the proper way to shovel snow as there are snowflakes. The main camps seem to be the pushers, the lifters and the wheelers. On a snowy weekend like this one, you can spot them by the tools that they carry.

The pushers employ shovels with long handles and curved, "C" shaped blades. They stand up as they work, placing their shovels on the pavement and propelling themselves and the curling snowpack toward the street. Pushers do their best work in light snowfalls, ones that measure 3 inches or less. They favor shovel blades made of steel, a material that is heavy but cuts through tramped down snow like an icebreaker. Sidewalk cleanliness is next to godliness for the pushers.

The lifters use what most people would call conventional snow shovels. These tools have a rectangular shaped-blade, a long handle topped with a D- shaped grip and are used to remove snows deeper than 3 inches. Over the years the composition of these shovels has changed, an evolution noted by Tom Yeoman, whose grandfather began making shovels in the 1930s. The family-run company that Mr. Yeoman heads still makes YO-HO brand tools in Monticello, Iowa, a community where snow typically covers the ground from November until late March.

"Steel shovels were predominant in the early days. They were very durable but very heavy. Aluminum snow tools lightened the load when they were introduced but could not withstand heavy use," Mr. Yeoman said, so bands of steel called wear strips were attached to the bottom of the aluminum blade.

These days, so-called poly snow tools, made of resins that are lightweight and durable, many with "S" shaped handles to ease back strain, are popular among lifters. Mr. Yeoman said that while his company sells poly snow tools, it prides itself on its steel. Its pusher blades are made with spring steel that won't curl up or "dog-ear" on its corners, he said. And the "S" shaped handle on their ergo model shovel is made with tubular steel.

Closer to Baltimore, the Ames True Temper company, with headquarters in Camp Hill, Pa., has come up what is perhaps the first hybrid snow shovel, the SnoBoss. It is designed to both push snow and lift it. It has several handles, a longer one made of aluminum and two mid grip handles made with polymers. The middle grips allow the shoveler to hold the device with the wrist pointed down, a position that is ergonomically correct. The device was dreamed up, True Temper's Joe Saffron said, after staffers watched a film showing an Arctic explorer use a similar device to hack his way through the snow.

For many winters, the wheelers have been led by the contingent operating gas or electric snow blowers. But Tom Noonan, who injured his back years ago while clearing his Fairfield County, Conn., driveway with a conventional shovel, created a wheeled snow shovel. Called the Sno Wovel, it consists of a 26 inch wide shovel connected to a 36 inch diameter wheel and a large handle. The device functions like a fulcrum, Mr. Noonan said. The snow is picked up with the shovel end of the device, then the operator pushes the handle down at the device's other end. The result is that the load of snow goes airborne.

Mr. Noonan, who heads a company creating novel products called Structured Solutions, said he has tossed snow far as 12 feet from the edge of his driveway with no ill effects on his back. A less dramatic method is to scoop the snow up, wheel the device to the edge of the driveway and merely dump it, he said.

Learning how to flip snow with his device is, he said, like riding a bicycle. It can take a little practice. A video on the Sno Wovel website, demonstrates the proper technique — back straight, legs bent — for flipping snow. Late this week, as forecasters predicted at least six inches of new snow would fall on his driveway, Mr. Hoffman was at the wheel.

Mother Nature, it seems, is ecumenical when it comes to pushers, lifters and wheelers — this winter, she has allowed all three ample opportunity to practice their beliefs.

—Rob Kasper

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