"The Ace of Spades!"
By Tom Dempster

Each time I pack the car prior to a metal detecting excursion, I run through a mental check
list, this check list has been referenced many times and has many variations depending on
what I am setting out to do. If I am recording media or reviewing an item of detecting tech
then the list will change accordingly; cameras, wireless mics, gimble, drone, finds pouch, pin
pointer and the list goes on. There is however one item of equipment that is always at the
bottom of the list or tucked away in a dark and dusty corner of my mind, the item that I am
referring to, is the humble but essential spade.

For many years I have used any spade that came easily to hand. Often, I would use whatever
old digging implement I could find lurking deep in the garden shed and these rusted and
dust covered tools were never given a second thought for after all, they were just a spade.
In my mind a spade was a spade, a simple device to allow me to pry up the earth and with
any luck reveal whatever treasure that was within the soil’s grasp. I had over the years
decided that any spade would do, as long as it was of the short-handled variety, I can’t recall
ever making a conscious decision to use only a short-handled spade, but somewhere at
some point in time my subconscious made that choice on my behalf.

The spade that has served me valiantly for the last 4 or 5 years was a cheap small and light
weight one that I had purchased from B&Q, the maker’s name escapes me. Many of my
metal detecting colleagues and friends had mocked my less than perfect spade, others told
me how their weary backs wouldn’t ever allow them to use such an inferior digging tool, but
for me, I thought that it was good enough. When attending group events and rallies many
people can be seen proudly wielding high-end, purpose-built spades, some of them looking
more like a medieval weapon of war than a simple hole-digging tool, but as I carried on
regardless with my cheap and simple spade I thought ‘each to their own’.

A metal detectorist digging with a spade

Earlier this year I was contacted by a chap called Alan Bumstead, Alan owns a company that
produces custom made metal detecting spades. These stylish and sleek tools have a well-
founded place within the world of metal detecting. Alan trades his wares under the
company name of “Optimist Spades” and his now familiar brand logo can regularly be seen
at events and group rallies, and it was at such an event that I first saw one of these
impressive spades. When Alan asked if I would like to try out one of his latest, I was already
aware of the type of product that he produces and their quality, so of course I said “yes”.

Shortly after our conversation Alan had sent me an overwhelming list of options, there were
a plethora of choices from different slings, spade shape, kick plates and of course he wanted
to know what I would like him to engrave onto the spade. Having never been any good at
making decisions when faced with multiple options, I decided to play it safe and leave all the
decision making to Alan, hiding my indecision under the guise of allowing him to use his
artistic flare.

A couple of weeks passed and while on a trip to the Joan Allen shop in Suffolk, I received a
call informing me that my spades were ready for shipping. Knowing that I would be passing
Alan’s home county of Norfolk on my return to Scotland, I decided that I would make a
slight detour and collect the spades on my way north. A few days later I was standing on
Alan’s doorstep. Having met briefly in the past we chatted and caught up before he invited me inside to see the spades. There, propped neatly against the wall were what I could only
describe as two works of art, two masterpieces showcasing their creator’s craftmanship, I
was quite taken aback.

As I stood there talking and trying hard not to be too distracted by the spades, there was also something else demanding my attention. My new distraction was
in the form of Alan’s lovely Staffordshire Terrier “Billy”, this big lean handsome dog was
equally worthy of my attention and within seconds I was rolling around on the floor of
Alan’s home fussing and petting my new friend. Acutely aware that I still had an 11-hour
drive home ahead of me, I thanked Alan and gave Billy one last pat on the head before
quickly placing the spades in the back of the van and setting off.

As I made the long drive north, I found myself wanting to inspect the spades more
thoroughly, I wanted to look at them without any distractions and soak up their detail. For a
moment, I contemplated pulling over and inspecting the spades that were lying neatly in the
rear of the van, but I told myself to be patient and wait until the following morning when
hopefully, I would finally arrive home. For the rest of that long drive to Scotland, my mind
kept churning over the same question, as much as I tried, I couldn’t get the thought to leave
me. What was concerning was this, “how do I review a spade?” Yes, I write articles about
metal detecting related items and talk about them in my videos, but a spade is just a spade,
isn’t it? A spade is just a tool with which you dig a hole, long, short, shiny or rusty they all do
the same thing, and I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t more than a little worried
about how to make this review worth reading. The following morning as I unpacked the van,
I stood in the sunshine and inspected every detail of the spades, Alan had seen fit to supply
me with two spades, one slightly larger than the other with the size difference being born
out of requests from customers for the option of larger spades. The craftmanship and skill
were clear, the engraving which bore my group logo “Hidden History Hunters” looked so
good that I thought it a travesty to actually use this masterpiece to dig holes with! Looking
at the spades and then the blue sky, I decided that there was no better time than now to
start the test.

A "hidden history" metal detecting spade

This time as I went through my mental check list before setting off to some nearby fields,
“spades” were most definitely at the top of my list. Pushing aside my concerns of how to
review a spade I pulled up, donned my equipment and set off detecting. Another factor that
has contributed to me never really wanting a larger customised spade is the weight, I had no
real desire to carry a larger heavier spade when my small cheap little spade served me
perfectly well. I needn’t have worried though, although seeming to be very strong and
clearly longer than my own spade, the Optimist Spades latest design was lighter than I had
expected and sat comfortably in my hand. In the horizontal rearward facing position in
which I carry my spade it felt completely natural, not too heavy but solid enough to give me
confidence in its construction and with my hand at roughly the centre point of the shaft it
was perfectly balanced. I hadn’t wandered far across the stubble field before I received my
first signal, in a flash I swung the spade down into a digging position, placed my right foot
onto the handmade brass kick plates and plunged it into the ground. The customed shaped
and hand sharpened cutting edge of the spade slide effortlessly in, the brass kick plates
making for a comfortable and sturdy foot position and all of this combined made digging
incredibly easy. As I levered the clod from the ground with my left hand I was struck by a
thought, ‘why have I gone so long without a spade like this?’ The entire process of digging
was revolutionised by using this spade, a spade designed and made for metal detecting by a metal detectorist, I was staggered by the difference. As I dug each hole, I found myself
looking for harder and tougher ground to really test this new digging weapon, even in the
hard and rocky ground the shape of the blade meant that it pushed past the rocks with ease
and sliced through roots and vegetation like they weren’t there. I was thoroughly

Metal detecting can if you allow it, be a relatively expensive hobby, with some machines
priced north of £1000 along with pin pointers and other accessories like finds pouches and
outdoor clothing, the cost can soon mount up. So why would we then want to spend
another £100 or so on a spade? Well for just that reason I hadn’t spent much money at all
on a spade in the past, and if I’m honest I probably wouldn’t have at all had I not been sent
this spade. That said, within only a few minutes of using my new favourite thing I instantly
became an advocate for the extra spending, not only does this spade make digging much
easier, also it reduces fatigue and in doing so allows you to detect for longer and
importantly enjoy more time metal detecting. When you break down the cost of this spade
it is surprising that it cost as little as it does, the hand engraving, custom slings and the
handmade kick plates all take time and skill to manufacture. Then there is the spade’s shape
and design to consider, each spade is cut to size and sharpened by hand, all this custom
bespoke workmanship takes time and skill, so in reality it is surprising that it is priced as it is.
Two weeks after returning home to Scotland I was once again heading south, this time to
Kent to attend the Joan Allen Heart of Kent Rally.

A metal detecting spade stuck in the ground

Once again, I loaded the van with various metal detectors and camping equipment, my new spade was most definitely not going to be forgotten. Little did I know when I was actively looking for hard ground to test the spade,
soon it was going to be put to the ultimate test. Kent like most of the UK had endured a long
hot and incredibly dry summer, resulting in ground that was so hard that the farmers
couldn’t even cultivate their fields for fear of damaging their machinery or setting light to
the dry crops as their discing machines struck the all too abundant flint. It seemed that
every rally and event around the UK were affected by the dry hard ground this year, the
tough conditions not only tested the metal of the detectorist but also the metal of their

This year broken and bent spades were a common sight, social media was awash
with photos of spades that had cried enough, so I was keen to see how my spade faired.
Even with the razor-sharp cutting edge of the spade it was still tough going, but there wasn’t
a single occasion where I couldn’t dig down to my target, the same couldn’t be said when I
was digging in Suffolk only two weeks previously, that time I had my trusty old cheap spade
with me, but I eventually had to admit defeat and give up as the ground was just too hard.
The brass kick plates that are firmly fitted to the spade allow you to really drive the spade
into the ground without fear of slipping or hurting your foot. they also serve as a form of
protection for the sole of your boots or wellingtons, I, like many have had to condemn
more than one pair of boots to an early grave in the wheelie bin as a result of the soles been
shredded by sharp spade tops. It is however with these kick plates that I found the first and
only problem with my spade, and the fault lies with their position. The top of the spade is
folded rearward towards the user, the kick plates are then fixed on to the top of these folds
leaving an overhang of an inch or two, as a result they can and do snag on the edge of the
hole if you are digging deeper than the blade’s length. This issue isn’t a showstopper by any
means, but it is something that grabs your attention when digging deeper holes, an easy fix
would potentially be to simply fold the spade top forward.

In summary - my spade took a summer of hard digging in its stride, I did wonder if the beautifully
engraved logo would quickly wear off, but I needn’t have been concerned, several months in
and lots of use have proved this spade to remain as fantastic as the day I received it. Rarely
am I given the privilege of testing something that is so well thought out, designed and
constructed in a way that takes you back to a period when Great Britain was at its finest
industrial prowess. This spade offers a design that gives you a practical advantage when
digging in every way, it is built to last and above all it looks blooming great! My concerns
about writing a review on a spade were clearly unfounded, after using this spade for just a
few moments it spoke for itself.

So, what about my original trusty old spade? It has obviously been replaced by a far superior
model and as a result has become somewhat redundant. However, that spade holds a
special place in my heart and will always have a place, it has helped dig up some truly
amazing artefacts over the years and has been worn down much the same as an
archaeologist’s trowel. More importantly, it is the spade that my late old detecting friend
“Digger Dog” dutifully carried each time we set out metal detecting together and still bears
his teeth marks, so the old spade is safe and won’t ever be thrown out.

Finally, if you want to own what could possibly be the best spade around, or want a piece of art to
hang on the wall of your man cave, then these are the spades for you
Optimist Spades, the best of British!