13 Types of Trowels (And Their Uses)
One of the most old-school gardening tools you can use is a trowel. Most of us know this as the cute little shovel-like thing that we use to dig a hole. When you first delve into the world of masonry, you also end up learning that trowels can be used as a part of the masonry laying process. There are a *lot* of trowels out there, but which one do you need for your next project?
It really does seem like there’s a trowel for every purpose. While there are some that are made for fringe specialties, most contractors are aware of these types:
- Gardening Trowels
- Bricklayer’s Trowels
- Plastering Trowels
- Pool Trowels
- Margin Trowels
- Pointer Trowels
- Gauging Trowels
- Outside Corner Trowels
- Inside Corner Trowels
- Float Trowels
- Notched Trowels
- Power Trowels
- Fresno Trowels
If you’re like me, you probably are a little shocked to see how many different types of trowels there are out there. This guide will help you find the best tool for whatever you need.
The Different Types Of Trowels, Explained
While you might occasionally find trowels being used in places like campgrounds, the truth is it’s mostly a matter of masonry. Regardless, we’re going to try to explain each trowel’s use as simply as we can.
Gardening trowels look like small handheld shovels, and they are one of the only trowels meant for the garden. These trowels scoop up smaller plants and are meant to deposit them in other areas. If you have to move plants or just dig around in the garden a bit, choose this one.
Unlike most other trowels that you’ll find in a home improvement store, you can usually pick up gardening trowels in the lawncare area of your local nursery. They’re one of the most common gardening tools on the market because they’re so versatile.
This is one of the most common types of trowels you’ll find. Also known as a masonry trowel, this is meant to scoop up grout and cement and then spread it between bricks. The flatness of the trowel is used to tamp down the cement that holds the bricks together. The point at the top of the trowel can also be used to shape concrete and masonry. So, it’s an all-purpose trowel.
Bricklayers obviously are going to want to grab at least one of these. They also are pretty decent when you’re laying tile in a bathroom.
When most masons think of a trowel, this is what they think of. It’s a square (erm, rectangular) steel sheet with a handle. Plastering trowels make it easier to get an even base on a masonry project. They’re also wonderful for applying finishing layers on major projects and can tamp down on particularly uneven areas. Once again, it’s an all-purpose trowel.
Larger plastering trowels are great for covering large swaths of areas. On the other hand, smaller plastering trowels are great for getting into tight corners and crevices.
Pool trowels have two ends that are circular, but have a long, rectangular body. This helps them apply smooth, even layers of masonry on rounded surfaces. While standard plastering trowels are still used from time to time, the truth is that pool trowels are still the best tool for the project. These are ideal for pool entryways, not to mention round jacuzzi-type pools.
Both large and small versions of this trowel exist. While some prefer going large for bigger space covered, many prefer the detail-oriented perks of the smaller ones. It’s up to you to determine which is right for your particular stage in your masonry work.
Large, boxy, with a handle sticking out of one end, margin trowels are pretty easy to spot. (It’s the one below the plastering trowel in the photo.) As the name suggests, margin trowels are good to scrape away the edges and corners of the masonry. This evens out the margins. Of course, they also can be used to get into tight corners—a must in areas like bathrooms or spa rooms.
Margin trowels are not as popular as plastering trowels, primarily because you can use a plastering trowel as a margin trowel but not the other way around. Margin trowels aren’t as good at tamping down.
These are petite trowels that end in a point, often thinner than those that are typical bricklayer’s trowels. Though they look similar, they are fairly narrow and there is a good reason for this. Pointer trowels are meant to pack in stucco or help get difficult corners that otherwise would be unpatched.
Most pros have more than one type of pointer trowel. Make sure that you pick the right size for your project, as there are trowels that are both large and small in this category.
At first glance, gauging trowels and pointer trowels are one and the same. In fact, you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that. Sometimes, pointer trowels even double-duty as gauging trowels. However, they are technically different. Gauging trowels are meant to help people gauge how much stucco/cement/glop you need to add.
These are good for precise applications. They’re great to have on hand, but if you don’t have a gauging trowel, using a pointer trowel will suffice. They tend to have a little scoop in their build, simply because they are meant to scoop stuff up.
Outside Corner Trowels
Outside corners of homes and pools might need to get a coat of stucco or plaster. If you’re in this situation, you’re gonna need to get a trowel that is made for outside corners, such as the one above. Outside corner trowels are folded at a 90-degree angle to ensure you get the even distribution you need for a perfect corner.
These are ideal for use in home exteriors, as well as for laying out stucco on garden fences.
Inside Corner Trowels
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but this is basically an inverted version of an outside corner trowel. In the photo, you can see what it is typically used for: adding plaster and spackle to a corner inside the home. Any time you have a corner facing inside, this is the trowel you should grab.
For the record, both outside and inside corners are mainstream parts of a masonry kit. If you want to get a good toolkit together, you will need both. They’re a must if you want to do any 90-degree bend.
Float trowels are also known as finishing trowels, and rightfully so. These flat, smooth trowels are there to make cleaning up projects a cinch. They are there to lay the finishing touches on everything from stucco to plaster to concrete. Most of the time, these will have a singular round tip and a square tip. However, they sometimes may have flat surfaces with a simple, easy-to-maneuver knob on top.
If you are looking for a pool finisher, then go for a rounded tip. Otherwise, square tips will work just fine. Like plaster trowels and corner trowels, these are a basic part of a kit.
If you go to most hardware stores, you’ll see a variety of different trowels that have notches on them. These are notched trowels. Notched trowels are often found in bathroom projects, for laying tiles. If you are using three-step stucco, then a notched trowel will give you the uneven surface stucco needs in order to stick. It’s the “scratch layer.”
Though they can be used to spread cement in a ridged manner, they are actually used for something else too. The notches on the side of the trowel are there to help you measure out how much cement/mortar/grout/whatever you need to add. So, it’s a double duty.
Whew! These machines don’t look anything like the trowels before it, do they? Well, they shouldn’t. Power trowels are highly unique in what they do and are considered to be a “professionals only” type of trowel. Most of the time, these are used to level out poured concrete floors or to finish up pool bottoms in specialty spas. They’re meant for very large-scale use, too.
You can get these in both push-style and riding style. These are pretty hard to carry around from job sites, so you might want to rent a power trowel if anything. It’s too pricey to buy one in most cases.
Fresno trowels are technically not a type of trowel, but rather a type of trowel build. These are pool trowels that look like they’ve been crossed with a mop. They have a long pole at the end and are meant to be used to level out concrete applications without requiring the worker to step on the concrete. They’re a favorite on large-scale projects.
While there are other types of elongated trowels that you might find, this is the big one that people tend to rely on the most. They are excellent for putting the finishing touches on flooring, not to mention high-rise construction work. You can actually see them in action in the photo above!
What Should You Look For In A Trowel?
Are you looking to get a good start on some masonry? If so, you are going to need to get tools that work with your needs. When you’re looking to buy a trowel, make sure that you keep an eye out for these important facets below:
- Type. It’s true. Not all trowels are made equally, and if you choose the wrong type of trowel in hopes of saving some money, you’re going to have a bad time. Make sure that you get the trowel type that is meant for the project that you want to have, at the very least.
- Material. Most high-quality trowels will be made of blue steel, iron, or carbon-heavy steel. Or rather, that’s the traditional take. Recently, some companies have started to roll out some trowels that are made from plastic. Fans of these trowels claim that they are a lot lighter and easier to move. Even so, we’d suggest using the traditional materials just because having a broken trowel is a major downer.
- Size. Just having the right type of trowel isn’t always enough. To get the most efficiency out of your trowel, you need to make sure that it’s a good size. Larger trowels are typically used for large-scale, fast-done projects. Smaller ones are meant for the final details or finishing touches. You often will need one of each, especially when it comes to multi-purpose trowels.
It’s important to note that most major masonry projects are not a one-trowel deal. Rather, you will need to have more than one. So, try to plan out how many you’ll need. If you aren’t sure which ones will work or which you can skip, ask a person who works at your hardware store.
What can I use instead of a masonry trowel?
If you broke a trowel and need to have a tool substitute to finish your project, you might have an alternative on hand: the grout float. Grout floats look almost identical to a typical plastering trowel. The only difference is that they have a rubber bottom. This makes them useful for substitution.While you can use a grout trowel, it’s not the best thing you can use. To have an easier time with your project, it’s best to run to a store and grab a new trowel.
What’s the difference between a float or a trowel?
A float has a thicker base than a trowel and isn’t made of metal. Rather, it’s made of rubber, plastic, or foam at the bottom. Trowels are used in all stages of masonry, while floats tend to be used as the finishing touch tool. With that said, most other aspects of trowels and floats look identical. If you got confused, we’ll forgive you.
Ossiana Tepfenhart is an expert writer, focusing on interior design and general home tips. Writing is her life, and it's what she does best. Her interests include art and real estate investments.
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