A trowel falls into the category of hand tools. It is used to scoop, apply, spread or smooth materials. A trowel is made completely of metal or is metal with a wood handle. Often the handle is covered with a softer substance to make the grip more comfortable. Not in the hand tool category but also referred to as a trowel is the "power trowel," which is mechanized and used for smoothing concrete. Walk-behind types look like a floor buffer.
Each group of trowels has a descriptive name that generally indicates what it is designed to accomplish. There are finishing trowels, drywall curved trowels, pattern trowels, gauging trowels, margin trowels, garden trowels, pointed (pointing) and notched.
A finishing trowel, also known as a float trowel, smooths the final surface of a project. The drywall curved trowel is used to smooth drywall compound before the final finish of priming and painting.
Bricklayers use the pattern trowel for scooping up mortar, which is spread on bricks as they are laid in the project. It is also used to set (tap) the brick to remove air gaps in the compound between the brick layers. The gauging trowel, with its rounded tip, gauges amounts when mixing small portions of compounds used for mortar and drywall mixes. With its rectangular end, the margin trowel can be used to mix, scoop or spread substances.
The pointed or pointing trowel is used in cement work for filling in joints or small holes that may occur as the concrete cures.
The notched trowel, which comes with different sized notches, is notched along the edge. It is used to apply the proper amount of compound when laying tiles. The notches correspond to the thickness of the tile to be set.
The gardener's trowel is used to transplant small individual plants by scooping them up with a limited amount of soil left around the roots.
Regardless of your intended use, there are a few things to look for in a trowel. If you intend to use and keep your trowel for a long time, look for a blade made out of a quality metal. A coated carbon steel blade would be on a top-of-the line trowel. A thin, lightweight blade is apt to bend or even break when pressure is applied to it. The quality of the wood handle should match that of the blade. Hickory or ash are some of the best woods for handles. Whatever you choose, avoid those with cracks or splinters. Try the heft and grip to be sure it is comfortable in your hand. A too-heavy blade or a grip that is too small or too large will cause hand fatigue. A cushioned grip may be an additional feature you want to consider, especially if you will be using the trowel for extended periods of time.
The Power Trowel
Doing the same as the hand trowels, except on a larger scale, the power trowel comes in either a walk-behind or ride-on model. Generally used to smooth concrete, it can accomplish the job as efficiently as hand troweling but much quicker. Unless you are in the business, a power trowel is usually obtained from a rental business for a one-time job.