Inventor touts his two-handled shovel

Posted Sept. 07, 2009, at 8:35 p.m.

ORRINGTON, Maine — Snowfall is still a few months away, presumably. But Ray Blanchard says Mainers should plan ahead. His new invention, the Penobscot two-handled shovel, promises to make moving the white stuff around just a little easier.

“People will not dread getting up in the morning to shovel a foot of snow,” he said Saturday during an interview on the back deck of his home. “My goal is for people to be curious enough about this new shovel to want to try one. I’m willing to bet they’ll fall in love with it.”

In addition to Blanchard’s own enthusiastic claims, the Penobscot shovel has the endorsement of Thomas Christensen of the Advanced Manufacturing Center at the University of Maine in Orono.

“It places the forces of lifting the load of the shovel in the right place in your arms not straining your back,” Christensen wrote in a letter to Blanchard last June after examining a prototype. “I anticipate eager acceptance and strong support from the consumer when these arrive in the stores.”

Christensen has since retired from the manufacturing center.

The two-handled design is unique, Blanchard said, in providing one grip at the top of the welded aluminum handle and another grip, in the same orientation, closer to the neck of the shovel. The result is a smoother, straighter and stronger action that reduces the risk of twisting or straining the wrist, arm, shoulder and back, he said.

Blanchard said he got the idea for the shovel design while he was watching a television special about Dick Proenneke, a self-reliant man from Indiana who spent years living alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Faced with the essential task of maintaining a path after each snowstorm from his cabin to the shore of the frozen lake where his supply planes landed, Proenneke built himself a two-handled shovel to minimize the likelihood of injuring his back.

“He knew he couldn’t afford to get hurt,” Blanchard said. Even though Proenneke’s shovel was not shown on the screen, he said, “I thought ‘Damn, I can make a two-handled shovel.’”

The branched handle of Blanchard’s model looks something like the front fork of a motorcycle and resists twisting, even with a full load, he claims.

The Penobscot’s deep-dish shape and light weight make it a good choice for moving snow, mulch, grain, manure, road salt, sawdust and other materials. The adjustable handle can also be attached to other types of shovels, including garden spades and roofing shovels.

The welded aluminum handles are manufactured by Doug Floyd of Plymouth and Blanchard paints them in his home workshop.

At this time, the shovels are not available in local stores; Blanchard said he wants to try marketing this year by word of mouth. He’s also hoping to interest municipal public works departments in the shovel. Maybe next year, he said, he’ll advertise in some magazines and trade journals.

“This tool is made right here in Maine, and that’s important to a lot of people,” he said. A design patent is pending.

The aluminum Penobscot shovel for moving snow and other materials costs $47, with discounts if two or more are ordered. Handles for attaching to spades or other shovel heads cost $27. Blanchard said orders placed now should be filled within three weeks — in plenty of time for the first snowfall of the season.

Orders may be placed by phoning Blanchard at 825-3551 or 745-8550.

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