A mattock is a versatile hand tool, used for digging and chopping, similar to the pickaxe. It has a long handle, and a stout head, which combines an axe blade and an adze (cutter mattock) or a pick and an adze (pick mattock). In some countries (such as New Zealand), the term dibber is used for a mattock.
A mattock has a shaft, typically made of wood, which is about 3–4 ft (0.9–1.2 m) long. The head comprises two ends, opposite each other, and separated by a central eye; a mattock head typically weighs 3–7 lb (1.4–3.2 kg). The form of the head determines its identity and its use:
The head of a pick mattock combines a pick and an adze. It is "one of the best tools for grubbing in hard soils and rocky terrain". The adze may be sharpened, but the pick rarely is; it is generally squared rather than beveled.The head of a cutter mattock combines an axe with an adze. Thus, it has two flat blades, facing away from each other, and one rotated 90° relative to the other. The blade is designed to be used for cutting through roots.
The handle of a mattock fits into the oval eye in the head, and is fixed by striking the head end of the handle against a solid surface, such as a tree stump, a rock or firm ground. A similar action, while holding the head, allows the handle to be removed. In the eastern United States, mattock handles are often fitted with a screw below the head and parallel with it, to prevent the head slipping down the handle; in the western United States, where tools are more commonly dismantled for transport, this is rarely done.
Mattocks are "the most versatile of hand-planting tools". They can be used to chop into the ground with the adze and pull the soil towards the user, opening a slit to plant into. They can also be used to dig holes for planting into, and are particularly useful where there is a thick layer of matted sod. The use of a mattock can be tiring because of the effort needed to drive the blade into the ground, and the amount of bending and stooping involved.The adze of a mattock is useful for digging or hoeing, especially in hard soil.Cutter mattocks are used in rural Africa for removing stumps from fields, including unwanted banana suckers.