The term is also applied colloquially, but inaccurately, to the garden fork. While similar in appearance, the garden fork is shorter and stockier than the pitchfork, with three or four thicker tines intended for turning or loosening the soil of gardens.
The typical pitchfork consists of a fork bearing two tines fixed to one end of a handle. Pitchfork tines are typically made of metals such as steel, wrought iron, or some other alloy, though wood or bamboo tines may also be employed. The handle of a pitchfork is commonly made of wood, sometimes sheathed or shielded with rubber or plastic.
True pitchforks typically have two or three tines while manure forks have four or more. However, some forks with more than three tines are also used for handling loose material such as hay or silage. Other forks may exhibit up to ten tines.
The number of tines and the spacing between them is determined by the intended usage of the fork. Forks with larger numbers of tines and closer spacing are intended to carry or move loose material such as dirt, sand, silage, or large, coarse grains. Forks with fewer, more widely spaced tines are intended to hold hay, straw, and other self-supporting or bulky materials.
Historically, pitchforks were occasionally employed as improvised weapons by individuals who could not afford or did not have access to specialized, more expensive weapons such as swords or guns. As a result, pitchforks and scythes are stereotypically carried by angry mobs or gangs of enraged peasants.
In popular culture
A notable American artistic display of a three-pronged pitchfork is in the painting American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood. There are other paintings by various artists which depict a wide variety of pitchforks and other tools in use and at rest.
Because of its association with peasantry and farming, the pitchfork has been used as a populist symbol and appended as a nickname for certain leading populist figures, such as "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman and "Pitchfork" Pat Buchanan.
The pitchfork is often used in lieu of the trident in popular portrayals and satire of Christian demonology. Many humorous cartoons, both animated and otherwise, feature a caricature of a demon supposedly wielding a "pitchfork" (often actually a trident) sitting on one shoulder of the protagonist, opposite an angel on the other shoulder.
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