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A shovel is a tool used mostly for digging. However, it can also be used as a weapon.
In Fallout 2, the shovel is just a miscellaneous item used mostly for gravedigging. In the Fallout 3 add-on Point Lookout it is used primarily as a weapon, in Fallout: New Vegas it is a weapon primarily used for digging. In Fallout 4 it is a miscellaneous item used for scrapping into crafting components.
The fertilizer shovel has one of the longest reaches of any melee weapon in the game, making it effective for fending off large groups of enemies. Its poison damage stacks with each hit, so massive amounts of damage can be piled on quickly.