Speaking about roof tear-offs, roofer Pat Green of Columbia, Mo., says, “There's no replacement for plain old hard work.” Power spudders and wheeled tear-off bars are designed for flat, commercial roofs, he explains. “In residential work, there is no secret weapon.” Still, he concedes, good tools help.

Spades and Forks The straight, square-bladed garden spade, while commonly used, is not a good choice. For starters, the quality of a garden tool may be suitable for moving topsoil, but the steel will bend and split when it's slammed into a line of nails. Look for forged steel blades and serrated teeth that reach past the nail line.

Spade quality can also be gauged by the length of the socket and the shape of the back. A 10-inch or longer socket will provide much more handle support. An “open back” channel created by forming the socket tends to get crammed with asphalt, which constantly pushes against the end of the handle. A “closed back” prevents debris from collecting here and helps reinforce the connection. Top-of-the-line spades have a “reinforced back” with a large steel plate that closes off the channel and stiffens the entire head.

“The stiffer it is, the more force is applied to the roofing,” Green says. “A flimsy spade that flexes just wastes your energy.”

For wood handles, ash is the preferred species. Look for tight grain running parallel to the handle length. Any cross-grain is sure to let you down. Avoid painted wood handles altogether; all the paint does is prevent you from seeing poor-quality wood.

Most top-line tear-off tools are available with fiberglass handles, too. According to Mark Pierce, CEO of Hisco, manufacturer of a wide selection of long-handled tear-off tools, the fiberglass handles on many long-handled tools are hollow.

A hollow core may work for a roofer's broom, Pierce says, but on any tool used for prying, you want a solid fiberglass core.

Green actually prefers roofer's forks to spades. The long tines pierce deep under the shingles, allowing a worker to lift up many more shingles at a time, resulting in larger pieces that are easier to move off the roof. In forks, all the same handle issues apply, and forged steel is the only option for tines that won't bend.

Sturdy Tarps The most useful tools, Green says, are the heavy-duty poly tarps his crew uses to drag debris to the edge of the roof and into a high-backed truck. No tarp will hold up forever in this line of work, but according to Green, there are good tarps and not-so-good tarps. Look for a high mesh count. Green says the best he's found are green tarps with a mesh count of 14 x 16. Blue tarps tend to be the most affordable, with mesh counts in the order of 8 x 10.