The shadoof consists of an upright frame on which is suspended a long pole or branch, at a distance of about one-fifth of its length from one end. At the long end of this pole hangs a bucket, skin bag, or bitumen-coated reed (plant) basket, while the short end carries a weight (clay, stone, or similar) which serves as the counterpoise of a lever. When correctly balanced, the counterweight will support a half-filled bucket, so some effort is used to pull an empty bucket down to the water, but only the same effort is needed to lift a full bucket.
With an almost effortless swinging and lifting motion, the waterproof vessel is used to scoop up and carry water from one body of water (typically, a river or pond) to another. At the end of each movement, the water is emptied out into runnels that convey the water along irrigation ditches in the required direction.