Sharpening Your Garden Tools By Hand

Following up on our previous overview on Caring for Your Garden Tools, an easy to follow how-to from the WSU Master Gardeners of Clark County

IMPORTANT: If you’re not sure you can handle a do-it-yourself sharpening job, take it to a professional. And for safety’s sake, it’s always a good idea to wear eye protection and gloves.

Start with a good scrub.

Start with a good scrub.

Pruning Shears and Loppers
To do a routine sharpening of cutting tools, you’ll need steel wool, sandpaper, a whetstone or file, newspaper, rags and a lubricant oil spray.

Start by giving tools a good scrubbing and use a wire brush to remove any dirt. Remove rust and sap with steel wool or light sandpaper.

Clean with steel wool.

Clean with steel wool.

Examine the blades closely for nicks or burrs that might appear on the flat surface of the cutting edge. To remove them, place a whetstone or file flat on the inside blade surface and remove the burrs. It is important that the stone and blade be completely flat against each other. It is also very important that you stop as soon as the burrs are removed. Too much rubbing runs the risk of deforming the cutting edge.

Now you are ready to sharpen. With the scissors open, firmly place the inner flat side of the blade against a tabletop or other flat surface. Hone the outside (angled surface) part of the blade only. Try to maintain the original angle established by the manufacturer. Keep each honing stroke parallel with this angle. Hone in one direction only, away from the cutting edge. Don’t scrub back and forth. Think of it this way: you are pushing metal away from the cutting edge in order to sharpen it.

Hone in one direction.

Hone in one direction.

Don’t over-do it. Three or four passes, done correctly, should suffice. Now turn the tool over and repeat the process with the other blade. Spray any metal parts with a lubricant oil spray to prevent rust. Wipe off excess oil and filings with a cloth. Some oil can be left on to protect the tool.

Shovels, Hoes, Diggers
To keep these tools working efficiently they need to be cleaned, sharpened and oiled. Not only will this make your work easier when you use them for digging, but it will increase their lifespan. First, wash these tools, and make sure all dirt is removed and allow them to dry. To sharpen a shovel, sit in a chair and lay the shovel across your lap. Take a file, and beginning with one end of the shovel’s curve, place your file at a 45-degree angle to the edge of the shovel, with a bias toward the middle of the shovel. Lift one end of the file so you can grip it, and make long strokes with the file. Make a few strokes and then move a file’s width toward the center and repeat. When you get to the center of the shovel, reverse the angle and start from the other side, again working toward the center. Next, brush the end of the shovel with a steel brush, and then, using a rag, apply a light coat of oil. Hoes and digging forks can be sharpened the same way.

Sharpening a hoe Mother Earth  Sharpening a spade 2 Kolin Smith
A 45-degree angle is the rule of thumb. Remember to oil when finished.

An easier way to keep these tools sharpened and conditioned all year long is to store them in a bucket of sand with oil added to it. Fill a bucket with sand almost to the top, add a half-quart of motor oil and mix thoroughly. The next time you use your digging tools just dip the metal part of the tool in and out of the sand several times. The sand will scrape off any debris and the oil will coat the metal, preventing rust. This sand and oil mixture will last for years so you can even use this as a shovel stand.

18th-century scythe sharpeners.  Some things never change.

18th-century scythe sharpeners. The more things change…

Photo credits, top to bottom:,,, (hoe), (spade)


One thought on “Sharpening Your Garden Tools By Hand

  1. Pingback: Caring for Your Garden Tools: An A-Z Overview | The Perennial Post

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