Care of Gardening Tools
By Tom Harris, Ph.D., The Country Gardener
There are lots of books written on this subject
and I've actually read a few of them. So, it's kind of hard
to tell you how to do this in a short note, but here goes.
Before sharpening any gardening tool, it's important
that you remove all the dirt, sand, sap, and general crud from
the tools. If it has dirt and/or sand on it, scrape off as much
as you can with a putty knife or similar tool and then use the
garden hose to wash it off. Let it set in the sun to dry on
both sides. If it's a pair of pruning shears and they have plant
sap on them, wash them off with water first and see if that
works. If it doesn't, spray WD40 on the sap and let it set for
a few minutes. Then use steel wool to rub the sap off. Be careful
as you'll be working next to the sharp edge of some of these
tools. Also you should know that if you use steel wool, it WILL
dull the tool you're working on if it was sharp when you started.
After you use any gardening tool, it's a good
idea to spray it every time with WD40 before you put it away.
It helps to keep the rust away and lubricates the working joints
of the tool. If these tools have wooden handles on them, it's
a good idea once a year to put a coat of boiled, linseed oil
on them to keep the wood pliable and strong. Just follow the
directions on the label. One coat is enough, but two can't hurt.
To sharpen large tools like shovels, hoes, axes
and the like, use a file made for that purpose--it'll say "Garden
tool sharpener" on the handle usually. If you don't have
one of these, use any double-cut file and it should do close
to the same job.
Look for the side of the tool that had the original
sharp edge on it. Your job is to bring this edge back to its
original shape and sharpness if you can. Start by PUSHING the
file along the former sharp edge (pulling a file won't do anything
except dull the file.) With your first stroke, you should be
able to see whether or not you have followed the same angle
as was originally put on the tool. If not, adjust your angle
on the file to do that. Continue filing until a small burr is
produced all along the other side of the sharp edge. Then turn
the tool over and place the file flat against the flat surface
and, using only ONE STROKE, push the file across the edge. This
should remove the burr and leave a sharp edge. If it doesn't,
do it exactly the same way one more time. At no time should
you try to put an angle on the back side--the angle is normally
only on one side of the tool.
Rub your thumb or finger ACROSS the sharp edge,
not along the edge or you'll slice the heck out of your finger.
If the edge is sharp, you'll feel it. If it's not sharp, you'll
fee that, too. Another trick is to hold the sharp edge at an
angle to a bright light and sight along the edge. If you see
any shiny spots, those are the dull spots and they indicate
you're not finished yet. Just repeat the above steps until the
edge is sharp. Spray it with WD40 and hang it up to dry.
Sharpening pruning shears and REALLY sharp tools
isn't quite this simple although the process is exactly the
same. First you have a decision to make; i.e., are you going
to take the tool apart or not. If you take it apart, you can
remove all the rust and crud more easily; but be sure you know
what you're doing and watch where you lay screws and small parts
so that you can get the tool back together again. I'm going
to assume that you're NOT going to take it apart.
For this job, you'll need a small sharpening stone
to be able to get to the small parts of the blade. Personally
I prefer to use the diamond-dust stones; reason being that they
stay flat and sharp for a long time and you never have to worry
about what to use as a lubricant on the stone (they're really
not stones at all, they're a piece of plastic with a piece of
metal on top with the diamond dust glued to it.) These stones
can be used dry or wet. If you use it dry, just be sure to clean
it with water when you're finished each time. If you want to
wet the stone, you can use plain old water or something like
WD 40 if you'd like. If you use another type of real-stone stone,
be sure to use the type of lubricant you're supposed to use
for that particular stone. Usually something like kerosene or
paint thinner will do the job. The main thing is to keep the
stone from filling up with metal particles--you can see them
on the stone. To do this you have to keep the stone wet all
As I said, the process is the same. Rub the stone
so that you're pushing the stone OFF the edge of the blade while
trying to find the original angle of the edge. If you're using
a diamond stone, push 4-5 times along the length of the whole
blade and/or until you feel the burr on the other side of the
blade. Lay the stone flat on the back side and push one time
and the burr will be gone. Then the blade should be sharp; if
not, repeat the process.
If you have the type of shears where the blade
is sharpened on both sides, sharpen one side until you feel
the burr on the other side, then sharpen the other side until
you feel the burr again. Use a finer-grit stone to remove the
burr with just one or two light strokes.
Be sure to coat the newly sharpened blade with
WD 40 before you put it away.