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Keeping Your Gardening Tools Sharp

Updated on February 19, 2012

Regardless of the type of gardening your planning to do, it's important to have sharp gardening tools at hand to use when needed. Whether you're working with secateurs, loppers, shovels, a hoe, or a lawnmower, it is important to keep these tools cleaned and sharpened consistently to maximize the efficiency and life of your tool. You will discover that sharp tools will make all the difference when it comes to your enjoying your work in the garden, your gardening tasks will get done a lot faster with equipment that is well kept. This article covers some simple tips for keeping gardening tools sharp so they will be ready to work when you are.


A collection of dirty spades and shovels.
A collection of dirty spades and shovels. | Source

1. Keep your tools clean

One of the biggest reasons tools will lose their sharpness is because they are left or stored when they are still dirty. Dirty tools will not provide the sharp cutting edge you will need to accomplish many tasks around the garden easily. Dirty tools will need to be cleaned before storage to make sure they do not become dull or rusty. This is probably one of the most important aspects when it comes to maintaining sharp gardening tools. It is also important to remove any sticky plant sap before it sets hard on the tool. Tools can be cleaned with soapy water and dried with a towel immediately afterwards. Clean tools will also help to prevent the spread of diseases between plants.


2. Try to avoid letting them get rusty

When metal tools are left out in the moisture, they will rust. When tools rust, they become dull. You have to put in more effort to get the same amount of work done when using blunt tools. In severe cases rust can eat a through your metal tools, weakening them and reducing their life span. To prevent rust, make sure gardening tools are safely put away in a place that is dry and free from moisture. If you do experience a bit of rust on any of your tools apply white vinegar, let it sit for several minutes and use steel wool to remove the rust. As further protection you can spray any metal on your tools with a rust displacement spray such as WD-40 and wipe any excess off with a rag.


3. Store your tools away in a safe location

It's important to make sure all your gardening tools are stored away properly so they are ready for work when you are. Find a place that is dry, safe, and secure so everything is in place the next time you need to get some gardening work done. I like to store mine locked up in a large metal tool chest under the house where they are safe from the weather. Don't put your tools down on the ground thinking you will come back and put them away later because many times they will be left neglected.


4. Metal edges on shovels and secateurs

Shovels will always need some form of attention especially on or along the metal edges. It is extremely important to clean your shovels after use and check the metal edge, if it needs to be sharpened - make sure to do it before putting the shovel away so you don't forget about it. Secateurs are often the most used pruning tool around the garden, sharp secateurs create a clean cut but dull secateurs can crush or cause tears to the stem of the plant which creates an easily entry point for disease so it is vital to keep these clean and sharp also.


5. Hedge shears, loppers and mower blades

Hedge shears, loppers and mower blades are tools that also need to be sharpened on a consistent basis for optimal efficiency. Shears and loppers will more than likely not need to be sharpened as much as mower blades, but you may want to set up a schedule to have these sharpened frequently either professionally or by yourself. There are many business that operate a tool sharpening service where they can drive around to your house and sharpen any tools that require sharpening, look in your local business directory if you're not up to the task of sharpening your tools yourself.


Bypass secateurs.  The side of the blade facing the viewer here is the flat side.
Bypass secateurs. The side of the blade facing the viewer here is the flat side. | Source

6. Sharpening your tools yourself

The first thing you need if you want to sharpen your tools yourself is a sharpening stone, also sometimes called whetstones or oilstones. This is a special synthetic or natural stone that is rough and can take off minute shards of metal in a similar way sandpaper does to wood. Sharpening stones often be found in gardening centers or for cheap in discount stores. Oil can be applied to the surface of the stone to act as lubication to help carry the shards of metal away from the blade, although this is not essential. When you sharpen your tools, you need to first determine which side has the flat cutting surface. Bypass secateurs for example will have the flat cutting surface on the side closest to the hook where it can make a clean cut while the hook supports the stem being cut. Run the sharpening stone along at about a 30 degree angle along the angled side of the blade until you create a bur on the flat side. Flip the blade over and take off this burr off by running the sharpening stone over it, do not angle the stone while doing this you want to keep this side of the blade flat. To avoid cutting yourself always draw the sharpening stone away from the cutting edge and not towards it, try to also position your fingers in such a way that they are clear of the blade. If you have a vice it is advisable to use it to securely hold the tool you are sharpening.


7. What can't be sharpened

The majority of saws today have hardened tips and teeth that cut in both the draw and pull motions and jut out to either side. These are impossible to sharpen unless you have special diamond files and lots of time up your sleeve to sharpen them correctly. Unless you want to make a hobby out of sharpening things, I would advise you to instead buy a new saw or saw-blade as required. The best way to keep your saw working for a long time is to clean it after use and store it away out of the weather in its protective sheath.


If you follow these steps you will ensure that your gardening tools are taken care of properly. This will allow your gardening tools to last longer, work more effectively and be ready to use when you are. It's well worth the effort.


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