How to sharpen tools for the garden

Once your gardening tools are clean and neatly put away, it's time to get them out again - for sharpening.

Sharpening is a pleasant wintertime activity, one you can do mostly indoors. And you'll need your pruning tools soon, because winter is the best time for pruning many trees, shrubs, and vines.

Here are some tips to get the most mileage from your garden tools:

CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON

Take apart tools like pruning shears, hedge shears, and loppers to make their blades more accessible for sharpening. Look at any blade and you'll see that it's beveled on either one or both sides: one side for the blades of hoes, mowers, and hedge shears; both sides for knives and axes.

The anvil type of a pruning shear or lopper, whose one sharp blade meets the flat surface of an opposing blade, gets only that one sharp blade sharpened - on both sides. Bypass-style pruners, with one sharp blade sliding past the other, get one or both of their blades sharpened - but on one side only.

GET STARTED

Remove any nicks before you begin sharpening any blade. Use either an electric table grinder or a file to dissolve the nick into the surrounding metal. Filing in toward a sharpened edge is most effective, but be careful you don't push so far forward that you slide your hand into the blade.

When doing this initial grinding or rough filing, try to reproduce the original bevel of the blade. Put a narrower angle on the blades of cutting tools, such as pruning shears, than on the blades of earth-cutting tools such as hoes, spades, and shovels.

Aim for even wider angles, for more strength, if your soil is rocky.

FINISHING TOUCHES

The grinding wheel followed by the file, or the file alone, may be all that's needed to sharpen your shovel and hoe, but sharper tools need dressing with a whetstone. That whetstone should indeed be wet, with water or oil, to float away metal particles as you sharpen.

Lay the beveled side of the blade flat on the stone, then angle the blade up until its working edge comes down to just touch the surface of the stone. Now slide the blade forward, all the time holding it firmly against the stone, as if you're trying to slice a thin layer off the surface of the stone.

KNOW WHEN TO SAY WHEN

With some tools it's either necessary or more convenient to replace the blades rather than sharpen them. The sharp blade of an anvil-type pruning shears or lopper, once nicked, can never again seat itself squarely against the opposing flat blade, so needs replacement. Bow saw blades are inexpensive and easily replaced.

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