I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I used to just toss my garden tools on a shelf in the garage at the end of the season. It wasn’t pleasant finding them in shabby shape the following May…encrusted in dried mud with dull blades. Now I take the time to clean and sharpen them before their long winter’s nap. A little effort now makes a huge difference in the spring!
The best thing you can do for your gardening implements is to clean, oil, and sharpen them before putting them away. Not only will it lift your spirits in the spring to find them raring to go…sharp tools are much easier to use and don’t put as much strain on your hands and body.
It’s way more efficient and fun to cut with something sharp than with something dull! I’m sure you’ve been there before…a dull cutting tool just rips, tears and shreds plant tissue. A sharpened tool cuts clean edges and helps a plant recover better. It lessens the tree or shrub’s stress and risk of disease or infestation.
You can have your tools sharpened for a price at most hardware stores. I prefer to work on them myself. There’s something very satisfying about a job well done.
How To Clean Garden Tools
Brush off dirt with rags, old toothbrushes or paintbrushes. I always have a few of these handy in our garage or basement. For shovels, a wire grill brush works well.
Remove any rust from metal tools with a wire brush, steel wool pad, or sandpaper. Use a rag with WD-40 or mineral oil to remove sticky sap.
How To Sharpen Pruners
First of all, you need to know what type of pruner you have: anvil or bypass. Anvil pruners have one straight, sharp plate that strikes a flat plate. These are best for the job of cutting dead, hard wood. They don’t do so well with live plants since they crush the stems.
Bypass pruners have curved blades and are the best choice for most of our garden chores. They makes clean, scissor-like cuts…that is if they are sharp.
To sharpen pruners I recommend you use a small, fine whetstone (sold at hardware stores – about 3 inches x 1 inch) or a small diamond file.
With bypass pruners, you sharpen the top blade, which generally thinner. One surface of that blade is flat. On the other you will find a bevel, a narrow band that meets the cutting edge at an angle of about 25 degrees. Try to preserve roughly the same angle while you get the edge sharp.
It’s easier to do this if you have a bench vise…simply clamp the pruners and sharpen. I wear gloves to protect my hands. If you don’t have a vise, hold the pruners down on a table pointed away from you. Start at the base of the blade near the hinge – lay the stone or diamond file against the bevel following its angle.
Using moderate pressure, stroke the stone toward the edge and move it along the edge toward the tips. It usually takes 10 to 20 strokes (always in the same direction – like filing your nails) before the whole edge is sharp.
You can test the sharpness by cutting a branch. When you reach the desired sharpness, flip the tool over. You should be able to see and feel a burr of metal shavings along the backside of the sharpened edge. Remove this by holding the stone flat against the blade and giving it a firm stroke.
Use this same technique for your other garden cutting tools. The key is to always follow the bevel angle.
On anvil style pruners, sharpen the cutting edge of only the thin blade…but from both sides. On your hedge clippers, grass shears, and loppers sharpen the beveled cutting edges on both blades to the desired sharpness.
Oil Your Garden Tools
After you’re done with the sharpening, oil the mechanism and wipe all the metal parts with oil to protect them against rust. You can use a rag and mineral oil or WD-40 spray.
Take the time now to clean and sharpen your garden tools before winter sets in. You will be so happy you did come spring!