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How to Sharpen and Care for Garden Tools | Almanac.com

How to Sharpen and Care for Garden Tools

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Sharp tools make gardening easier, faster, and disease-free

Let’s show our hardworking garden tools a little love! Here’s how to clean, sharpen, and spruce tools up for the growing season ahead. Plus, we’re making a smart new tool rack that’ll keep them organized and tidy… and looking good! 

Just as you care for things inside your home, caring for your garden tools means they’ll last much longer (often a lifetime!)

We have a handful of important tools. (See our top 10 gardening tools.) Those with blades most definitely need to be cleaned and sharpened for a variety of reasons:

  • Clean and sharp tools mean that digging is much easier and the blades or tines of the fork just glide through what they’re up against.
  • Sharp pruning tools give a nice, clean, precise cut; blunt blades tend to crush the stems which invites disease.
  • Wet mud left on your tools could eventually lead to staining or rust.

Everyday Cleaning

Every time we use our tools, we should blast mud off of tools with the hose and wipe clean with an old rag. Pruning tools may require a wire wool or brush to remove ingrained dirt; wash in soapy water then dry with a rag.

Annual Cleaning (or More Often If Needed)

1. Hand Pruners

If there’s one tool you keep sharp, it should be your pruners.  For hand pruners, start out with a pail of soapy water and a damp cloth. Just wipe away any bits of dirt. If it’s really bad, use a wire brush or pan scourer to get them clean. 

To sharpen your blade, hold the open pruners tightly in one hand pointing towards you. (See the video for help.)  Then you can use a sharpening stone or file whetstone that’s first been soaked in water for five minutes or so.

  • Imagine the motion of playing a violin. Make short passes with the sharpening file across the angle of the pruners.  Follow angle of the blade in gentle, smooth, short strokes. Sharpen evenly, giving each section of the blade equal time as you work. No need to push down – let the stone do the work. The freshly exposed blade should have an equal depth right the way along it.
  • Use the flat side of your stone to remove any metal burs from the flat side.
  • To prevent the blades from rusting, apply a non-petroleum-based oil (which won’t harm plants) to the blade. Just add a tiny amount along the blade and moving parts, then wipe off any excess with a kitchen towel.

2. Digging Tools and Hoes

For long-handled spades, shovels and hoes, start again by getting the dirt off with a wire brush and then wipe clean with a rag. If the dirt is really hard, you may need to soak the holes to soften it up.

Once clean, sharpen the blade. Again, use a metal file on on the cutting edge of the blade, working at a shallow angle. Four or five passes should be enough.  Also, do the sides of the blade. Clamping the tool in a vice will make this easier. Finish by oiling the blade edges. Add a tiny speck of oil and rub in with a rag or kitchen towel.

The final job is to give wooden handles some love, too. Clean if needed with sandpaper or a sanding sponge. Polish them with a natural, protective oil such as linseed soil or teak oil.

Tighten up any loose bolts on moving parts and check if any worn-out parts need replacing. Finish by spraying with a tool lubricant. Don’t forget to apply lubricant throughout the year, particularly after heavy periods of pruning.

3. Hedge Trimmers

Sharpening your hedge trimmers can be a little more involved, so it is important to know that there are professionals who can sharpen this tool for you. However, if you’re feeling up for the task, here are some general guidelines for doing this yourself.  For best sharpening directions for the type of trimmer that you have, you will want to check the instructions that came with the trimmer. 

  1. Wear gloves and goggles. Whether powered by gas, battery, or electricity, make sure that the trimmers will not start up while you are working on them (such as unplug it or remove its batteries).
  2. For a thorough job, remove the bolts that hold the blades together. Clamp each blade in a vice before you work on it. Use a soft cloth, or nylon bristle brush if needed, to remove any dirt on the blades.
  3. Use a mill file to sharpen the cutting surfaces of the blades, moving always in one direction, forward toward the cutting edge (not back and forth), and at the recommended angle likely mentioned in the trimmer’s manual. Employ just enough strokes for the blade to become sharp—do not remove too much material. Make sure that all cutting surfaces are filed at the same angle and to the same amount. Only file the cutting edge, not any other parts that connect the teeth.
  4. Turn the trimmer upside down and use a whetstone to remove any burrs underneath the cutting edges after you have used the flat file. Only use strokes in one direction, toward the tip of each tooth.
  5. Wipe the blade with a soft cloth to remove any remaining debri, then spray the teeth with corrosion protection, such as resin solvent for cleaning/lubricating blades (found in hardware stores). 
  6. Reattach the blades and test the trimmers carefully to make sure that they work properly.

It’s so satisfying to see old tools revived to shining like new!

How to Make a Tool Rack

What better way to show off your hard-working tools than with a beautiful tool rack? All we really need to make it is a wooden pallet, some screw, and some wood stain or paint to pretty the whole thing up!

You’ll need to watch the video to see how this is done. Instructions below.

  • The pallet boards will run horizontal. Start by measuring it up for good size against your tallest tools. To make it easy to remove and replace them, remove the top two boards which you can use the give the tool rack some feet, so it doesn’t get top-heavy and tip over. 
  • Cut boards to size—perhaps three boards—and attach to base using wood screws. 
  • Give the whole pallet a good sanding down, to smooth off the surface, which should give it a much more professional finish.
  • Add our wood stain (or paint). Make sure to cover every single exposed surface to both protect the wood and to make it really stand out aesthetically too. Let it dry.
  •  The taller tools have slotted down into the inside of the rack, but to be able to attach and access the smaller tools, it needs screws for hooks and supports. Line them up to fit each tool, and then simply screw them into place. Not bad, eh?

Tools aren’t the sexiest things in the garden, but they are essential and, of course, make everyday gardening jobs so much easier!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprise that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

2023 Gardening Club

Lynda Russell (not verified)

8 months 4 weeks ago

How do you sharpen a hedge trimmer???

For best sharpening directions for the type of trimmer that you have, you’d need to check the instructions that came with the trimmer. There are professionals who can sharpen the tool for you, but here are some general guidelines for doing this yourself.

1. Wear gloves and goggles. Whether powered by gas, battery, or electricity, make sure that the trimmers will not start up while you are working on them (such as unplug it or remove its batteries).

2. For a thorough job, remove the bolts that hold the blades together. Clamp each blade in a vice before you work on it.

3. Use a soft cloth, or nylon bristle brush if needed, to remove any dirt on the blades.

4. Use a mill file to sharpen the cutting surfaces of the blades, moving always in one direction, forward toward the cutting edge (not back and forth), and at the recommended angle likely mentioned in the trimmer’s manual. Employ just enough strokes for the blade to become sharp—do not remove too much material. Make sure that all cutting surfaces are filed at the same angle and to the same amount. Only file the cutting edge, not any other parts that connect the teeth.

5. Turn the trimmer upside down and use a whetstone to remove any burrs underneath the cutting edges after you have used the flat file. Only use strokes in one direction, toward the tip of each tooth.

6. Wipe the blade with a soft cloth to remove any remaining debris.

7. Spray the teeth with corrosion protection, such as resin solvent for cleaning/lubricating blades (found in hardware stores). 

8. Reattach the blades and test the trimmers carefully to make sure that they work properly.

Hope this helps!

Sabel (not verified)

1 year ago

Two years ago, I bought a Hori-hori, a Japanese digging knife. It has a broad blade, slightly cupped along the length to act like a trowel. One side of the blade is serrated to use as a saw, the other is straight and sharpened like a regular knife. I bought two but I use the one with the neon orange nylon grip because I can see it when I drop it on the ground while changing tasks or moving from place to place. It came with a leather sheath with slots that a belt can be run through and a clip that hooks onto my pants pocket, which is how I carry it. It also has a small round hooked blade near the handle for cutting twine and small vines. The Hori-hori has become my main gardening hand tool, used for nearly every job, which saves time and effort since I don't need to hunt around for just the right tool and I don't need to switch tools in mid-task.
The other Hori-hori I bought is much prettier with a wooden handle and came with a round file for sharpening the blade. I am saving it for when the first one finally dies or gets lost but I don't expect that to happen for quite a while. Of course, now that I have said that.....

Lynne Cody (not verified)

1 year ago

My favorite tool is called a Ho Mi or Korean Hand Plow. I use it for everything that you would use a trowel or a fork for. Well, it doesn't scoop up soil like a trowel, like you would use at the potting bench, but in the ground there is nothing that will dig in any type of soil better, especially the rocky stuff. I have two short handled ones, because I misplaced my first one years ago for about a month, and a long handled one that I don't find as useful but it is still handy to have.

susan Patterson (not verified)

1 year 1 month ago

I use a short handle hand maddock/digger more than any other garden tool. Also a hula hoe is a fantastic garden tool.