How to Sharpen Garden Tools

If you know how to sharpen garden tools, yourself, you can save money and restore your tools’ cutting surfaces to like-new condition when they become dull from use. With the right supplies and a few simple instructions, you’ll be able to sharpen and maintain your pruners, loppers, shears, shovels, and hoes to get the best performance from them season after season.

Supplies for Sharpening Garden Tools

blue plastic bowl on a garden bench containing files, oil, steel wool, safety glasses, and sharpening stone for sharpening garden tools
  • Safety glasses
  • Work gloves
  • A sharpening stone
  • File(s)
  • Steel wool
  • Rags
  • A penetrating oil like WD-40
  • Face mask to protect from airborne particles (N95 or higher ranking respirator recommended)

Garden Tool Sharpening Begins with a Good Cleaning

man using old toothbrush to clean dirt from the nooks around where a shovel head attaches to the handle
Before you can sharpen garden tools, you’ll need to clean them up. Shovels and hoes can be sprayed with water and scrubbed to dislodge any dried-on dirt. (Repurposing an old toothbrush works well to get soil out of the nook found where the handle and the metal head of the tool connect.) Place the tools in the sun to dry thoroughly.
close up of two hands using steel wool to clean the blades of a dirty pair of garden pruners
Using soap and water isn’t the best idea when cleaning tools like loppers or shears because it may cause them to rust. Instead, spray the tools with some WD-40 or something similar to dissolve built-up sap and gunk. With your gloves on for safety, use 0000 grade steel wool to get rid of the residue or any surface rust. Wipe down the tool with a rag and it’s ready for sharpening.

How to Sharpen Loppers

man using a small round file to sharpen the blades of a garden lopper
When you sharpen loppers, the process will depend on which type you have – bypass or anvil. Only the outside edge of the top blade will be sharp on a bypass lopper. They’re designed to cut softer green branches like you’d find on a rose bush. The anvil lopper’s blade is sharp on both sides and is made for cutting harder wooden branches.
You’ll need a sharpening stone to hone the cutting edge of your lopper blade. Wearing your safety glasses and gloves, place the stone against the beveled edge of the lopper blade. The stone should contact the blade at the same angle as the original edge bevel. Applying slight pressure, push the stone along the blade in a downward and outward motion from the pivot point to the tip. Always file in one direction, do not use a back-and-forth motion. If sharpening an anvil lopper, you’ll need to sharpen both edges. Unless the blade was really dull, five to 20 strokes per edge should be enough to get the job done.
After sharpening, spray a bit of penetrating oil on the metal surfaces and wipe away the excess. This will help protect the tool and keep it operating smoothly.

How to Sharpen Pruners

close up of man using a round file to sharpen the blades of a hand pruner
Pruners, also known as hand pruners or pruning shears, are smaller cutters used for things like deadheading flowers or trimming small branches. You’ll use the same technique for sharpening pruning shears as you would for loppers. Use the same pivot-point-to-tip motion with your sharpening stone, maintaining contact with the blade at the same angle as the original beveled edge.
Because hand pruners are small, it can be helpful to disassemble them for sharpening. However, not all pruning shears are constructed in a way that they can be taken apart. Some are bolted together while others may be permanently riveted. Before you attempt to take your hand pruners apart, you want to be sure you’re comfortable with putting them back together.
man using a can of oil with a skinny nozzle to apply oil to the joints of a hand pruner
Finish up with the penetrating oil treatment you used on the loppers.

How to Sharpen Grass Shears and Hedge Clippers

close up of hands using a sharpening stone to sharpen the blades of a pair of grass shears
Because they have considerably longer cutting edges, a tool larger than a sharpening stone is best for sharpening garden tools like grass shears and hedge clippers. A 10-inch (25 cm) mill file with a handle is recommended. Although not required, it’s also safer and easier if you use a vise to clamp the shears or clippers in place while you work. If you don’t have access to a vise, be sure to wear durable gloves and use extra caution as the long blades get sharper and sharper as you work.
close up of a man using a flat file to sharpen the blades of a manual hedge trimmer
With the file in contact with the blade’s sharpened edge at the same angle as the original bevel, push the file away from you using the pivot-to-tip motion while maintaining constant pressure. Too much pressure can damage the edge. It’s better to use more file strokes than to press too hard. Unless the blades are extremely dull, 10 to 15 file strokes on each beveled edge should be enough to sufficiently sharpen grass shears and hedge clippers.
Treat with penetrating oil, wipe off the excess, and that’s that.

How to Sharpen a Shovel or Hoe

man using a flat file to sharpen the edge of a metal shovel
As with grass shears and hedge clippers, you’ll want to use a file when sharpening a shovel or hoe. You can use the same mill file used for sharpening your shears to sharpen your hoe. Either clamp the hoe in a vise or lay it on the ground and hold it steady with your foot on the handle. The sharp side should be turned upward. Push your file along and across the original bevel to sharpen the hoe’s cutting edge. You can sharpen a shovel using the same filing technique, but using a round file will allow you to maintain better contact with the curvature of the shovel’s edge.
Remember that hoes and shovels don’t need knife-like edges. The metal would be too thin to withstand the pounding they take. Just file out the roughness and leave enough metal to handle the stresses.

Keeping Your Garden Tools Sharp

pair of gloved hands buffing a pair of garden hand pruners using oil and a rag
How often you need to sharpen your garden tools will depend on how much you use them and whether you protect and maintain their metal surfaces to ward off corrosion. Your tools will let you know when it’s time for another sharpening session. Check out our Taking Care of Garden Tools article for more tips on maintaining your gardening hardware and getting the most out of it.

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