Three Ways to Sharpen Your Garden Tools

There's an old saying, "We're too busy chopping wood to stop and sharpen our axes." The irony is that stopping to sharpen the axe will get a lot more wood chopped in the long run. And so it is with any tool, particularly the garden tools. A sharp shovel makes digging easier; a sharp hoe makes quicker work of weeds; and sharp garden shears make trimming and pruning a breeze. Here are three ways to keep those tools sharp.

  1. Hand tools are the slowest method, but also the safest. You will need a bastard file, a finishing stone, and some sandpaper. This method works on shovels, hoes, edgers, lawnmower blades, hedge clippers, pruning shears, and grass clippers. Secure the item to be sharpened in a vise or similar stationary clamp. Using the flat side of the bastard file, use long, sweeping strokes at the same angle along the edge of the tool. Sharpen shovels and edgers both front and back. Clippers and hoes should be sharpened only on one face, as should lawnmower blades. Smooth the edge with the finishing stone, then lightly sandpaper the surface back from the edge.
  2. The second method involves a portable electric drill or a specialty hand-held grinder such as a Dremel tool. Again, the tool to be sharpened should be held in a vise or secured to a workbench with clamps. Get a rotary sharpening stone at your local hardware store and chuck it into your drill. If you are using a Dremel tool, they usually come with a variety of grinding stones and wheels. Turn on the drill, then lower it against the edge of the tool and move it slowly and smoothly back and forth along the edge until the tool is sharp. Be careful not to use too much pressure. It's better to make a lot of light passes than to grind a hole in the edge. Always wear safety glasses when operating any grinding tool.
  3. The third method is to use a bench grinder. It's the fastest method for removing metal, but also the one most fraught with danger. It should be used with especially dull tools, or those with nicks in the blade. In this case, the grinder is stationary and the tool is moved over the grinding wheel in a smooth motion. Be careful not to overheat the tool, and keep a bucket of water handy for cooling. Use a coarse wheel, then finish with a fine wheel and a sharpening stone.

Now that you've stopped to sharpen your tools, your gardening work will go faster and easier.

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