Gardening Getting Dull? Here’s How to Sharpen Your Garden Tools in Minutes

Even the sharpest tool in the shed occasionally needs a little edge

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated April 20, 2022
A woman listening to music while gardening
Photo: The Good Brigade / DigitalVision / Getty Images
Difficulty

Simple

Saturday skill builder.

Time to complete

15 minutes

Cost

$20

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Vice
  • 10- to 12-inch mill file
  • Hand file
  • Bench grinder (optional)
  • Eye protection (optional)
  • Face shield (optional)
  • Respirator (optional)
  • Cloth

SUPPLIES

  • High-grit sandpaper or steel wool
  • Lubricant spray

Even the most essential garden tools wear down over time. Your once pristine shovel may struggle to break ground, or you may find your hoe in a losing battle with some weeds. If you’ve got a dull pair of pruners or a lawn mower that seems to be lagging, there are a few different ways to sharpen the blade. 

While some people prefer grindstones or heavy-duty equipment like angle or bench grinders, a simple hand file usually does the trick. These steps will show you how to sharpen garden shears, shovels, and any other tool you’ve got hiding in the back of the shed.

Before Sharpening Your Garden Tools

It’s important you sharpen the correct blade—and the correct side of the blade—on your garden tools. This is simple to do for tools without a beveled edge, like many shovels, rakes, and hoes. Locate the area that needs sharpening, and use a file to sharpen both the front and back of the blade.

Other garden tools have blades with beveled edges. The bevel may be on one side of the blade, or it may be on both sides. Only sharpen the side with a bevel. Keep in mind that garden shears—specifically pruners—have two blades. Don’t sharpen the blade without a bevel because it’s not used for cutting.

How to Sharpen Garden Tools in 5 Simple Steps

A man sharpening pruning shears
Photo: Lex20 / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images
  1. Clamp Your Tool in a Vice

    Even with a small garden tool, you may want to use a vice. This will hold the blade in place so you can work with both hands (though it’s not really necessary for a small knife). Clamp your tool so the blade is accessible and doesn’t wobble with pressure. The vice should have a firm grip.

  2. Clean the Tool

    Tools that dig into dirt (like spades, hoes, and shovels) are more prone to buildup than garden shears, but you still may have a fair amount of corrosion on any tool you frequently use. Before sharpening your garden tools, use high-grit sandpaper or steel wool to eliminate as much rust, dirt, and grime as possible.

  3. File the Blade

    When you sharpen pruning shears or another garden tool with a beveled blade, you’ll need to follow the bevel. A mill file only sharpens when it’s pushed over the blade. It will not sharpen when it’s being pulled backward. Most garden tools will need about six strokes for a sharp enough edge. Start with your mill file, and then take the following steps:

    • Put the file flat against the blade’s beveled edge.

    • Push the file away from you, following the blade’s curve.

    • Lift the file and repeat the previous step while working your way down the blade.

    If you need to sharpen the back of the blade, repeat the process on the other side.

  4. Grind the Edges

    A hand file should adequately sharpen most garden tools. But if you've got a really beat-up shovel or a hatchet that needs a particularly sharp edge, you may need to use a bench grinder. Simply drag the blade's edge over the wheel until the nicks are smoothed out and your blade is adequately sharpened. Always wear eye protection, a face shield, and a respirator when grinding metal.

  5. Wipe Down Your Sharpened Tool

    Once your garden tool is sharpened, apply a lubricant spray. This doesn’t just help the hinge on tools like pruners or hedge shears, it also prevents rust. For the final step, use a cloth to wipe away metal shavings and excess lubricant, avoiding the newly sharpened edge so you don’t cut your fingers.

Sharpening Garden Tools DIY vs. Hiring a Professional

You don't need to be a top-rated local landscaper to sharpen pruning shears or the odd shovel, especially if you're only using a file. The real difficulty comes in when you start dealing with lawn mowers. You'll have to remove the blade first, which is extremely dangerous if it's not done correctly. For this reason, you may want to save this task for your local lawn mower repair service. They can sharpen the blade during your lawn mower tune-up

Additional Questions 

What’s the best way to sharpen a garden rake?

Sharpening a garden rake is a little different than sharpening shears. You may feel more comfortable using a small hand file around each individual tine.

What else can I use to sharpen a knife?

A mill file is a one-size-fits-all solution for garden tools and more gathered to mid-size tools like shovels and shears. You may also find it easier to sharpen your knives using a whetstone or a diamond sharpening stone. 

Do I need to use a bench grinder?

Most people don’t need to use a bench grinder to sharpen their garden tools. However, it’s more effective if your tools are damaged or need a very sharp edge. 

What’s the difference between pruning shears and hedge shears?

Both tools have two blades, but pruning shears only have a sharpened blade on one side. Hedge shears are more like a large pair of scissors. You'll need to sharpen both blades.

Why do I need to wear personal protective equipment to use a bench grinder?

A full face shield and protective clothing are important because a bench grinder may ricochet tiny pieces of metal and has the potential to spark. When grinding metal, you should also wear a respirator to avoid inhaling the particles, but don't wear gloves because they can get caught in the wheel and lead to injury.

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