Take the time to sharpen your tools, for safety's sake

KITTY WEST Updated: February 11, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: February 11, 2013

The activity: How to correctly sharpen garden tools

Why: Taking time to maintain your tools can prolong their lives and make working safer and easier. Efficient gardeners already have cleaned, sharpened and stored their tools. But for procrastinators, there is plenty of time to get your tools ready for the season.

How: 1. Have the proper safety equipment and use it — safety goggles and gloves (leather or heavy cloth).

2. All tools should be cleaned before sharpening. If the tool is rusty, remove the rust using a wire brush and/or steel wool.

3. After the tool is cleaned and has dried, place it in a bench vise. Use of the vise allows you to secure the tool. If a bench vise is not available, clamps and other bracing systems can be used.

4. When sharpening tools , the angle (or bevel) matters. Generally, it is advisable to follow the factory bevel.

5. Sharpening shovels, hoes and trowels.

• Place the tool in the vise or clamp with the inside of the tool facing up.

• Determine the proper angle by holding the file at the same angle as the original bevel.

• Using a flat file, move the file across the entire edge in one long stroke (file parallel to the blade) away from you.

• After the filing is complete, turn the tool over. You might feel rough edges on the back of the tool. These are burrs that can be removed using a piece of fine sandpaper.

• Wipe the entire blade with oil. The oil may be left on the blade during the winter months when the shovel is not being used.

6. Sharpening hedge shears. Essentially the same process and tools as outlined in No. 5. However, before sharpening shears, the blades should be separated (and cleaned) before inserting into the vise (insert with blade side facing up). Start the sharpening process at the point of the blade. After you have completed sharpening the shears, re-assemble and apply a quality light-weight oil to lubricate.

7. Sharpening pruning shears.

• Disassemble and clean the shears.

• Place the cutting blade in the vise. Determine the correct angle (see No. 4). You may use a flat file or a sharpening stone. You may find a sharpening stone is easier to use on the smaller blade of pruning shears. And, a sharpening stone will put a finer edge on the shears. Starting at the point of the blade, move your sharpening tool in one long stroke away from you.

• Remove any burrs on the back side of the blade.

• Place the blunt blade in the vise. It is important that you maintain a 90-degree angle (to the sharpened blade) on this edge. It might be necessary to use a round or half-round file to complete this part of the process. When you’re satisfied that the angle has been restored, remove burrs.

• Oil both blades and reassemble the shears.

When: Cleaning and sharpening tools can be done at your convenience, before the start of the next season. Ideally, you will perform this task before storing the tools for the winter months.

What’s needed: Leather gloves; bench vise, clamps or bracing system; wire brush and steel wool; flat mill file designed for general purpose use, round or half-round file and sharpening stone; fine sandpaper; quality, light-weight oil.

Final thoughts: There are many links online full of information about sharpening your garden tools. There are also numerous instructional videos. The research for this article was based on a review of information developed by various universities. If you are not quite comfortable trying to sharpen tools, I recommend you purchase several tools at a yard sale or second-hand store and practice the techniques. Or take your tools to a shop.

Get answers to horticultural questions: Call the Master Gardener Volunteer Help Desk at 520-7684 or emai CSUmg2@elpasoco.com. Allow 7-10 days for a response.

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