How to Clean and Sharpen Garden Hand Tools

Learn how to sharpen your garden hand tools so that your gardening work is as easy as possible.  You are more likely to give good care to your plants if your tools are in the right shape for gardening.  You can sharpen gardening hand tools with a hand-held file, or with a grinder.  Below are some basics of sharpening and cleaning your tools.

Why Clean and Sharpen Garden Hand Tools?

The very simple answer is that your tools will last longer if you take proper care of them.  That means cleaning and sharpening.  Immediately after working with a tool, you can brush off the tool with a wire brush or other cleaning implement.  If you can store your tools in an area with good air circulation, you can use a pressure nozzle to wash off the blade.  Just make sure that it will dry quickly.  If tools sit in wet conditions, wood handles will swell and crack, and steel blades will rust. If you have used a tool to prune or cut a plant that produces a lot of sap (pine trees, dogwood trees, euphorbias), you will want to clean off the blade with a bit of solvent to remove anything gummy.  Once the tool is dry, wipe the tool blade with a thin coating of oil.  A mixture of motor oil and kerosene oil will prevent steel blades from rusting.

Garden Hand Tool Sharpening Implements

Pruners and shears with small blades can be sharpened with an oil stone.  There are also diamond stones and other honing stones that work well.  Clamp the hand tool blade in a vice and draw the sharpening stone in one direction, at a steady angle, against the angled edge of the tool. Shovels, axes and other heavy-duty equipment can be easily sharpened with a file.  A half-round, ten inch long mill file will do the trick.  Again, it is easier to sharpen the tool if you can hold it steady in a vice.  Sharpen along the original, factory bevel for the tool, working the file in one direction across the surface.  These files only work on the "push" part of the motion.  Do not drag the file back and forth across the edge.  You will ruin the file and your tool. If your tools are completely worn out, you may need to have a completely new edge ground into them.  Unless you have a bench grinder, and are experienced using it, it is easier and more cost-effective to take tools to a local hardware store for sharpening.

Storing Gardening Hand Tools

Proper cleaning and sharpening will keep hand tools in good working order for a long time. Storage conditions are another major factor in tool longevity.  You should always coat your tools, after they are clean, dry and sharpened, with a thin film of oil.  Fine Gardening magazine recommends this mixture: One quart nondetergent 30W motor oil and one pint of kerosene or lamp oil. You only want to apply a thin film-it should not drip off onto the floor.  You can also oil your tools by digging them into a bucket of oily sand, like brick laying sand, to coat them. To keep your tools in the best condition, prepare a space in your tool shed or garage for each tool.  A peg, hook or shelf for each tool will help you find the tools when you need them, and also keep the tools from rubbing against each other or the floor and becoming dull. Spring is a great time to sharpen gardening hand tools to prepare for the coming season. You will find, once you establish a routine, that you are much more interested in taking care of your lawn or garden, because you have tools in good condition.
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