It could be argued that a gardener is only as good as their tools – having the right tool for the job makes working in the garden less of an effort and infinitely more enjoyable.
While some tools are specific to certain types of gardening and not necessary for everyone, a good pair of shears are an essential tool for any avid gardener. Shears come in handy for many pruning jobs. Whether you use hedge shears to shape trees and bushes, or smaller secateurs to prune plants or cut flowers, to keep them at their best you’ll need to sharpen and maintain them periodically.
A pruning tool that is well maintained will cut easier through branches and stems, leaving a cleaner cut which in turn reduces the risk of introducing diseases and will also speed up the recovery of the wound – ragged and ripped stems will take much longer to seal. As a side-note: in order to further minimize the risk of plant diseases, always clean your pruning tools after use. This doesn’t have to be an in depth scrubbing – just a quick wash and a wipe with a cloth between uses.
Typically, all pruning tools – whether they are shears, secateurs or loppers – are all sharpened the same way. Though you may be tempted to simply toss away an inexpensive pruner and replace it, it’s possible to make it as good as new with just a few moments of work; and if you’ve invested in a more costly, high-quality tool, a quick sharpening now and then will keep your tools at their best.
Before beginning to sharpen your shears, you’ll first want to make note of the safety gear to make sharpening the blades safer.
It is a good idea to protect your hands from the pruning shears while you clean and sharpen them. A pair of protective gloves will prevent any nicks, scratches or slices that may occur. I had quite a search for a pair of gloves that were good.
Some of the heavy leather gloves i used to use for working with shears are very thick and are awkward to use sharpening tools with and can still be cut through. Other gloves i tried were cut proof, woolen type ones – these were great for protection but after a while the oil soaked into the material and was very hard to get out – even after washing.
The gloves i use now solve both these problems- they are made of a cut resistant material which protects your hands from sharp blades, and they have cut resistant rubber coating on the palms and on the back of the glove. The rubber surface makes wiping off oil and rust easy and it waterproofs the glove material – this means i can use them in the garden for pulling briars or sharp wire and your hands are kept safe and dry.
It’s also important to protect your eyes while working; shards of metal or rust could damage your eyes during the cleaning or sharpening process. It’s best to wear a pair of safety glasses – wrap around or the goggle type are best, as they prevent small particles from reaching your eyes from all directions while standard safety glasses typically leave a gap that smaller bits of debris could pass through.
If you are using an angle grinder to clean rust from the blade is is advisable to also use a dust mask and have good ventilation in the room or shed.
Remember that cleaning and sharpening gardening tool blades is dangerous and you should remind yourself of the hazards before you begin. If you should accidentally cut yourself while working, it’s best to seek help immediately; minor cuts or scrapes can be handled at home but larger injuries may need medical attention.
The first step to sharpening your pruning tools is to be sure they are completely clean. Any soil or other material on the blade will dirty the sharpening stone or file and reduce the effectiveness of it.
A quick clean under the outdoor tap without rubbing your hands on the blade will do the trick. Or if you prefer you can fill the sink or a container with water and rub the blade using a old cloth or an old brush – never use your bare fingers to rub the blade as it could easily slice into you. Using the cloth or brush, scrub both sides of each blade carefully. Once you’ve rubbed away all the debris, rinse them with clean water until all the dirt and residue has gone.
After washing you could either let air dry or use an old dry towel or rag to dry the blades; gently wipe first the top blade then the bottom blade with the towel, taking care not to cut yourself as you work.
After washing and drying your shears, examine each blade carefully for any signs of rust. It’s quite common for rust to appear on pruning tools, but it is better to remove the rust as it may be causing the shears to be harder to open and close.
Use a piece of medium-coarse steel wool to gently buff away the rust. After removing all the rust, it is a good idea to wipe the blades with a cloth with a little bit of clean oil on it. This will protect the blades from moisture and hold off the rust.
What can I use to sharpen garden shears?
There are several tools you could use to sharpen a blade: you could use an angle grinder, a bench grinder, a hand file or a sharpening stone. Usually, if the blade is not too blunt all you need is a medium and fine hand file to shape the edge and finish the blade off with a sharpening stone with a little oil on it. The hand files and sharpening stones are less expensive than the angle grinder or bench grinder, and they will generally give you greater control over the process than a fast-spinning wheel that throws out sparks.
Whatever pruning tool you’re sharpening, it will be easier – and safer – to work if you secure the tool in a bench vise, if possible, before beginning. Open the shears as wide as possible, making sure that the beveled edge of the cutting blade is facing upwards. Then secure the pruning tool blade in the bench vise.
How to sharpen garden shears
Position your body behind the handles side of the shears so that as you push the hand file forwards you are going from the hinge to the tips the shears. Hold the hand file firmly at the angle of the blade edge and then push the file forwards – without going side to side- you will need to maintain this angle as you sharpen the blade edge until you are satisfied it is sharp.
Using a single, smooth stroke, draw the sharpening tool along the contour of the blade, from the base to the tip, moving away from your body. You should apply a moderate level of pressure. After a couple stokes with the file, check the edge. It should be uniformly shiny. If it’s not, then you may not be holding the file at the right angle; correct the angle as needed and begin again.
Only sharpen the cutting blade itself, working the file or stone in the same direction as the bevel. While larger shears are easy to sharpen using this method, smaller blades may need to be worked in a circular motion.
Using the hand file
Continue filing in smooth, single strokes until a sharp edge forms on the shear blades. It typically takes only a few minutes or, at most, ten, depending on how bad a condition the blade is in. Usually 20 or 30 passes of the file or stone will complete the sharpening, you can finish each blade in just a few minutes.
If you’re sharpening bypass or anvil-style pruning tools, you’ll only need to sharpen the beveled cutting blade – which means that it takes even less time. For any other type of shears, you’ll need to repeat these steps after securing the opposite blade in the bench vise. The usual steps to complete the sharpening of any blade is
Clean the blade free from muck and dirt
- remove the rust from both side of the blade and protect with clean oil
- begin sharpening with a medium hand file
- now finsh hand filing with a fine file
- lastly put a few drops of oil onto a sharpening stone and you’re done
- finish by protecting the shears with some clean oil
Remove the burr
Raising a burr is an essential part of any sharpening ritual. But what is a burr? And if it’s so important to create one while sharpening, why should you remove it?
Simply put, a burr is a small fold of metal on the opposite side of the blade from the one you are sharpening. Raising a burr lets you know that you have ground the edge thin enough so that there is a single plane of the bevel all the way to the edge. If a burr is not formed during the sharpening process then you haven’t fully sharpened the edge of the blade – which means that your blade will not be as sharp as it could be.
So once you’ve finished sharpening the blades of your pruning tools, you’ll also want to remove any burrs that have accrued on the reverse sides of the blades. This is done by turning the shears over and using a few strokes of the file or sharpening stone to remove the burrs. Be careful not to use too much pressure or you will simply create a new burr on the original edge!
Finishing the job
While you have the pruning tool in hand – or firmly anchored in your bench vise, there are a couple of finishing steps that you should take care of to help keep your tools at their absolute best.
Maintenance and repair
Now is a good time to examine the shears closely for signs of wear and tear. Take a few moments to check over the moving parts and to tighten up any loose bolts you may find; you can also determine whether you’ll need to order replacement parts – perhaps new blades, springs, or even new handles for a high-quality but well-loved pair of pruners that are too valuable to simply discard.
You’ll want to finish the sharpening process by applying a lubricant to your pruning tool; this will help prevent rust from forming. Once you’ve finished the sharpening and maintenance, you’ll need to dip a soft cloth into the tool lubricant of your choice – linseed oil works very well – and gently wipe the cloth over the blades of the pruning tool.
Don’t forget to apply additional lubricant throughout the year, particularly after heavy use of the shears – whether or not they need sharpening at the time.
While this technique is ideal for sharpening your cutting tools – shears, loppers, hand hooks or secateurs – it can also be used for any lawn or garden tools in your shed or garage that have a blade or a cutting edge. The same method will work for a garden hoe, a shovel, or even your lawn mower blades.