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How to Sharpen Garden Tools

Sharp tools make yard chores a lot faster and easier. This article shows how to sharpen your tools at home. You'll get the edge you need for pruning, clipping and shearing tools.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Ingredients for a good cutting edge

Pruning shears, hedge shears and grass clippers function in a similar manner. The two sharp surfaces of the blades come in contact at the base and cut all the way to the tips. They literally shear the grass and twigs from the stem of the plant with a scissors action. These two opposing surfaces are finely ground at the factory to the precise angle that makes them the most efficient.

When you resharpen these blades along the original bevel, you can get them so sharp that they'll easily cut tissue paper. The key is to sharpen exactly along this factory-cut bevel. I've seen many tools, now worthless, that were sharpened improperly because the person attempted to construct a “better cutting edge” or used the wrong tool to sharpen them.

Unless you're a pro, you shouldn't use a power grinding tool for sharpening. Buy a new mill file, 10 in. long for the best control. It works really well on hedge and pruning shears and even on grass clippers. If you find files confusing, read the package. It will tell you if the file's OK for use on garden tools. And if you don't want to use the same file on the grass clippers, read on—we'll show you how to sharpen them with an ordinary scissors sharpener.

Sharpen your hedge shears with a file

Hedge shears are perhaps the most abused garden tools. Because of their huge blades, it's tempting to use them as pruning shears. They're designed for cutting green wood only, no thicker than 3/8 in. Cutting thick branches or dried wood can stress the pivot nut and even bend the blades slightly.

Sharpening pruning shears demands a steady hand

This tool is by far the fussiest garden tool to sharpen. The principle is the same as for hedge shears, but filing along the curved blade (Photo 4) asks a great deal of your fine motor skills. The other half of the pruning shears (Photo 5) has a thick, blunt blade that the sharp curved blade cuts against. This heavier blunt blade is one reason this tool is able to cut branches more than 1 in. thick.

The blunt blade needs a crisp 90-degree edge. Think of the edge on a freshly cut piece of granite. Both the top and the side surfaces are flat, and where they meet you'll find a crisp, sharp edge.

Sharpen your grass clippers with a scissors sharpener

Because this tool is so close to the ground while clipping, it takes a lot of abuse. Soil can get between the blades and grind away at them each time you squeeze the handle. The moisture in the grass also can corrode them quickly. As you would with all trimming tools, wipe your grass clippers clean after each use and keep all the moving parts lightly oiled.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Socket/ratchet set
    • File
    • Safety glasses
    • Vise

You'll also need these specialty tools: a 10-in. flat “mill bastard” file, 300-grit wet/dry sandpaper, 10-in. half-round file and a scissors sharpener.

Duct tape to tape the sandpaper to your work surface

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