How to sharpen and restore your gardening tools

Nothing ruins your afternoon gardening plans faster than dull tools. “They can make or break your project,” says Natasha Nicholes, founder of We Sow We Grow, a community gardening initiative in Chicago, Illinois, dedicated to advancing gardening and farming in an urban landscape. “Dull tools often lead to poorly cut stems or branches.”

Neat and neat essentials can do more than keep your garden in pristine condition, says Rebecca Sears, Ferry-Morse’s chief gardener; they can also save you time and money. “Whether it’s digging in the ground or cutting weeds, sharp, rust-free tools will make your gardening tasks much easier,” she says. “They’ll also save you money in the long run. If the tools are kept in good condition, you won’t need to replace them as often. Coming up, how to sharpen and restore your gardening tools to their original glory.

assortment of gardening tools on dark wood

Maximkostenko / Getty Images

Related: 10 Essential Gardening Tools

Remove the rust.

Before sharpening your tools, Sears recommends removing any rust or build-up that could corrode them. “Light rust can be treated with high-grit sandpaper or fine steel wool. For heavier rust, a stiff wire brush and strong pressure should solve the problem,” she says. “If the rust is so bad that it has made the surface of the steel rough and grainy, I recommend placing a wire brush over an electric drill for the best success.” After the tarnish is removed, add a layer of boiled linseed oil to help stop the oxidation process, Sears adds. “It will dry out and harden on the surface, protecting the tool,” she explains.

Gather your gear.

Ready to start the sharpening process? Sears notes it’s time to gather your gear. “For shovels and trowels, you can use a hand file or rasp from your local hardware store,” she says. “For pruning shears and knives, you will need a whetstone with a sharp edge, such as a diamond whetstone or a whetstone.”

Apply even pressure when restoring with a trowel.

After you’ve cleaned your trowel, Sears says you can use a rasp or similar flat file to sharpen it. “Draw the file on the edge of the trowel, away from your body,” she advises. “Maintain long, even strokes to have consistent sharpness along the edge.” Since trowels don’t need to be razor-sharp (just sharp enough to penetrate the ground), Sears says it’s important to avoid overloading the blade area. “There’s also no need to worry about the short edges near the handle,” she adds. “Sharpening them will not increase the efficiency of the tool and could even be a hazard to your hands.”

Sharpen the shears from top to bottom.

To beautify the pruning shears, place them on a flat surface and slide the whetstone over the blade until you reach the desired level of sharpness. “You want to sharpen it to the point where you can easily cut the paper with the snips,” says Sears. To make sure the blades on your gardening shears are very sharp, Nicholes says to apply even pressure while sliding the stone in the direction of the bevel (or slanted edge of the blade). “Sharpen in only one direction – from the top of the bevel to the bottom – being careful not to go back and forth,” she advises.

Take it easy when sharpening your shovels.

Sears recommends using a grater or hand file to sharpen your shovel, just like you would with a trowel. “Slowly file around the edge in one direction, while pulling away from your body,” she advises. “A shovel is a big tool and sharpening can take time, so patience is important.”

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