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Dull No More: How To Clean and Sharpen Your Garden Tools

by on Jun 14, 2018

Spring and summer is growing season, but that also means it’s time to trim your yard. Trees, bushes, and shrubs need to be kept in shape, and to do that, it really helps to have sharp tools. It’s faster and easier to cut with a sharp blade, plus it’s better for the plant. In just a few minutes, you can actually sharpen garden tools yourself.

Yard work is hard enough without trying to do it with dull tools that don’t work how they’re supposed to. If it has been a long time since you’ve used newly-sharpened tools, you’ll probably be surprised at how much better they work. You can use this same method and file to sharpen everything from a mower blade, to shovels and hoes, to shears and pruners. Ready to give it a try? Here’s what you need to know about how to sharpen garden tools.

How to clean and sharpen garden tools

Photo: Rachel Jacks


Materials needed for this project

Materials you’ll need to clean and sharpen your garden tools. Photo: Rachel Jacks

  • Bastard cut general purpose mill file (available on Amazon)
  • Steel wool
  • WD-40
  • Rag or paper towel
  • Thick safety gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Vice (optional)
  • Sandpaper (optional)

A bastard-cut mill file works for sharpening many different yard tools. Although it isn’t on their website, the 10″ version of this 12″ file was about $7 in my local Home Depot, and considering that tool sharpening usually costs at least $5 per item, it will quickly pay for itself. In case you’re curious (I was!), “bastard” is a term for the coarseness of the file, and “mill” refers to the way the teeth of the file are arranged.


Remove rust from the blade with steel wool or fine sandpaper.

Remove rust from the blade with steel wool or fine sandpaper. Photo: Rachel Jacks

Use the steel wool pad or a wire brush to clean and remove rust from the blade. Skip this step, and you risk damaging your file. If you have a lot of rust (guilty-as-charged), you may want to switch to 300-grit sandpaper.

Safety first! Wear heavy-duty work gloves and safety goggles.


Sharpen the edge with the file.

Sharpen the edge with the file. Photo: Rachel Jacks

Holding the blade in a vise, match the bevel with the file, and push it across the blade to reveal shiny new metal. (You may find it easier to hold the shears in your hand rather than a vice when the blades are this small.) This type of file only cuts when you push, not when you pull. After working your way to the end of the blade with a few strokes of the file, check the edge. You want a uniform, shiny edge of fresh metal, so adjust your angle if necessary. On garden shears like these, only one set of the blades has a beveled cutting edge.


Oil your blade to lubricate it and protect it from rust.

Lubricate the blades. Photo: Rachel Jacks

After you’re done sharpening the blade, run the sandpaper or steel wool over the back side of the blade to remove burrs and stray bits of metal. Spray WD-40 or other lubricant on the tool, then wipe off excess.

To keep your garden tools clean, sharp, and rust-free, always wipe them dry after you’re done using them, and regularly oil them as shown above.

Now go forth and sharpen all of your tools, and maybe use them to cut yourself a nice bouquet when you’re done.

How to clean and sharpen garden tools for your summer gardening

Photo: Rachel Jacks

Clipping with sharpened garden tools

Photo: Rachel Jacks

How to clean and sharpen garden tools

Photo: Rachel Jacks

Are you ready to make the most of your yard? Here are 59 DIY Landscaping Ideas and Tips to Improve Your Outdoor Space.

Gardening shears with sharpening tools.

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