How many times have you taken out a pair of pruners only to find they wouldn’t cut a pencil because they are so rusty and dull?

It is always best to keep tools in good shape all the time so they can be used at any time. That means to keep them clean and sharp. It isn’t hard to sharpen your own garden tools. Shovels, hoes, axes, pruners, loppers and other tools are easily cleaned and help you to sharpen up your garden edge. Here are some steps on how to sharpen garden tools:


You will need a few supplies to sharpen and clean your garden tools, so keep them on hand in a safe place in a shed or garage. A stiff wire brush is a necessity as is some fine steel wool. Pick up medium grit sandpaper at the hardware store. You will need a whetstone and/or a single cut mill bastard file, which can also be found at the hardware store. Light machine oil or a mixture of motor oil and kerosene or lamp oil protects the tools once they are cleaned and you need to apply it with rags. Plastic handled tools can be updated with spray or liquid plastic and wood handled tools need boiled linseed oil. Do yourself a favor and get some safety glasses or goggles so that bits of rush and dust do not get in your eyes while cleaning.


Leaving dirt and grim on garden tools is a bad idea. This can spread disease to the whole garden. Always wash off tools with water after using and in some cases, when you know disease is in the garden, dip them in alcohol before putting them away. To clean rust and stubborn dirt from tools, use a stiff bristled wire brush to remove as much debris as you can. Try rubbing the tool with steel wool next and if that doesn’t work try the sand paper or a steel pad or brush that attaches to a drill.


Use a whet stone with tools that have smaller blades like pruners and scissors. Some whetstones require a few drops of water while others require machine oil. Make sure you know which type your stone is and apply a few drops of the liquid before sharpening. Hold the beveled side, or blade side, against the stone and rub the edge toward the middle of the stone in a curve. Imagine you have a block of cheese and you are trying to shave a thin piece from it. Keep doing so until the blade is nice and sharp.

Loppers, shovels, axes, spades and hoes take something other than a whetstone to sharpen because of their size. You can use sandpaper to sharpen or get a single cut mill bastard file. Always stabilize the tool before sharpening so it doesn’t move and you end up sharpening a finger or two. Use vice grips on a bench and don’t forget safety eyewear. Push the sandpaper or file away from your body and move in a diagonal motion. The serrations on the file have to actually cut into the edge of the tool to do the job. Do not use oil because it tends to clog the serrations and you will not sharpen the tool.


Always protect your sharpened tools once you are done. Use machine oil or a mixture of 1 quart non-detergent 30 W motor oil mixed with 1 pint kerosene or lamp oil. Put this in a mason jar with a lid and keep excess in a safe place. Dip a rag into the mixture and wipe the blades with a thin coating that doesn’t drip. Sand down wooden handles so that they are smooth and rub some boiled linseed oil on them with a rag. You will never get a splinter from your tools again. Plastic handled tools can benefit from a scraping with a craft knife and sealing with liquid or spray plastic coating. Always hang your tools in the garage or shed. If they sit on the ground they may become wet and rust will start to form and your sharpened edge will fade.

Sharpening up your garden edge doesn’t take long when you keep your tools in good shape. Always check them after use and if you store them for the winter, make sure to use the above steps on how to sharpen garden tools. This will allow your tools to last much longer, be more effective, and be ready to use when you need them.