Still can’t part with that rusty old shovel you’ve had since 1970? Or how about that hand-me-down garden trowel that’s more like a workout aid than a planting tool? And let’s not forget those squeaky shears that give you blisters. The good news is you don’t have to get rid of those crusty-but-trusty tools: You can restore them to their former glory with the following tried-and-true sharpening tactics.
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First thing’s first: You must get rid of dirt, grime and rust on the surface of tools before you can do any sharpening. Steel wool works great for removing caked-on dirt and rust. If you don’t have any on hand, try using a wadded piece of aluminum foil, a wire brush or a rotary tool with a wire-bristle attachment. Use a solvent to remove any lingering traces of rust.
After scouring the surface, use a dark-color marker to mark the beveled edges on the tools you plan to sharpen. It’s best to follow the manufacturers’ original bevel angles when sharpening these tools to ensure that they continue to work properly. You’ll know you’ve sharpened correctly if the marks disappear as you work.
Don’t forget about safety gear. Sparks can fly when you’re grinding metal, so wear eye and ear protection and flame-resistant clothing. Note that gloves are not recommended when using rotary tools or grinding wheels because they can get caught in the fast-moving parts.
Most single-bevel outdoor hand tools, such as classic and border shovels, trowels, spades, etc., can be sharpened with a flat bastard-cut mill file. (You can find this standard file at most hardware stores.)
Start by securing the tool to the work surface using clamps or a vise; the edge to be sharpened should be facing up. Beginning at a high point on the blade, near the tool’s handle, push the file down and away from you along the edge in one steady motion. Use both hands on the file to help maintain a consistent angle. Pick up the file and continue sharpening in this same direction until a clean metal edge appears along the entire bevel and you’re satisfied with the results. To prevent the file from clogging, dip it in water frequently. This will also help to cool and lubricate the tool you are sharpening. Gently sand off any burrs using medium-grit sandpaper.
For tools that work best with finely sharpened blades (pruners, shears, etc.), a honing stone or diamond sharpener will help you achieve more acute angles. A double-sided implement that provides both soft and hard stones works well, as you can use the more abrasive soft-stone side first and then follow it up with the smoother hard-stone side for fine-tuning. Simply rub the stone along each beveled blade using the motion described above. For lubrication and quicker results, add a drop of mineral oil or another honing solution to the edge you are sharpening. Shears usually have two blades, both beveled on one side, so be sure to keep both angles consistent as you sharpen. For better control, you may want to disassemble the blades and sharpen each separately.
Rotary tools, electric-drill attachments and bench grinders are speedier alternatives for sharpening outdoor hand tools. However, if you choose to use any of these high-speed options, be careful to avoid overshaping or overheating, which can ultimately weaken metal tools.
Most rotary tools have accessories designed specifically for cleaning, shaping, sharpening and deburring metal. Be sure to select one that will give you the most control when working with each tool. Once you’ve selected the appropriate accessory, clamp the tool you are sharpening to a work surface, turn on the rotary tool and gently guide it along the bevel. When a clean metal edge appears and you’re satisfied with its sharpness, remove the burrs and you’re done. Follow this same process if you’re sharpening with an electric-drill attachment.
A high-speed grinding wheel is useful for sharpening your most distressed outdoor hand tools, as it quickly reshapes dull and damaged edges. However, since it is stationary, it does require a little more skill to hold the tool you are sharpening at a consistent angle. Also, water must be applied frequently at the point of friction to avoid overheating.
Whether you choose to hone your trusty outdoor tools using hand files, stones, rotary tools or high-speed grinders, you’ll surely keep them looking (and working) sharp for many years to come.
Keep your yard tools ready for action!
After shaving years of wear and tear off of your favorite outdoor hand tools, keep them shipshape with these additional maintenance tips:
* Clean tools after each use.
* Lubricate all moving parts and beveled edges before storing.
* Sand wood handles smooth and apply one or two coats of weather-resistant finish; replace broken handles.
* Store your tools indoors and in a dry area.