Ok, we covered tool oiling, how about sharpening?

psnave(Z5KS)June 2, 2005

In the spirit of no stupid question -- How do you keep your shovels sharpened? Do you take it somewhere to have it done (like mower blades or sewing scissors?) or is this something I can manage at home?

I'm not new to gardening but have always wondered how much easier my work would be with sharp tools, ha ha.


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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I use a rotary grinder because we have them available at work, but you can use a ba$tard file just as well if a grinder isn't available to you. You only sharpen one side of the blade; that would be the part that is away from you while you are digging or the inside of the curved part of a 3-point shovel. It's easiest if you secure the shovel in a vise or have someone hold it for you. Hold the file at 40* angle with the blade & make long, angular strokes, applying medium pressure. The first time is the most difficult. If you get in the habit of cleaning your tools and touching them up with a file each time you use them, it's a lot easier.


    Bookmark   June 2, 2005 at 7:15AM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

I just use dull tools......
Linda C

    Bookmark   June 2, 2005 at 10:05AM
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:) I don't sharpen my shovel... but I surely do sharpen my spades, since I spend a LOT of time using them to cut through roots.

and I do the same as tapla- I'm no good at putting a read cutting edge on knives or anything (I leave honing to my husband, and we send our knives back to Wustoff for sharpening once a year) but shovels (and my 'bad' clippers, the one I stick in the dirt and stand on to cut large roots) are easy enough to sharpen.

I'll admit to treating shears as disposable things- I'm always losing them anyway (or they get adopted my people I'm helping) so investing in felco or fiskar pruners two or three times a year is nuts- so I buy the $5 ones, and when they get chewed up, I replace them.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2005 at 10:41AM
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meldy_nva(z6b VA)

The difference between dull and sharp tools is similar to the difference between sitting on a rock or sitting on a feather pillow; hard to describe but you know which is which when you've done it.

I use the file on shovels and hoes -- and I admit I can't remember the proper angle but even the wrong angle is better than dull! Lee Valley has a gadget for sharpening pruner blades, fits over the blade and slide back and forth; it is great! I wish they'd make a similar gadget for angle-impaired folks to use on hoes, etc.

Hey, Al? I've got a miniature rotary grinder [powered by my drill] to sharpen the mower blades -- is that 40-degrees?? Could it be used on the shovel?

    Bookmark   June 2, 2005 at 11:34AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

OMG - You're making fun of me - right? Too precise? ;o) I picked 40* because it's a good working edge for tools that use force. More acute angles seem to dull quicker & wider angles require lots of extra force. I chuckled when I read the question. It's not all that important. ;o)

The rotary grinder I referred to is a very fast rotary tool with a disk shaped wheel on it. It removes lots of material in a big hurry & is different than the tool you described. I think yours would work OK for straight blades, but curved blades would probably have a tendency to bind in the groove, making it more of a chore than it needs to be.

I use it to shovel post hole diggers too.



    Bookmark   June 2, 2005 at 3:36PM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

At some point in the career of your spade it will develop signs of wear ie a wavy blade on a grand scale. If you don't have a grindstone at home that's coarse enough to take off the surplus, plus a fine one to restore the edge, take it in to a sharpening service to be done.

If you're new to sharpening with a grindstone - start with something that doesn't matter. And ALWAYS use eye protection. ALWAYS, no matter how quick the job is.

Also clean/true the cutting edge of the grinder before it gets that grooved appearance. You'll get a better result.

Cut lightly. If you see the metal turning to a funny shade of blue along the edge - you're pushing too hard (and you've lost the strength in the steel at that point.)

For safety, put your work in a vice - even a carpentry vice will serve at a pinch. If you slip you'll have a nasty cut, possibly stitches, and a refresher on your tetanus injection. The vice is cheaper...

The drill operated grinders can be useful for doing a quick restoration on an edge, but they can also make a mess, depending on how coarse they are. They're great for taking off rivet heads when you need to replace a tool handle. (That's another story...)

Once you've got a decent edge then either Al's ba$tard file (from the way the ridges are placed on the cutting surface) used with a file handle, or a honing stone will keep the edge but will take a LOT of work to remove a major notch.

If you have a lot of roots to cut through then a grubber with a good sharp edge, or a heavy-duty spade specially sharpened to take the impact, will be called for, rather than using a light-weight edging spade.

Sharp tools mean you use less force and less energy. Safer, and not so tiring on a hard job. It's a skill worth learning.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 5:13AM
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All garden tools I own have a single edge to sharpen. The back edge should be kept flat (like scissors they must mesh with the other blade), and the front edge gets the bevel. I use a stone to flatten the straight side and to keep the bevel of the cutting edge on pruners and scissors. Just a file on the hoe. A grinding wheel takes care of the mower blade and edger, and ALWAYS eye protection and gloves. I have never had to sharpened my spade even though I use it like an ax to cut roots up to 3-4 inches thick; digging keeps it reasonably sharp, but there aren't many rocks in the soil.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 10:36PM
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loomis(Z6a Western MA)

Good heavens! I've been doing it wrong all these years. I take a file & sharpen both sides of my spade till it's sharp, like a knife blade. This spade will cut through anything. But, I only sharpen one side on my shears & clippers. Sure makes work go faster when everything's sharp.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2005 at 11:19PM
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