Maintaining your own garden and lawn can take its toll on all your gardening tools. Crucial cutting equipment like gardening shears will go blunt over time. Knowing how to restore the blade’s cutting edge is a great way to keep doing more without getting tired.
Sharp garden shears and hedge trimmers are a good idea. They are easier to use and cut cleaner hence impart less stress on the plants you are pruning. Keeping your blade sharp is crucial regardless of whether you went for a manual set to remain ecofriendly or are using an electric trimmer running of your off grid power system instead of a gasoline engine.
Signs that it’s Time to Sharpen your Garden Shears
You will tell it’s time to sharpen your shears if they are not cutting as easy and clean as they did when you first got them. You will have to apply more force to cut and in most cases, the shears will bent and tear the plant you are working on instead of cutting it clean.
The top signs to look out for are:
- You are having trouble cutting twigs or branches you normally cut with the shears
- The blades stick together when cutting
- You can see rust building up on the blades
- It has been over two years since you last sharpened the shears
Preparing Your Garden Shears for Sharpening
Before sharpening your shears, you have to do some preparatory checks to ensure that everything is fine. These checks will make it safer and easier to sharpen the shears later on. They include:
Cleaning Up the Shears
This step gets rid of any grime, rust and dirt that has accumulated over time.
- Use a steel wool (or wire brush), soap and water to clean the blades. This should get rid of plant residue, dust and other loose gunk. It can also wash off most of the loose rust coatings
- Rinse off the blades under running water until you get rid of all the soap
- Dry the blades with a cloth or paper towel. Be careful when cleaning the blade edges as they might still cut you
- If the blades still have bits of rust, use your medium-coarse steel wool to buff it off before repeating the above procedure to clean the garden shears again. You can use some high-grit sandpaper instead of steel wool. Give your shears a nice shine for the best results
Tightening Pivot Nuts
Some garden shears pivot around a permanent rivet while others have nuts that you can tighten with a set of spanners. If yours has a pivot nut, tighten it up so that the blades don’t wiggle at the pivot.
ProTip: Sometimes, your shears won’t cut well if the pivot nut is loose and the blades play around. After tightening the nut, it is good practice to try out the shears on some plants again. If it cuts fine and it’s not yet 2 years after the last sharpening, there is no need to sharpen your shears further
If they’re still not cutting right, you could leave them tightened for next steps but untightening the bolt and disassembling the garden shears is more convenient. The next steps will be easier on a single blade at a go instead of the assembled tool.
ProTip: If you choose to disassemble, take a video of the process of multiple photos of the washers and nut orientation for future reference in case you forget how to assemble the pivot
Confirm that the Blades are straight
The last step should be checking if your blades are straight and flush. The blades cut by pressing the twigs you are pruning between the two sides. Any bend in one or two of the blades leaves opening when they close making it less efficient at cutting.
If they are not straight, you will need to separate the blades, clip the bent one on vase and wiggle it straight. Remember to wear some leather gloves to protect your hands. You count also place it on a flat piece of thick wood and gently hammer it straight.
After this, assemble the garden shears again. Chances are it will cut better and might work fine without extra sharpening.
ProTip: Only shears with long blades are prone to bending. Small single hand shears with two to three inch blades rarely bend.
1. Using a Mill File to Sharpen Your Garden Shears
A mill file is the best tool to clean most of the blades in your tool shed. It is easy to use and since you can control each pass, it is hard to damage the factory edge on any blade you sharpen.
- Clamp the shear blade or shears onto a vise or any other surface to keep it firm and upright
- Examine the blade and find out the angle of the factory edge and its direction
- Position yourself such that you can make one broad stroke over the entire blade along the factory edge
- With the mill firm firmly held on both hand, make one broad stroke over the entire blade. Ensure that your file is inclined to cover the entire factory bevel edge and not just the upper tip of the cutting edge
- Once at the end of the stroke, lift the file clear and execute another stroke
- After a couple of strokes, you will see clean exposed metal and some progress in the sharpness
- You can adjust the angle of the file as you work to ensure you are evenly covering the entire factory edge
- 10-15 firm strokes should be enough to sharpen most gardening shear edges. You can go over if you haven’t exposed clean metal on the edge by the end of this
Any small and jerky motions that don’t run up the entire length of the blade will damage your shear’s factory edge hence making it harder to get a consistently sharp cutting edge. The same applies if you grind the blade in bidirectional strokes (applying the file away from you and towards you instead of lifting it up in the back stroke.)
2. Sharpening Your Sheers With a Sharpening Stone
A milling stone is another great way to sharpen your garden shears if you don’t have a file. Use the type you can hold on your hand and avoid any abrasive stones that spin on a motor unless you have sharpened something before and know how to hold a consistent edge.
- Moisten up a medium grain sharpening stone with some paraffin oil
- Hold the shears with the blade open firmly in one hand (your weaker hand) and the stone in the other
- The stone should be inclined to the same angle as the cutting blade’s factory edge
- Run the stone over the blade in long sweeping strokes that cover the entire blade length and lift at the end to start again
- Repeat until you have a uniform edge over the entire blade
3. Using a Dremel to Sharpen Your Garden Sheers
If you want faster sharpening and don’t feel like doing repeated strokes with a file or a sharpening stone, a dremel can help you speed up things.
The difference is that a dremel is always spinning and you can’t do a single complete pass as you were doing with a file or a stone. Maintaining a clean edge might take some practicing.
- Place the blade on a vice for firm support
- Inspect the factory edge and be careful to put the dremel against the beveled edge at the same angle
- Turn on the dremel and grind up and down the blade until you have a sharp edge without messing up the angle
- Keep a steady hand and grind in small light passes to avoid over grinding sections of the blade more than others
4. Using a Grinder (Be Careful)
The sharpening procedure when using a grinder is almost similar to what you would do with a dremel. If it is a hand held angle grinder, the blade will be on the vice while a bench top grinder will have you apply the blade to the grinder.
For a bench grinder:
- Take note of the factory edge and hold your blade in your hands at the right angle before applying it to the grinder
- Switch on the grinder and gently push the blade against the spinning grinder to make one long sweep that cover the entire blade
- Check for consistency and sharpness before making another pass
- Be gentle with the blade. Grinders are fast and can shear off huge chunks if you apply too much pressure. This could damage your factory edge
ProTip: A bench top grinder is better than an angle grinder since it is easier to control the light garden shear blade than it is to control a heavier and torque driven angle grinder
If you have a bench top grinder, it would be a perfect and fast sharpening tool with the right sharpening stone or surface. You might want to practice on a couple of cheap blades to perfect the art before trying it out on the rest of your gardening tools.
Post Sharpening Care: Cleaning Burrs and Reassembling
Once you are done sharpening (regardless of the approach), you have to buff out any burrs your sharpening tools might impart on the cutting edge. These tiny razor sharp bumps are normal regardless of how good you are.
To get rid of them:
- Get a sheet of 300 grit sandpaper and duct tape it to a flat surfaces
- Apply the back side of the blade onto the sand paper and rub it around gently as if you are cleaning it
- Keep the blade as flat as possible when making the circles
- After a couple of passes, pass your thumb gently over the edge to see if you pick up any burrs (jagged protrusions)
- The above burrs check procedure is dangerous and takes some practice or hands-on learning. If you are too firm, the blade will cut you. It is safer to just make around 10 circular passes on the sand paper and assume the burrs are gone if you don’t want to risk cutting yourself
Once you are done, wipe the blades with a damp cloth clothe to get rid of any tiny shavings before cleaning it with a dry cloth or paper towel.
If you had disassembled the blade, return the nut and washers in the right order and tighten them firmly. Finally, apply some general-purpose lubricant to the pivot area and try out your newly sharpened shears. They should now trim like a dream.
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