Sharper Edges: Tips for Tools

Let's face it, yard work is hard work. Don't make it even harder by using rusty, dull or misshapen tools.

A few hours' work sharpening your tools will make them last longer, cut cleaner and make all your gardening easier.

"Hand tools don't require much more than cleaning, sharpening and oiling, says Gary Zoll, owner of Zoll's Lawn and Garden Equipment in Medford. First of all, remove dirt and built-up debris with a wire brush or old toothbrush. Rust can be cleaned with steel wool or light sandpaper. Use solvent to remove pitch.

Sharpening by hand requires a file or silicon carbide sharpening stone for the first step of sharpening and a whetstone for finer and more precise finish honing. These are available at any hardware store in different sizes and shapes. Zoll prefers to use stones because filing can take off too much material or change the shape of your tool's blade. Pros can use a bench grinder for faster sharpening with the same precaution. Be sure to wear leather gloves and eye protection.

Sharpening hoes and shovels is not too complicated because you need only a sharp, tapered edge and there are no pivoting points. It may be helpful to secure the shovel or hoe in a vise. Use the file or stone on one side only from one end to the other. When finished, apply a light coat of oil or WD-40 to prevent rust on the new edge.

Garden pruners and shears are trickier. "The most important part is to maintain the same shape and curve of the blade," Zoll warns. You do not want to remove material from the inside of the blade that passes by or against the other blade.

The angle of the cutting edge is called the bevel. Examine the bevel carefully. You do not want to create another angle on the inside of the blade and you must retain the angle on the outside or your blades will be pushed apart. Follow the shape and keep the angle and curve the same. Oil the new edges and put a drop of heavier motor oil on the moving parts.

You can feel the difference when your chainsaw needs sharpening. "Your chain saw should pull itself through the wood easily," says Tyler Akins, salesman at Crater Chain Saw Co. in Medford. "With a dull chain you have to push it through and that makes you work a lot harder," he says. It's not hard to sharpen the chain with the help of a file guide, which helps keep the file at the proper alignment. Most homeowners only use one angle. Crater Chain Saw shows customers how to sharpen the chains correctly.

The importance of maintaining the shape and angle of the blade also applies to the sharpening of lawn mower blades. Sharpen only the top blade of rotary-type gas or electric lawn mowers. Make sure you take off the same amount of material evenly at both ends of the blade or it will become unbalanced and wiggle or vibrate.

Pruning saws have lots of teeth that need to be sharpened at precise angles so this job may be best left to a professional. If you choose to have your tools sharpened, it will cost between $5 and $7.50 for pruners and grass shears, $5 to $11 for lawn mower blades, including balancing, and from $7.50 to $14 for loppers and hedge shears. It's a small price to pay to have it done right and your tools and plants will thank you. Come to think of it, your hands, arms and back will thank you, too.


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