Sharpening your tools

What do you see in this picture, besides a woman badly in need of a manicure? I’ll tell you: the first step in a great technique for sharpening your pruners.

I always used to find sharpening tools awkward. Then I saw landscape architect Paul Ehnes demonstrate his pruning wizardry – including his way to sharpen the blade. A light went on.

Don’t hold the blade away from you

Hold it toward you as if committing hari-kiri, the bevelled blade along your wrist, with the bevel, or angled edge, toward your thumb side, as so.

Then wield the sharpening stone in one direction only

Move from baby finger side to thumb side, with the flat of the stone angled to match the bevel.

If you’re lazy like me (Remember our father’s words: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Or this paraphrase from FlyLady: Sharpening done incompletely still blesses your secateurs), you won’t have cleaned the blade with solvent beforehand to remove dirt, sap or rust. Therefore, you sharpening actions will make the bevel shine bright.

If you’ve been a good girl or boy and cleaned your tools last fall so the blade is already bright, one trick I’ve seen is to run a magic marker along the bevel and sharpen until the colour disappears.

For every ten or so swipes on the bevelled side, run one light one along the flipside of the blade

Again, move in one direction: towards the blade edge – to remove any rasp your efforts have created.

Test for sharpness by running your thumb gently across, never along, the blade.

But the first step is the correct stance. Practise it now.

(If you need them, I can try to add more step-by-step pictures later. If I can figure out how to focus and press the shutter with my nose while sharpening two-handedly. Or if I can get a little photographic assistance from someone who’d rather be reading the paper right now. TBD.)

Afterwards, we’ll move on to pruning that ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea that has become all floppy over winter. Now’s the time.


  1. Have never heard that magic marker trick. It’s a good one. I use a flat file, rather than a sharpening stone; keep it in my garden tote. Although various implements disappear every so often, and I know the must have landed in the basket I have on-hand for yard waste and clippings. ((btw I haven’t figured out how to include the LinkWithin feature, but I really like it. I didn’t think you could do it on blogger.))
    Cheers! Alice

  2. Whaddaya mean, “badly in need of a manicure”? Stop having better nails than me!!!
    I’m also thinking that people with multiple personalities should be careful with this technique. What if you changed half-way through the procedure? Could be problematic.

  3. Great post Helen! You have a lovely blog. Just wanted to share that in my experience with gardening tool sharpeners, in particular my pruners, I've had some great luck with DMT's diafold flat file, which serves as an excellent pruner blade sharpener. They are truly the best when it comes to quality, durability, and longevity of landscaping and gardening tool sharpeners.

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