Good garden tools are essential. They make light work of day-to-day garden tasks and help to keep the job at hand productive and enjoyable. However, when it comes to sharpening tools such as shears and secateurs, these benefits are lost if the tools are blunt.

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Luckily, keeping garden tools sharp throughout the year is pretty straightforward - it’s usually only a lack of routine that interferes. Ideally you should sharpen your tools little and often, but have an extra session two or three times a year in preparation for busy seasons.

Blunt secateurs and shears, tired after a frantic summer, benefit from a good going over in September when you’ll start cutting back perennials and getting around to yew clipping.

Almost as important as keeping your tools sharp, is keeping them clean. Leaf sap quickly builds up on blades and clogs up the mechanism, reducing the efficiency of the cut.

How to sharpen garden tools

Here’s some advice and handy tips to help you sharpen your tools and keep them working well for longer.

Niwaki Tobisho secateurs being sharpened with a sharpening stone
Keeping tools sharp throughout the year is pretty straightforward, it's usually only a lack of routine that interferes.
Jake Hobson from Japanese tool supplier, Niwaki

For regular tool sharpening we always recommend not taking your secateurs or shears apart, as they never quite feel the same once you start fiddling with them.

The trick with sharpening all tools is to go slow, and to concentrate. Try and adopt a fixed position, putting light but equal pressure along the whole length of the blade.

Also, learn to take care of your tools and treat cleaning and sharpening them as important a job as any other in the garden. There’s no reason why a good pair of secateurs shouldn’t last a lifetime.

Sharpening shears

Shears are more straightforward to sharpen than secateurs – you only sharpen the outside of each blade, but you sharpen both of them.

Once finished, take the burr off the inside edges. This applies to snips and other straight bladed tools as well.

Watch Jake explain how to sharpen shears using a Crean Mate, 1000-grit sharpening stone and Camellia oil.

Sharpening loppers and bypass secateurs

Bypass secateurs and loppers are slightly trickier tools to sharpen than double-edged shears because the blade is curved and hard to reach, which is why a small stone is important. The best stones have a contoured, concave edge to follow the curve of the blade.

You only need to sharpen the cutting blade, not the bypass (the blunt, lower part), and normally you only sharpen the outside of the blade.

Different secateurs will have different bevels (sloping surface or edge), but typically the angle is 20-30 degrees. Once this outer edge is sharpened, you remove the burr on the inside, effectively creating a very fine bevel, which adds a bit of strength to the blade.

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What you’ll need - essential sharpening tools

Whetstone

Niwaki Sharpening Stones - All Three Grits Bundle on a grey background

Most important of all is a whetstone – preferably a small water stone (much tidier than oil stones) that can sharpen small secateurs blades as well as larger edges. It should be soaked for a couple of minutes before use.

Sharpen your tools every few weeks or so and the whetstone will keep a decent blade in good condition.

We recommend going for Niwaki’s multi-pack of sharpening stones. It comes with a grey 220-grit for rough and damaged blades, a brown 1,000-grit for day-to-day sharpening and a beige 3,000-grit for perfecting high-quality steel.

Diamond file

Niwaki Twin Diamond File on a grey background

For older, or more damaged blades you’ll need something coarser – either a coarser grit of whetstone or a diamond file works very well in grinding back a damaged edge to a clean profile.

This high-quality diamond file from Niwaki has two different grit ratings, making it a versatile tool. Use the 120-grit side to work through steel and create a new edge, before flipping over to the 300-grit panel to refine it.

Once you’ve finished with the diamond file you can start using a whetstone to perfect the blade.

Abrasive material

Liberon Steel Wire Wool on a grey background

Some sort of abrasive to remove leaf sap is useful. This can be a washing sponge, fine wire wool or a special cleaning block.

Liberon’s ultra fine wire wool is a good choice if you want to clean up the look of metal blades. It’s made from steel and shouldn’t crumble as you go. You’ll get a metre-long strip of wool in this pack.

Camellia oil

Niwaki Camellia oil on a grey background

Once clean and sharp, a light oiling is needed. The Japanese have traditionally used Camellia oil, ground from the seeds of the tea plant Camellia sinensis, to keep blades moving freely and prevent rust.

You can buy Niwaki’s 100ml bottle of Camellia oil from Amazon.

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Jake Hobson is a leading topiary and pruning specialist and founder Japanese tool supplier Niwaki. You can find more videos from Jake and the Niwaki team on Vimeo.

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