Good tools are essential in the garden. They make light work of day-to-day tasks and help to keep the job at hand productive and enjoyable. However, when it comes to sharp stuff such as shears and secateurs, these benefits are lost if the tools are blunt.
Niwaki Tobisho secateurs being sharpened with a sharpening stone
Luckily, keeping tools sharp throughout the year is pretty straightforward, it’s usually only a lack of routine that interferes. Ideally 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.
Here’s some advice and handy tips to help you give your tools some TLC.
Essential kit for sharpening garden tools
Most important of all is a whetstone – preferably a small water stone (much tidier than oil stones) that can work on 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.
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.
Some sort of abrasive to remove leaf sap is useful. This can be a washing sponge, fine wire wool or a special cleaning block.
Once clean and sharp, a light oiling is needed to keep the blades moving freely and to prevent rust. The Japanese have traditionally used Camellia oil for this, ground from the seeds of the tea plant Camellia sinensis.
Sharpening your tools
Watch Jake explain how to sharpen secateurs using whetstones and a twin diamond file.
Sharpening Tobisho Secateurs with Niwaki Stones and Twin Diamond File from Niwaki on Vimeo.
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.
Sharpening bypass secateurs and loppers
Bypass secateurs and loppers are slightly trickier than double-edged shears to sharpen 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.
- The trick with all sharpening 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.
- For regular sharpening we always recommend not taking your secateurs or shears apart, as they never quite feel the same once you start fiddling with them.
- Learn to take care of your tools and to 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.
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.