Garden Gear - Garden Tools

Prepare your pruners for spring

Secateurs a little dull? Our sharpening tips will have them ready for action in no time

Too many gardeners damage plants by employing dull pruners, which can tear, instead of cut, branches. Keen-edged secateurs are a joy to use—and kind to the plants they prune. Sharp blades cut cleanly with little crushing of stems, less shock to plants and a faster recovery with less scarring.

One good annual sharpening should suffice, especially if you've invested in quality secateurs. Small nicks in the blades can be smoothed away if they're not too deep; otherwise, they should be replaced. (Replacement blades are available for some of the better models.)

What you'll need
To get started, you'll need a sharpening stone, preferably the kind that comes in its own box to help anchor it while in use. Available at most hardware and building-supply stores, these stones have two sides—one with coarse grit, the other with a finer surface. Either an oil stone or a water stone will do; just be sure you know which kind you have. (A pocket stone is useful for quick touch-ups as you're working in the garden.)

sharpen1.jpgUsing a screwdriver and adjustable wrench, take secateurs apart (note how they go back together). Clean thoroughly with mineral spirits and a soft rag to remove all dirt and old oil. If your sharpening stone has no box to anchor it, try holding it down with a couple of nails driven into your workbench or potting bench.
sharpen2.jpgSoak the water stone or add a puddle of water to wet it. For an oil stone, add a few drops of either a honing oil or a light household one such as sewing-machine oil. Hold the blade at a 30-degree angle to the coarse side and move it over the stone in small, counterclockwise circles. Begin at the base of the blade and move to the tip. Check the angle by holding the blade up to the light. You should see a narrow strip of shiny metal; if the strip is too wide, you're working too flat.
sharpen3.jpgFinish the blade on the fine side of the stone, which should also be soaked or oiled, using the same motions and running the blade over it five or six times from base to tip. Test sharpness by holding up a sheet of paper and slashing it. If it cuts cleanly, it's about right. Don't over-sharpen; secateurs do heavy work, and a razor-sharp, too-thin edge will nick easily.
sharpen4.jpgTo remove the burr and give the blade a final smoothing, hold the non-bevelled side flat against the fine grit of the stone and gently pass over it with a circular motion. Don't press too hard. Carefully feel the blade after two or three circles to make sure the rough burr has been removed. Finally, reassemble secateurs and oil them lightly at the base and around the screws.

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