PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock
Kevin Fogle
January 25, 2016

Snow, ice and freezing rain make it pretty unpleasant to be out in your garden this time of year. While the weather may be unpleasant, the winter months can be a great time to work on maintaining your digging tools before the spring planting season kicks off.

Why should you bother with this often thankless task? Sharp garden tools are safer and more efficient than their dull counterparts. Regular usage dulls tools over time, and digging implements, like spades, shovels and hoes, need to be honed at least once or twice a season. Fortunately, most digging tools can be easily and safely sharpened at home. Be certain to wear gloves and safety goggles to protect your hands and eyes during the entire process.

Gather Sharpening Supplies

Aside from your work gloves and eye protection, the only tool you will need for sharpening is an 8- or 10-inch bastard cut mill file, which can be found at most reputable hardware stores. I recommend finding a handle attachment for the file, as this will make the sharpening process easier and much safer. A hand-held grinder tool will also work, but a bastard file is certainly the cheapest option.

The Tool-Sharpening Process

digging tool
Kevin Fogle

Before sharpening your tools, remove any caked-on dirt, so so you don’t clog the file. To start sharpening, orient the front of the shovel or spade toward you, and secure the tool in your hands. Firmly push your file across the inner edge of the tool, attempting to keep the original angle (usually 30 or 45 degrees) and gradually working your way across the entire blade until major nicks have been removed and the edge is shiny.

Mill files only go in the forward direct, so do not pull the file across the edge on your backstroke. Take care not to over-sharpen the blade, as these edges will dull quickly and your initial effort will be wasted. The sharpening process may create a slight burr on the back side of the blade. Lightly file off any burrs, but do not attempt to sharpen this side of the blade.

Proper Storage For Digging Tools

To keep the edge on your tools, it’s a good idea to properly store your tools off the floor. Moist conditions can encourage rust formation, which both dulls and deteriorates your equipment and eventually destroys your investment in quality tools.


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