PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson
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November 5, 2019

Farmers work hard, and so do their tools. Lawn mowers keep yards tidy all summer. Hand tools such as axes, chisels and pruning loppers are put to good use. If you’re a DIY craftsperson, you’re garage is probably stocked with tools for shaping wood and stone.

But the cutting blades on tools and machines grow dull with use, and it happens faster than you might think. Dull mower blades can damage your lawn. Dull pruning loppers can injure the bark of trees and shrubs. And a dull axe? You might as well try to split wood with a rock.

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Fortunately, many tools are designed specifically for sharpening other tools. With the right equipment and a little practice, you can breathe new life into worn-out tools by sharpening their blades and restoring them to peak condition.

Here are four sharpening tools to consider.


1. File

Files are an easy and inexpensive way to get started sharpening tools. Think of them as large nail files designed for refining steel rather than, well, fingernails. They vary widely in size and shape, but the basic idea is always the same—by repeatedly scraping the file across a dull blade, you’ll gradually grind away the chipped and dull surface to produce a newly sharpened blade.

Sharpening tools by hand (and matching the appropriate blade angles) is something of an art form, particularly if you sharpen lawn mower blades. These must be carefully balanced to avoid straining the mower engine—in other words, you must be careful to remove the same amount of material from each arm of the blade.

2. Sharpening Stone

A sharpening stone is just what its name implies—a stone, usually artificial and rectangular in shape, used for sharpening tools. It’s commonly used for sharpening knives but can be put to use for other tools requiring a sharp blade, such as chisels. Sharpening stones vary in grit, which determines how sharply they hone blades.

3. Bench Grinder

Long ago, folks sharpened tools with a treadle-powered grindstone, using their feet to work a pedal and provide rotating power to the wheel. Nowadays, farmers simply use a bench grinder (shown above) and allow an electric motor to spin the wheel.

The heart of a bench grinder is the grindstone, a rotating abrasive wheel that grinds metal surfaces to remove nicks and restore a sharp edge. The wheels are replaceable and vary in size and abrasiveness. Adjustable tool rests are an added benefit offered by bench grinders—they let you hold a tool against the grindstone at a specific angle, which is useful if you want to precisely match the angled edge of a blade.

For serious tool sharpening, a bench grinder is the way to go. Of course, be careful when using a bench grinder—sparks are common during the grinding process, and tools can grow hot from friction, potentially enough to damage the steel. Follow instructions and wear appropriate safety gear, including safety goggles.

4. Mini Grindstone

Some manufacturers produce small grindstones powered by ordinary electric drills. While they’re not geared toward precision work like bench grinders do, they can be a simple and inexpensive solution for hobby farmers who need to sharpen tools only occasionally in a casual environment.

With one or more of these tools in your shop, you’ll have all your dull blades sharpened in no time.

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