Most everyone knows how tough it can be to cut meat or vegetables with a dull knife. The extra oomph needed to get the job done often leads to tearing rather than cutting. The same thing happens to the grass, leaves and branches when a dull blade is used instead of a sharp one.
Seasonal equipment sharpening is a good idea for anyone who regularly works with their hands. It eases the force needed to get the job done, and, depending on the task and tool, promotes healthier plants in your lawn or garden.
What are three good reasons to keep your yard tools sharp, and which yard tool and equipment blades should be sharpened regularly? Some you may not have previously considered.
Why To Sharpen Yard Tools
1) Cleaner Cuts, Healthier Plants
Dull blades are more likely to “rip” at the plants you are trimming instead of leaving a nice, clean cut. Ripping exposes more surface area of the plant, making it more likely to lose moisture and nutrients, and potentially leading to disease. This applies to all plants in your garden and landscape, including garden vegetables, trees, shrubs and your lawn.
For lawnmower blades in particular, grass will wrap around a dull equipment blade, ripping at the turf instead of cutting it. The mower will get the job done but it will also leave the lawn with torn, mangled turf blade ends. This can lead to a few problems:
- Lawn Discoloration - A single blade of grass with torn dry ends may not look all that brown the next day but those dull lawnmower blades are doing so across your entire lawn. A little bit of brown on each strand of grass is going to add up and spread a tan or brown hue over your whole lawn.
- Increased Risk of Lawn Diseases - Torn, ragged grass blade ends also leave your lawn with more entry points for disease and fungi to take hold. With more open “wounds” across the grasstops, parasitic fungi such as snow mold, red thread, fairy ring and brown patch have easier access down into the roots of your lawn.
- A Less Hardy Lawn - Grass that isn’t in prime condition is less resilient against summer heatwaves, drought and pests. Strengthen your lawn health with clean cuts to minimize water and nutrient loss.
2) Less Strain On You & Your Tools
With more effort comes more strain on you and your tools. Trimming bushes with a dull pair of shears can often lead to an ache in your back or shoulders. The same dull blade that led to the knot in your back also affects the hinges and strength of the shears.
A dull shovel requires more force to dig and is more prone to being damaged, just as a chainsaw will wear out faster or jam easier with a dull chain. Bear in mind that the duller the blade, the harder it is to sharpen and maintain in the future. If equipment is used daily or weekly, it will need more upkeep than those seasonal tools and blades.
Help keep your equipment and your body in tip-top shape for years to come; try giving your equipment a good seasonal sharpening. Your older self will thank you later.
3) Helps to Prevent Injuries
Injuries are a common but preventable part of working outdoors. They keep you from maintaining and growing the things you love while also...well, hurting quite a bit.
Much like scar tissue, injuries add up over time and can cause more injuries in the future. Reduce the wear on your body and the possibility of injuries with sharper tool blades. Maintain your safety and longevity by sharpening your yard equipment every season or more depending on how much they are used.
Yard Tools That Need Sharpening
There is more than one way to do just about anything, but when it comes to sharpening your blades and spades, follow this basic breakdown of commonly used tools and why they need regular sharpening:
- Lawnmower Blades: Put less strain on your mower and your turf. The best ways to sharpen lawnmower blades are with a bench grinder, clamp and file, or a blade sharpening drill attachment.
- Garden Shears/Pruners/Loppers: Having sharp shears will speed up a job tremendously while keeping your forearms and shoulders from feeling like they’re going to fall off.
- Trowel (hand shovel): It’s important to keep your trowel sharp because most of the force to use them comes from your upper body instead of your strong legs. Keep your arms and back happy.
- Shovel: Sharp shovels are an underrated way to speed up job progress. A mill bastard file paired with a rust preventer is the best way to go for shovels. One easy tip to keep your shovel sharp is to hang it up or store it blade-side-up to keep the weight of the shovel off the blade itself.
- Hoe: Cut through the soil with ease with a sharp-edged hoe. Sharpen these just as you would a shovel or trowel.
- Edging Tools: Various types of edging tools can get the job done, but no matter your choice, be sure to look up what type of tool you have and a how-to before you begin. The manual half-moon edging tool for example can be sharpened with a file or edge grinder, but these aren’t commonly sharpened. Our favorite edger is the Kwik Edge tool.
- Axe/Hatchet: A dull axe is far more likely to bounce off the material instead of cutting it compared to a sharp one. Methods to sharpen axe blades include a file, whetstone, rock or river stone, Dremel tool, belt sander or an angle grinder. A file and sharpening stone are the least invasive to your axe.
- Chainsaw Chains: A dull chainsaw chain will wreak havoc on your chainsaw, not to mention increase the risk of the chain breaking during use. A chainsaw file is the most common way to sharpen these blades. The size of the file corresponds to the chain pitch or the distance from blade crest to blade crest. The most common pitch, ⅜”, calls for 5.2mm round file diameter. Be sure to use the correct file size.
- Pocket Knife (or larger): Keeping knives sharp is one of the best practices for preventing injury during use. The two tools needed to sharpen knives are a sharpening stone and a lubricant. A lubricant for pocket knives is recommended to prevent damage to the blade caused by the heat build-up in sharpening.
KEEP IN MIND: It is critical to use the correct files, whetstones and other tools to sharpen blades. Failing to do so can damage or ruin tools while also putting you at risk for injury. It’s best to refer to the instructions included with your tool for the best way to maintain the cutting edge. Mesh or cut-resistant gloves are highly recommended during any type of sharpening.
Single-Bevel and Double-Beveled Blade Edges
Common yard tools that use blades to function can be broken into two categories: single-bevel and double-bevel.
Double-beveled means that both sides of the blade are beveled to the same angle. Examples include axes and knives.
Single-beveled blades are only beveled on one side. Examples include lawnmower blades, chainsaws, shears and loppers. For these, it is important to keep the other side of the blade perfectly flat for the tool to work properly.
The edge angle, or edge bevel, is different depending on the intended use of the tool. Always try to match the blade edge up to the original factory edge geometry.
- A thin edge, such as on a razor or scalpel is very sharp for cutting soft materials, but very fragile and not useful for most yard tools. These are 20° or less (10° per side).
- A thick edge on the other hand will hold up to abuse such as chopping but is not great for cutting soft materials.
Keep Yourself Safe
Maintain the pace and progress of your projects. By sharpening your blades with good technique and following safety measures closely, you can be as injury-free as possible.
Keep your digits intact with the following safety tips:
- A vice or clamp is recommended to keep the tool from slipping while you are sharpening. If one is unavailable, be sure to grip the tool firmly and brace the arm holding the tool with a table while sharpening away from yourself.
- Cut-resistant or metal mesh safety gloves are ideal for preventing cuts when using a file or sharpening stone. They should not be used while using a grinder as they can get caught in the grinding wheel.
- Safety glasses or goggles are recommended in case of flying debris.
- A full-face shield and protective clothing are important when using a metal grinder because tiny flying pieces of metal and sparks are common. A respirator is recommended to avoid inhaling the flying particles.
- An important technique that’s worth mentioning twice: while using a file or sharpening stone, be sure to sharpen away from yourself.
- Tie back loose hair and remove loose-fitting clothing or jewelry.
Making sure your trusty side-kick is in proper working order, sharp and ready for more is at the heart of every efficiently completed project. Your tools will be noticeably easier to use after a good sharpening, and your lawn and garden plants will thank you for the crisp clean cuts.
Let Us Help
At IFA, we are delighted to provide you with all the tools, materials and techniques for growing the things you love. If you have any tool-related questions, feel free to stop by your local IFA Country Store so we can assist you in any way with your next project.
Information for this article was provided by Bret Yardley, Branch Manager, Richfield IFA Country Store; Dan Jensen, Tools & Hardware Category Manager, IFA Country Store; and Ken Holt, Lawn & Garden Category Manager, IFA Country Store.