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How to Sharpen Your Hand Pruner

-- with Sukie Kindwall, Sales, OESCO, Inc.

Dull pruning tools are like dull kitchen knives: they'll do the job, but not very well. Learning how to sharpen shears, clippers, scissors and pruners is considered a lost art to the non professional. In a throw away society people just make do with dull tools and just buy new ones.

OESCO conducts sharpening workshops at trade shows and gardening conferences. Though many people buy online or use their catalog to order, OESCO sells retail to anyone who craves good tools and is in the vicinity of Conway, Massachusetts where their offices, warehouse and showroom are. The showroom has every type of pruning saw, grafting knife, hedge clipper, pruner and lopper one could want, and more for immediate sale.

If it’s been a while since you’ve even thought about sharpening your tools, the first thing to do is  clean off any rust and gunk that has accumulated on your pruners. WD-40, kerosene or any sap removal product works. Apply and scrub the blades - first with coarse steel wool and then, after reapplying the solvent, with a green scrubbie. Hardened sap and rust should be cleaned off, allowing the pruners to open and close more freely. Cleaning also removes gunk that would clog up the file.

Most sharpening needs can be met with a couple of diamond-embedded files, a coarse and a fine. The best sharpeners for hardened steel tools are made using synthetic monocrystalline diamonds embedded in nickel; files embedded with diamonds such as those made by DMT. Check selection below. They manufacture everything from coarse-surfaced, tapered files 4.5 inches long that fold up nicely in a plastic handle to fine files which are better for scissors and knives that are kept very sharp. They come in all kinds of types including business card sized files that fit in your wallet. See below.

Here’s how to restore the sharp bevel on the cutting edge of a by-pass pruner. It is important to sharpen a bevel at the proper angle, the angle set when it was manufactured. To sharpen the bevel evenly, and to follow the proper angle, start by taking a magic marker and coloring the bevel on the cutting edge of the blade. If you are doing the job correctly, your file strokes should remove the magic marker coloring evenly across the full width of the bevel as you work on it. If only a small portion of the blade turns shiny, you need to change the angle of your file slightly.

Grasp the pruner in your left hand (if you are right-handed), holding on to the handle that extends to the cutting blade. Steady it by bracing your wrist against your hip or by placing the pruner on the edge a table. Working under a bright light helps, because it will help you to see the shiny edge that develops as you sharpen.
Start sharpening as near to the throat of the pruners (where the two handles join) as you can. Place the narrow tip of the file at the throat, and push the file away from you, sliding it down the length of the beveled edge. With practice you will be able to use the full length of the file as you run it down the blade.

You need to apply a little pressure as you sharpen, but not much. Sharpening will feel awkward at first, but gets easier as you do it. Watch the magic marker pattern on the bevel, trying to adjust the angle of your file so that the shiny, sharpened, portion includes the entire bevel.

Sharpening takes time, especially if you've waited until your tool is dull. You shouldn't rush. You're not going to ruin your tool learning to sharpen it. You're going to get better at it. Sharpening off-season, or on a rainy day - when you are not in a hurry is best. High quality tools are not cheap, so why not learn to sharpen them? Hedge clippers and scissors have bevels on each blade, so require more work to sharpen than by-pass pruners, but the same principles apply.

Loppers are sharpened like pruners. Good pruners have replaceable blades, too, so if you've been cutting fencing or roots with your pruners and have badly nicked them, you can buy a new blade. A replacement blade for a pair of Felco pruners (which cost $40 or more new) only cost about $10. Changing a blade requires an adjustable wrench and a pair of pliers (or an adjustable wrench and a screwdriver or Allen wrench), some common sense, and less than 5 minutes of work. OESCO sells replacement parts for most pruners.