Tips To Sharpen Cutting Tools

To keep the edge on your woodwork, home improvement, gardening or professional project, you need to always ensure your cutting tools are sufficiently sharp. Sharp tools are on point as they are safer, more efficient and simply produce a much better result. A sharpened edge will also breathe life into your trusty tools, ultimately saving you time and money.

There is simply no excuse to head out into the garden or workshop with a blunt instrument. In fact, it doesn’t take much to get that razor-like edge to all your cutting tools, making your DIY and woodwork jobs a cut above the rest.

We look at some quick, easy and effective ways to keep all your cutting tools super sharp.

sharpening a knife

Be Prepared

When you go about your home improvement, garden or woodworking business, there are a host of essential tools you use that need to be kept on a sharp edge. A well-sharpened tool blade needs to be honed regularly so we say make it part of your regular routine. But before you set about buffing that spade, knife or blade to a super sharp edge, it’s important to make sure it is prepped.

This prep stage can be done quickly and simply but you do need the blade to be as clean as possible. Remove any dirt or mud with a bristle brush or cloth – soap and water can be used if it is caked on and proving stubborn – before drying thoroughly with a clean, dry cloth. Now use a steel wool pad or wire brush to remove any rust as the tool needs to be rust free otherwise the abrasive surface will snag on your chosen sharpening tool.

blade sharpening

Get The Right Sharpening Tool For The Job

Depending on the tool and the type of blade, there are four main types of sharpening tools you should look to add to your tool maintenance kit.

  • Whetstone – with ‘whet’ an old word for ‘sharpen’, these are basically easy to handle blocks of a fine-grained stone that are ideal for sharpening blades such as knives or gardening secateurs. Whetstones also need lubrication to help the blade’s surface successfully glide across the stone: one type of whetstone uses oil, while the other uses water. You can also get a double-sided whetstone, so you have a coarser side to do the rougher work, and a fine grain side to do the final buff of the blade.
  • Diamond-coated – whether in the form of a block, file or pocket-sized sharpener, diamond-coated sharpening tools are easy to transport, so great for an on-the-job quick fix. The granules are also super tough, so perfect for honing blades made out of hard materials such as ceramic or stainless steel. The sharpening action of the diamond-coated sharpener is also super-fast. Perfect for gardening tools such as spades or hoes.
  • Sharpening steels – typically a tapered metal rod with a handle, sharpening steels are ideal for use as kitchen knife sharpener and the like.  The rods have either shallow groves or a cross-hatch pattern to give them their buffing ability and as they are made of an extremely tough metal can take on the metal edge of everyday blades. You can also get larger versions for gardening tools.
  • Files – these are probably the most recognizable when it comes to sharpening tools and are found in most workshops. Made from flat metal with a rough surface, as their name implies, they file down the edge of a blunted blade to bring it back into sharp focus. They are ideal for most blade sharpening jobs and come in a range of sizes, just make sure you choose a file that has been specifically designed for metal.

sharpening the blade

Getting Down To Business

To give you the edge, here’s a quick guide to how to sharpen some of your key tools:

  • Axe – you can use a hand file for smaller hatchets or for well-worn blades or larger axes, opt for a grinder if you can. Make sure the blade is secure and stable then smoothly file the edge down towards the sharp end. Equally sharpen both sides of the axe head for a superior cutting edge.
  • Lawnmower blade – a dull blade on your mower is going to make the job longer and will tear at the grass, giving a less than satisfactory result. Remove the blade and fix in a vice before using a hand file to smooth the edges. Do both sides, then perform a quick ‘balance check’ to ensure you have it right. If one side dips, it needs a little more filed away to create an equal weight across the whole blade.
  • Shovels and spades – a well-sharpened spade will make your digging life so much easier as it will slice through the earth and rubble obstacles smoothly. But these rocks and roots will also help to dull the blade so make a shovel sharpening session part of your gardening routine. Use a gardening file or steel and carefully file from each side to the center point of the shovel head, tilting the file at an angle to keep the metal’s edge.
  • Shears – only one blade on your gardening shears or secateurs need sharpening so make sure you always work on the beveled blade (the other blade is not used for actually cutting). Run your file or steel along the blade edge, start on the inner part of the blade and push the file away from you. Take it easy and repeat the filing action rather than using full-on pressure from the get-go.
  • Knives – pen-knifes, knifes used for cutting twine or a knife stolen from the kitchen, there are a myriad of uses for a simple knife blade in your tool bag. So that your tool box knife is always good to go, use a simple diamond stone or a whetstone, and a drop of mineral oil if applicable. Then hold the blade flat against the stone and slide the blade forward and across the whetstone, tipping the edge of the blade against the grain before flipping the blade over and repeating on the other side.

man sharpening a knife

Keeping Them In Tip-Top Condition Between Sharpening

Make your sharpening life easier by looking after your tool blades between each session. After sharpening, spray WD-40 or another similar lubricant on to the blade and its edge and gently wipe the excess away with a cloth, to prevent rust and keep any joints or moving parts ‘stick’ free.

Now store away in a dry, secure place – and you’ll be super sharp ready the next time a cutting/pruning/digging/whittling/slicing job calls!


  1. How To Sharpen Your Tools – The Family Handyman