How to Sharpen Pruning Shears

How to Sharpen Pruning Shears: Step-by-Step Guide

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Rusty pruning shears with dull blades certainly take away all the joy of pruning your fruit trees. It makes cutting more difficult and time-consuming, and the nicked cuts are not good for the plants, as well. But this doesn’t mean you have to buy a whole new pair of pruning shears. After all, sharpening your tool yourself is easier and takes less time than you think.

Here, we show you how to sharpen pruning shears to keep them in perfect shape despite the workload. Delve in!

What You’ll Need

  • Soap and warm water
  • Protective gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Scouring pad
  • Clean rag or towel
  • Steel wool
  • Bench vise
  • Sharpening tool
  • Lubricating oil

How to Sharpen Pruning Shears

Step 1: Disassemble the Parts

Start by detaching the parts of the pruner if it is easy to disassemble. While a few pruners may be joined with a permanent rivet, most models have a bolt or a screw and nut holding the two blades of the tool together. The disassembling process may vary depending on the brand.

Disassemble the pruners

Image Source: michigangardener.com

Remove the screw holding the two blades together to separate them. There may be several screws on the pruner, but you should concern yourself with the one joining the two blades in the middle. If your pruner has a spring coil, it will fall once the blades are separated.

While disassembling the pruner is not necessary, it’s much easier to clean and sharpen detached blades. It is advisable to work on a plate or towel to keep the detached pieces safe.

Step 2: Wash the Blades

Cleaning is an essential step when learning how to sharpen garden tools, including hand pruners.

Using a scouring pad or stiff brush and warm soapy water, scrub off all the dirt from each blade. You can then rinse the blades thoroughly with water to completely remove the soap. You can also clean the handles and other parts of the tool. Take a few extra minutes to make them look brand new again.

Step 3: Dry the Blades

Use a thick, dry cloth like a towel to dry the top blade gently. Then use the piece of cloth to wipe the bottom blade dry. Be cautious as you dry the sharp blades to ensure you do not cut yourself.

Step 4: Remove Build-Up

Remove the build-up

Image Source: finegardening.com

Pruning tools usually get caked with gummy residues over time. Use sandpaper or steel wool to scrape away any of these residues from the blades. Ensure your tool is clean of all dirt before you move on to sharpening. A drop of penetrating oil or cleaning solvent can help loosen the caked-on residue.

Step 5: Buff off Rust

Once you have cleaned and dried the shears, examine the blades for remaining rust. It is common for rust to build up on pruning shears, and it is important that you remove them before you sharpen the blades. Use medium-coarse steel wool to buff off the rust carefully. Then use finer steel wool to reinstate the shine of the metal.

If your pruners are severely rusted, apply WD-40 and let them sit for 10 minutes. Wipe off the oil with a piece of cloth, then use steel wool to remove the remaining rust. After removing the rust, rinse the blades again and dry them with a dry cloth.

Step 6: Secure the Pruners

Secure the pruners

Image Source: the-salutation.com

If you have a bench vise, use it to secure the pruners. This will make sharpening the pruning shears easier and safer. If the shears are still joined, open them wide and ensure the blade’s beveled edge is facing you, then secure it in the bench vise. But if you disassembled them, secure one half at a time on the bench vice.

However, if you don’t have a bench vise or clamp, you can brace your tool on a countertop, your lap, or any other sturdy surface, but be careful not to cut yourself.

Step 7: Position the Sharpening Tool

Use a medium or coarse diamond file or any sharpening tool to sharpen the pruning shears. Position the sharpening tool against the cutting blade. The sharpening should be against the blade at the same angle as the bevel. About 20 to 25 degrees angle. You need to maintain this angle as you sharpen the blades.

Step 8: Sharpen the Blade

To start, identify the beveled edge of the cutting blade. For instance, Anvil pruners feature a single blade that comes down on a flat plate and is beveled on both sides. Therefore, you’ll have to sharpen both sides of the blade. You can also use this method to sharpen mower blades by hand.

Sharpen the blade

Image Source: tranquilurbanhomestead.com

On the other hand, by-pass pruners have only one beveled blade that cuts by sliding over the other jaw, the same way scissors cut. Therefore it won’t be necessary to sharpen the lower blade unless it has gouges that should be smoothed out. 

Scrape the sharpening stone or diamond file along the blade’s cutting edge from the base to the tip using one smooth stroke. Apply moderate pressure as you file, and ensure you only file in one direction away from your body. Also, ensure you keep the sharpening tool at the same angle during the entire sharpening.

Repeat the same a couple of times until you notice the edge gets shiny. Do not over-sharpen the tool because pruning shears don’t need to be razor-sharp to perform effectively. Also, note that the number of strokes it will take to restore a sharp edge will depend on how dull your blades are.

Step 9: Remove Burrs on the Blade’s Backside

Once you’re done sharpening the blades of the pruner, you need to remove any burrs that formed on the backside of the blade. Turn the shears over and run a file over the backside to remove the burrs.

Step 10: Reassemble the Pruner

To reassemble your pruners, slide the two blades back together, position the spring, and replace the bolt or nut. Test the pruners to ensure it isn’t over-tightened and that the blades move correctly. If it’s correctly adjusted, the jaws should scissor past each other effortlessly, with no gap between the blades.

Step 11: Test for Sharpness

Cut a piece of paper or some leaves and branches to test the sharpness of the blade. The pruning shears are adequately sharp if you get a clean and easy cut.

Step 12: Lubricate the Tool

Once you’ve sharpened your pruning shears, you need to lubricate them to prevent future rusting and ensure your tool remains reliable for a long time. For this step, apply a thin coat of lubricating oil over the blades. Dip a rag in the lubricating oil and gently wipe it over the blades. Be watchful of the sharpened edges. Also, spray the moving parts with the lubricating oil.

Lubricate the tool

Image Source: theimpatientgardener.com

You can choose from linseed oil, mineral oil, WD-40, or any multipurpose oil you have at your disposal. Use a clean piece of cloth to wipe off the excess oil. Then store your tool in a clean and dry place until the next time of use.

Safety Tips When Sharpening Garden Shears

Safety is a primary concern when learning and preparing to sharpen pruning shears. Here are a few safety considerations to keep in mind

Safety tips when sharpening gardening shears

Image Source: minnetonkaorchards.com

  1. Ensure you properly secure your shears before sharpening them. You can use a clamp to secure or brace them on any dry, sturdy surface.
  2. Wear protective glovesthat you caneasily work in. It is important to protect your hands from the pruner blades while cleaning and sharpening them. Put on a pair of heavy-duty gardening gloves, such as thick leather gloves, if possible.
  3. You need to ensure your eyes are protected while sharpening your pruners. The best way to protect your eyes is to wear a pair of safety goggles. Protective eyewear prevents pieces of metal or rust from reaching your eyes when cleaning and sharpening the pruning shears.
  4. Cleaning and sharpening pruning shears can be dangerous. If you accidentally cut yourself in the process, you need to seek medical treatment immediately. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How often should I clean, sharpen, and lubricate pruning shears?

All gardening tools, including pruning shears, should be cleaned and sharpened at least once a year, at the beginning or end of the gardening season. However, pruning shears that do extra-hard work will probably need maintenance more often. This makes the job easier, and you’ll realize a big difference when using your sharpened tool.

2. How can I prevent rust and sap build-up on my pruning shears?

Rust and sap build-up may make sharpening pruning shears difficult. Therefore, you should prevent them by;

  • Wipe off your pruning shears with a cloth moistened with lubricating oil before storing them.
  • When not in use, store your pruning shears in a dry place, such as a garage or a gardening shed.
  • Keep your pruners out of the dirt, and if they get in contact with it, clean them thoroughly.

Bottom Line

When it comes to pruning, nothing beats having well-maintained pruners with nice sharp blades. Quality pruning shears should last for ages, and you shouldn’t throw them away because of being blunt. Therefore, it is worth taking your time to clean and sharpen your pruning tools. This will restore them and bring them back to nearly new conditions. Also, having sharp pruning shears will reward you with easier cuts, and the cuts will heal faster and better, preventing diseases and insects.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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