Not many people think twice about how sharp their gardening shovels are. However, a sharp gardening shovel will glide through dense soil and tough roots like a knife through butter, making your gardening tasks quicker and easier than ever.
Gardening shovels don’t need to be sharpened, but sharpening them is beneficial if you want to use them to cut through roots and compact soil. Sharpening your garden shovel will make digging into hard, rocky, or densely planted soil much more manageable.
If you want to learn more about when and how to sharpen your shovels, stick with me. I’ll tell you how to know if a shovel could benefit from sharpening and teach you how to give your shovels the ideal edge for cutting into rigid materials.
What Kinds of Shovels Should You Sharpen?
Not all shovels need a sharp edge to serve their purpose. Some shovels aren’t meant for cutting and are instead designed to allow you to scoop and move things like snow, soil, mulch, and rocks. However, other shovels could benefit from a quick sharpening now and then.
You should sharpen round and point-tipped shovels that you want to use for cutting into the soil. Since these shovels are for cutting into dense materials and dirt, they will be more efficient and easy to use if you refine the edge and sharpen them.
Generally, there are a few types of shovels (all designed for cutting through rigid materials) that can benefit from sharpening:
- Edging shovels
- Trench shovels
- Tree-planting shovels
- Gardening trowels
- Root shovels
- Pointed digging shovels
So, if you have any of these shovels, you should probably know how to sharpen them.
That said, it’s worth noting that most shovels don’t need sharpening too often. For most casual gardeners and landscapers, you’ll only need to sharpen your shovels when they get dull, which usually takes at least a year to two of heavy use.
When Should You Sharpen a Garden Shovel?
You should sharpen a garden shovel when you start having difficulty digging with it. Sharpening a shovel always makes it easier to use on dense materials such as clay-based soils, rocky terrain, and heavily rooted areas, so you cannot sharpen it too much.
Although there’s no hard and fast rule about when you should take your shovel to the grinding stone, you should generally sharpen your shovel once every year or two or when your shovel won’t cut through the material you are attempting to dig in.
Quite a few things affect how quickly your shovel’s blades will become dull. Some of the most influential factors are:
- Your shovel’s blade material.
- How often you use the shovel.
- The type of materials you dig or cut with the shovel’s blade.
- How you store your shovel.
Your shovel’s initial sharpness and overall quality will impact how often you need to sharpen it.
For example, if your shovel is made of thinner, cheaper materials and is dull before purchasing it, you’ll likely need to sharpen it right when you unpackage it and continue honing it frequently.
In addition, if you often cut through soils that include rocks, your shovel’s blade will dull more quickly than if you only dug through loose potting soil.
So, the best way to tell if you need to sharpen your shovel is to use it and see if it will cut through whatever you want to dig. If your shovel blade isn’t cutting, it’s time to sharpen it up.
How To Sharpen a Garden Shovel
If you’ve decided it’s time to sharpen your garden shovel, you’ll need to gather a few basic materials first.
Firstly, you will need a file or a bench grinder. Files are usually easier to get and store than bench grinders, and they are also less expensive.
You should use a file with a relatively small grain. Files like this work very well with most shovel materials, and they help sharpen other garden tools as well. I like this one because it has a comfortable handle, is unbelievably scratch-resistant, and lasts forever (I’ve had mine for about seven years).
However, if you have a bench grinder, I’d recommend using it instead. A bench grinder will make sharpening your shovel a quick affair – I’m talking like 3 minutes of total sharpening time. Make sure to use a fine grit wheel to avoid removing too much material from the blade.
While sharpening, you may also want to sand off any rust. You can use baking soda and a wire brush or a sanding block to rub off light rust from the blade. If the rust is extensive and heavy, you may want to use an electric sander to get it all off.
Since sharpening your shovel with a grinder is as simple as oiling the blade and laying it against the wheel, I will only instruct you on sharpening your shovel with a file. Let’s go through the steps:
- Clean your shovel. To keep your grinder and your shovel clean, wipe off any rust or dirt and add a bit of lubricant, like mineral oil, to the edge of your shovel.
- Identify the areas you want to sharpen. When you sharpen a shovel, only the tip needs a crisp edge. I recommend sharpening the blade ⅓ of the way up from the end on both sides or until the tip’s curve becomes flat on the side for a handheld garden shovel.
- Grind the shovel from the back of the blade, working only in one direction. Clamp your shovel or hold it in your hand. Then, working on the back of the blade, glide the file against the metal at a 45-degree angle, pushing from the shovel’s handle to the tip. Do not use a back-and-forth motion when grinding. Instead, move the file over the metal, lift the file, then repeat until the blade is sufficiently sharp.
- Stop grinding when the edges are sufficiently sharp. You probably won’t want your shovel to be razor-sharp, so stop grinding when the shovel has a thinner edge near the tip and looks about as sharp as an ax head or scissor blade.
- Test your shovel. Now that you’ve sharpened your shovel give it a test run. Sink the blade into a patch of dense soil or wherever you usually dig. The edge should quickly sink into the dirt. However, if it is not easy to press the shovel into the ground, you may need to sharpen it more.
If you are more of a visual learner, check out this shovel-sharpening tutorial from The Tool Merchants on Youtube on how to sharpen your gardening shovel and other gardening tools:
How Do You Keep a Gardening Shovel Sharp?
To keep a gardening shovel sharp, clean it after using it and store it in a dry location with low humidity. You should also oil your shovel regularly and avoid pushing it against rocks to preserve its sharp edges.
Maintaining your shovels and other gardening tools can keep them in excellent condition for many years and ensure that they stay as efficient as they can be. Here are some tips that will help you keep your shovels sharp:
- Clean your shovel every time you use it. Dirt is an absorbent material, and any humidity in the dirt on your shovel can increase the blade’s chances of rusting. So, give your shovel a dry scrub with a wire brush, putty knife, or dry cloth every time you use it to ensure that it stays rust-free.
- Oil your shovel regularly. A quick wipe of linseed oil or mineral oil can help prevent rust and keep your shovel blade sharp. If your shovel has a wooden handle, you can also treat it with this oil to keep it in excellent condition.
- Avoid rocks when digging. Forcing your shovel against large stones will dull the blade rapidly, so be gentle when working in rocky soils. While it’s inevitable that you’ll hit a rock every once in a while, remove as many stones as you can and pick them out of the soil while you dig to prevent scraping against them.
If you keep your shovels in good condition, they’ll cut through anything you sink them into and last you a lifetime. So, take good care of your shovels, and they will take good care of you.
You don’t need to sharpen your shovels, but doing so will significantly affect how well they cut into dense, rocky, and root-packed soil. It’s best to sharpen your gardening shovel whenever you have difficulty cutting through dirt or roots. To ensure that it stays sharp, keep it clean and oiled, and don’t force it against rocks as you dig.
If you wonder how to keep garden tools from rusting, you can read my other article here: How To Keep Your Garden Tools From Rusting