How Sharp Should a Garden Spade Be?

While it might be true that a blade can only be as sharp as its wielder, there’s no denying that a blade with a nice sharp edge can make any task so much easier. The same is true with garden spades. But how sharp should a garden spade be?

A garden spade should be sharp enough with an angle no less than 45° to pierce through the compact ground. A lower angle will make it sharper but less durable. Although it doesn’t have to be as sharp as a knife, it should be sharp enough to cut through sod and woody roots.

In the rest of the article, I will explain why you need to keep your garden spade sharp. I will also share how to sharpen an old, worn-out spade so you can use it for longer. Read on!

Why Should a Garden Spade Be Sharp?

The key to making your gardening tasks less of a chore is using the right tools in excellent condition. Making do with your old, rusty, and blunt gardening tools will prove counterproductive as it can be detrimental to your garden and dangerous for you.

However, you don’t need to toss your old tools right away. You may want to evaluate their condition and decide whether or not you’ll need to buy a replacement.

One of the garden tools people often take for granted is the garden spade. It is typically made of steel and used harshly to dig or till the ground. Since it does a lot of dirty work and is often covered in mud, it can be easy to overlook the damage on the blade.

Although the blade doesn’t dull quickly after a couple of uses, you’ll eventually notice that you need to exert more force to dig into the compact soil, even if you’re using the same tool.

That said, a garden spade should be sharp to reduce the force you need to exert while keeping the same efficiency level when performing gardening tasks using the tool.

Various kinds of spades have different purposes, and depending on that purpose, you may not need a sharp tool. For instance, if you plan to use the spade for shoveling dirt, it needs to be sturdy instead of sharp. 

However, if you need to build a trench or cut some tree roots, it will be best to use a sharper spade. 

A 45° angle will provide you with enough sharpness to cut through the ground and roots while providing the tool with enough durability to withstand the impact. Spades with sharper blades will give you cleaner cuts, but they have a significantly lower lifespan.

Effects of Using a Dull Spade Blade

Although you can still use your old, worn-out garden spade, there can be plenty of problems that can arise from using it. Read about them below to help you decide whether it’s time to sharpen your spade or buy a new one.

It Can Cause Muscle Pain

Performing routine gardening tasks like spading or shoveling dirt is a good exercise as you use your arm, leg, and back muscles. However, using poor, blunt tools can cause muscle pain.

You need to use your arm when you drive the spade into the ground. Depending on the length and shape of the handle, you may feel the ground’s resistance and the soil’s weight against your shoulder and back, specifically the deltoid muscle and latissimus dorsi. 

The affected muscles and the intensity of the pain also depend on the type of spade and your purpose of using it. 

For instance, if you need to drive the spade deeper down, you may need to step on the rolled end of the blade. A dull blade hitting against hard objects on the ground may present more resistance and cause pain to your foot and leg muscles.

It Can Injure Plant Roots

Although some spades are used to intentionally cut tree or shrub roots, there are times when gardeners use them only for trenching or edging. Sometimes, the spade operator unknowingly hits plant roots while digging into the soil.

Sharp spades can make fine cuts on the roots that can heal with time. In contrast, dull blades may require you to hit the roots several times, resulting in fraying. Excessive damage to the roots can result in visible damage to the plant’s parts aboveground.

For extensive gardening projects, it may be better to use an AirSpade. It emits air at high enough speeds to break the soil apart and expose the roots while protecting them and other underground structures like cables and steel or plastic pipes.

Here’s a video showing how the AirSpade works:

Using such a machine can help you create a trench or expose the roots you need to cut so that you wouldn’t have to blindly and indiscriminately hack into the ground with your dull spade.

It Can Make the Task More Difficult

As discussed, a spade with a blunt edge will make it challenging to dig into the soil. It will require more effort and take more time to finish a task compared to using one with a sharper blade. 

You might as well spend some time sharpening your spade before starting the task. That way, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of energy you need to expend while working on your garden. 

Moreover, sharpening a garden spade is significantly less difficult than using a dull spade in your stubborn soil. Gardening chores like digging are already good exercises that can help us burn some calories. We don’t need to exert unnecessary effort just to get our tasks done.

Sharpening Tools and Techniques

If you’re not ready to let go of your trusty old garden spade, there’s no need to worry, as there are plenty of ways you can restore it to top shape if the sharpness of the blade is the only problem.

If you have problems with the handle or if you can see rust that has substantially eaten through the metal, you might as well invest in a new, high-quality garden spade.

Otherwise, you can remove the rust (if there isn’t much) and follow the tips below on how to sharpen your garden spade:

Metal File

A metal file is a classic tool used to sharpen garden tools. It is light, portable, and pretty easy to use. All you need to do is rub it against the edge of the garden spade’s blade at a 45° angle. Any lower and you risk damaging your spade.

Remember: You need to drive a spade against hard surfaces with strong force. A sharp edge will make it easier for the blade to cut through the surface, but the edge will be more prone to chips.

Be sure to rub against the edge of the blade in a forward direction and avoid moving the file back and forth. Lift the file as you move it back and press it against the blade moving forward.

It may take some time before you get the sharpness you’re aiming for, but you can make it faster with the right amount of force and technique.

Remember to put on a pair of working gloves to protect your hands from potential injuries.

If you’d like a more in-depth guide about sharpening your spade with a metal file, you can read my other article here: How to Sharpen a Spade With a File – Complete Guide

Grinding Wheel

A grinding wheel is an excellent tool to sharpen metals. However, it is not portable and can be costly for home gardeners. However, if you have a large garden or farm with several gardening tools that need routine maintenance, you might as well invest in one.

You can use a bench grinding wheel or a handheld one. A grinding wheel can significantly reduce the time necessary to sharpen your garden tools. Still, it requires careful control to prevent injuries.

Unlike using a metal file, you’ll need to wear hearing and eye protection when using a grinding wheel as the machine can be noisy and release sparks as the metals grind against each other.

You can watch the video below on how to use a metal file or a grinding wheel to sharpen your garden tools:

Final Thoughts

A spade is a pretty helpful tool any gardener should have in their garden. It can be used for several purposes, thus requiring proper maintenance for longer use. One essential procedure is keeping the blade sharp enough–ideally maintaining a 45° angle.

You can use a metal file or a grinding wheel to sharpen your garden spade. Using a spade with a dull edge can result in muscle pain, plant root damage, and a harder and longer time to finish your gardening tasks.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the founder of and its lead content writer. He created the website in 2022 as a resource for horticulture lovers and beginners alike, compiling all the gardening tips he discovered over the years. Alex has a passion for caring for plants, turning backyards into feel-good places, and sharing his knowledge with the rest of the world.

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