How To Sharpen a Spade With a File: Complete Guide

If you love gardening but don’t have machines like bench grinders to polish or sharpen your garden tools, don’t worry. Such devices are helpful but not necessary for every gardener. You can always use some trusty old metal files to keep your tools like the garden spade sharp and shiny.

To sharpen your spade with a file, you must remove the rust first. Always wear protective gear like a mask and work gloves. Keep the spade steady and hold the file at the appropriate angle when rubbing the spade. Follow the original bevel of the spade and lubricate the tool after sharpening.

It might take plenty of practice to get used to sharpening your spade with a file, but it is a valuable skill that can save you a lot of money on repairs or tool replacement. Read on to learn more!

1. Clean and Remove the Rust on Your Garden Spade

Avoid working on a rusty or dirty garden spade. The first step in sharpening your spade’s blade is to ensure it is clean and free of rust. Soil or dirt might carry enough moisture to create more rust, while the existing rust can get stuck on the metal file, making the process more challenging.

You can use liquid detergent and steel wool to scrub the dirt from the garden spade. Wash the dirt and soap away with fresh water and dry the garden spade properly before working on it.

Steel wool is often enough to get rid of small blotches of rust. If the whole blade is covered in rust, you can soak it in a diluted vinegar solution for 30 minutes. Afterward, wash away the rust and clean the blade with liquid detergent. Rinse the tool thoroughly and dry properly.

2. Secure the Spade To Keep It From Moving

Because of the size and sturdiness of a garden spade’s blade, you will need both hands to sharpen it with a file. And to do it properly, you must keep the spade from moving during the process. There are several ways to do so:

Using a Vise

A vise is the most reliable device to hold tools firmly during sharpening. However, it’s not a common item in every gardener’s shed. If you do have one, you can use it on your garden spade.

It helps to understand that there are several types of spades, and some of them have slightly curved bodies. You can read more about them in my article: How to Choose the Right Garden Spade

To fasten the spade using a vise, you must remember the following things:

  • A spade typically has a long blade. It can range from 10-16 inches (25.4 – 40.6 cm) long. If the jaw of your vise is less than the blade’s length, you can clamp the spade by the blade.
  • Avoid holding a spade with a slightly curved body in the vise. The vise’s jaws are straight and will not properly hold a curved spade blade. 
  • You can hold the spade in the vise through its handle. If your spade has a wooden or steel handle, you can secure the handle between the vise’s jaws. In contrast, plastic or fiberglass handles might crack or break at the force of the jaws.
  • You may wrap the handle in a towel before clamping. A spade’s handle is typically rounded, making it challenging to keep between the vise’s jaws. A towel will help provide the handle with edges and cushion it from the force of the vise.

Using Clamps

If you don’t have a vise, you can use heavy-duty clamps to hold the spade firmly on the table or workbench. 

Fasten the spade on the table by the handles using at least two clamps and let the blade extend face-up from the edge of the table. Most spade blades have a bevel in front. You must position the tool where you can see the angle.

Using Your Foot or Leg

If you don’t have any of the tools mentioned above, you can still keep the spade steady using your foot or leg. 

Be warned, however, that this method may be uncomfortable, especially if it takes you a long time to finish sharpening the blade. It can also be dangerous if the spade slips under your weight. 

Practice positioning your weight against the spade’s handle before you begin, and take a pause from sharpening to make adjustments if the position becomes less stable or uncomfortable.

3. Sharpen the Spade With a Metal File

Although using a metal file to sharpen blades may look simple, it can be challenging for first-timers. A few techniques can help you make the actual task more manageable. Let’s check them below:

Choose the Right Kind of File

Handy files, such as the farmer file, are excellent for sharpening various gardening tools. Choose a file that has a coarse grade like a bastard file. It can sharpen thicker blades like garden spades faster. 

Also, remember to always use a metal file with a handle. It can help protect your hand and make it easier to grip the tool. 

Wear Protective Gear

Remember to wear a mask to avoid inhaling the fine metal particles. More importantly, wear working gloves to protect your hands from cuts and bruises in case the metal file slips and you hit yourself with the spade’s blade.

Use Both Hands When Sharpening the Blade

The correct handling and positioning of the metal file can help you sharpen the blade more quickly and appropriately. Use one hand to hold the handle and another hand to support the back of the blade.

Note that a garden spade typically has a 45° angle. Keeping the blade at approximately the same angle is essential to maintain a balance between efficiency and durability. You can read more on how sharp a garden spade should be in my other article here: How Sharp Should a Garden Spade Be?

Rub the File Against the Blade in an Outward Stroke

Follow the original bevel of the blade and rub the metal file against it in an outward stroke. Avoid rubbing the metal back and forth. Lift the file every time you pull it back toward you. It can help maintain the shape and improve the texture of the beveled edge.

Keep your hand behind the flat file to exert more force and speed up the process. Repeat the procedure as you sharpen the edge of a garden spade’s blade from left to right.

Clean the File

Using a file to sharpen a garden spade removes some worn metal and exposes smoother metal underneath. While some debris can fly around as you scrape against the spade’s blade, some fine pieces of metal may get stuck in the teeth of your file.

Leaving the debris in the file will reduce the efficiency of the tool. After running the file twice along the blade’s edge from left to right, inspect the file for debris. Use a metal brush and scrub it along the direction of the teeth on the file. 

Here’s a video showing some ways to clean a file:

You can then continue using the file to sharpen your garden spade. Remember to clean the file again after use.

Feel and Remove the Burr

After running the file against the spade’s blade several times, you will notice some metallic debris building up at the back of the blade. Feel the burr to check how thick it is. Run the metal file laterally along the blade’s edge to remove the burr.

4. Lubricate the Spade

After sharpening your garden spade, lubricate it with vegetable oil or organic lubricants. You can use a metal lubricant spray because it’s easier to use. Coat the front and back of the blade to protect it from moisture and prevent rust from building up.

Alternatively, you can use olive oil or any kind of vegetable oil in your pantry. Pour enough oil on a piece of cloth and wipe it on the garden spade’s blade. You can also use the same oil to rub on the wooden handle to protect it from moisture.

If you’re interested in learning more, don’t miss my article on oiling garden tools: Should You Oil Your Garden Tools?

Final Thoughts

A metal file is a handy tool that can help sharpen your garden spade. It is easier to use than other devices, such as a grinder, but still requires some practice and skills to achieve your desired results.

Remember to wear protective gear when using a metal file and choose the right kind with a handle for safety and convenience. Sharpen your garden spade according to the steps above, and you’ll notice the process becoming easier and more natural later on.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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