How To Use a Sharpening Stone on a Shovel

Shovels are helpful gardening tools often subjected to abuse and neglect. Despite being sturdy, they also need adequate to keep performing well. One essential maintenance procedure shovels need is sharpening, and there are many ways to do it, including using a sharpening stone.

Before sharpening a shovel, you must clean it and remove the rust. Rub the wet sharpening stone in a series of uniform circular strokes along the bevel of the shovel’s blade and remove the burr. Remember to lubricate the shovel after sharpening to keep it resistant to moisture and rust.

I will discuss the steps with more details and tips in the rest of the article. Keep reading to learn more!

1. Wear Gloves and Earplugs

Sharpening stones work by rubbing and grinding against metal to remove rough material and expose the smooth metal underneath. Careful and repeated strokes will then sharpen the metal. Such processes can pose risks to the user.

Since sharpening stones typically don’t have handles, you must put on gloves to protect your hands. Rubbing stone and metal can generate heat or cause accidental injuries. Remember to wear gloves on both hands when sharpening your shovel.

In addition, stone grinding against metal can generate uncomfortable noise, so you might want to wear earplugs. If other people are helping you, advise them to also put on earplugs.

2. Clean the Shovel

It is significantly easier to sharpen a clean shovel, so it’s best to remove thickened mud on the blade’s surface. Too much dirt can slow down the sharpening process and quickly dull the surface of your sharpening stone.

Like metal files and sandpaper, sharpening stones have specific grits that determine their coarseness or fineness. With frequent use, the surface of a sharpening stone wears away and loses its effectiveness. Using it on a dirty shovel can speed up its deterioration.

You can remove the dirt on a shovel using a brush with hard bristles and running water from your gardening hose. You can also use steel wire and liquid detergent or alcohol to disinfect the tool. Otherwise, harmful microbes might transfer to the sharpening stone and contaminate your other tools.

Tip: Avoid using the same sharpening stone for garden tools and kitchen knives. Garden shovels go into the soil and are likely contaminated with pathogens. Even some microbes beneficial to plants might be harmful to humans.

3. Remove the Rust

Rust can also make it extra challenging to sharpen your shovel with a sharpening stone. It can also dull your stone more quickly. Therefore, it is crucial to remove the rust from the shovel before sharpening it.

Minor rust issues can be dealt with by using sandpaper or steel wire. However, severe rust may require removal using a grinder

If you don’t have such a power tool, you can soak the rusty shovel blade in white vinegar. Leaving the shovel in the solution for one to six hours can remove much of the rust. You can then wash away the remaining rust with steel wire and liquid detergent.

Important tip: Avoid soaking the tool too long in vinegar because the acid will not only remove the rust but also eat away your shovel’s coating. Rinsing the vinegar with water and liquid detergent will neutralize its acidity and eliminate the sour smell.

The routine removal of rust from your garden tools can go a long way in extending their lifespan and maintaining the quality of their performance. Proper cleaning and storage practices are also essential to prevent rust problems from getting out of hand.

4. Secure or Fasten the Shovel in Your Working Area

When sharpening large garden tools like shovels and spades, it is important to secure the tool to keep it from moving. However, unlike using a metal file, you only need one hand to sharpen a shovel with a sharpening stone.

Although you can use one hand to hold the shovel in place while your other hand sharpens the blade with the stone, it’s better to use different tools like a vise or clamps. They can hold your shovel more securely and safely.

5. Wet and Rub the Stone Against the Edge of the Shovel

There are a few things you need to remember when using a sharpening stone on a shovel:

Lubricate the Sharpening Stone

Various types of sharpening stones need different lubricants before and during use. Water stones need to be soaked in water for a few minutes before use and require re-wetting as necessary during use.

On the other hand, oil stones need oil lubricants. Read the product label and instructions carefully before using a sharpening stone on your shovel. It can help ensure that the tools remain in good condition and perform effectively.

It also helps to remember that not all sharpening stones require lubrication. However, they all have aftercare recommendations that you need to observe to preserve them.

Locate the Shovel Blade’s Angle

Finding the bevel of the shovel’s blade makes it easier to sharpen. You only need to remove the worn-out layer and follow the original angle. If there is plenty of rough material, you may need a coarser sharpening stone that can rub it away more quickly. You may then use a finer stone to hone the blade.

Meanwhile, if the shovel is in such bad shape that you cannot find the original bevel anymore, you can create a new one. Keep in mind that shovels and spades must be sharp but durable, so keep the angle at 45°.

When creating a new bevel, use the coarsest sharpening stone (ideally with a grit between 100-400). Your fine stone will take too long to remove enough material. Even worse, it can wear away sooner and become unusable.

Rub Against the Blade in a Uniform Stroke

You can grind against the metal using a sharpening stone in an outward stroke or a circular motion, sliding from one side to another. Stick with only one pattern for the whole process to have a smoother edge.

To determine which stroke or motion is best, you can also use the shape of the sharpening stone as a reference:

  • A sharpening puck has a circular shape. This type of sharpening stone is best used using a circular motion. It is also small–typically 3-4 inches (7.5 – 10 cm) in diameter. As such, you must wear gloves when using this stone.
  • Flat stones and sticks are best used in uniform outward strokes. It works faster and more evenly if you rub the entire length of the stone against the shovel’s edge.

It can take longer to sharpen a shovel using a sharpening stone than a metal file. Therefore, you need patience. Stone grinding against metal can make your hand uncomfortable due to friction, and many people find the sound unpleasant. This is where the gloves and earplugs come in handy.

Moreover, avoid adding more pressure on the stone to speed up the process. Otherwise, you risk getting an uneven edge.

Deburr the Blade

Sharpening stones typically don’t produce as much burr as metal files. However, you will still notice some pieces of metal curling up behind the blade. You can remove them using steel wire or the fine side of your sharpening stone. You can run them once or twice along the length of the shovel blade’s edge.

6. Lubricate the Shovel 

Lubrication is always the final step in sharpening your garden tools. Since shovels work your soil, you may want to use organic lubricants. Vegetable oil like canola is an excellent and relatively low-cost option for keeping your shovel well-lubricated.

To cut back on the amount of canola oil, use an oil-resistant piece of cloth to spread the liquid on your shovel. It can help ensure that most of the oil goes into your shovel’s blade instead of being absorbed by the cloth.

After lubricating your shovel, you must keep it away from direct heat and shelter it from the rain. Both intense heat and heavy rain can remove the oil coating from your shovel and make it susceptible to rust again.

Final Thoughts

Shovels need occasional sharpening, and you can do it using several different tools. Sharpening stones are good handy alternatives to metal files, but they can take much longer to produce your desired results. Nonetheless, when used correctly, they can sharpen your shovel just as well.

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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