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How to sharpen a shovel?

How to sharpen a shovel

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Don't waste your time and energy with a blunt blade. A blunt shovel tip is like a blunt knife, greater pressure will be needed to slice through stubborn roots or heavy clays and, just like a blunt knife, this extra force could lead to an injury.

Even your snow shovel will need sharpening as digging with a sharp blade requires less effort. Don’t waste your time and energy with a blunt blade; sharpening the blade of a shovel is not a complicated task.

Wonkee Donkee says "And there's no need for power tools either!"
Single cut and double cut  mill files.  A single cut file has one set  of parallel rows of teeth whereas a double cut has two sets. All that is required is a flat metal file.

Either an 8, 10 or 12 inch file will suffice.

Try to use one that has a handle to avoid potential injury from the rows of teeth.

A double cut metal file A double-cut flat file is a coarse grade file, which will remove a lot of material for creating an edge. You will need this if your shovel is particularly blunt.
A single cut metal file
A single-cut mill file is a finer grade file used for sharpening and finishing the edge.
Hold the shovel in place by its handle in a bench vise if you have one

Step 1 – Secure the shovel

Clamp the shovel, blade up, in a bench vice if you have one. If not, ask someone to hold the shovel for you.

Place it horizontally on the ground, blade up, and put a foot firmly behind the socket (where the blade meets the shaft) to secure the shovel.

Before you begin filing, check the original bevel of the blade.

Step 2 – Check the sloping angle

Before you begin to sharpen any hand tools, it is important to be aware of the correct bevel angle for specific tools. First, observe the original bevel of the blade before you sharpen to maintain the correct angle.

Position your file flush against the original bevel of the blade and sharpen.  Maintain this angle throughout.

If the original angle of the edge is visible…

Position a single-cut file at this same angle. Press the file firmly against the angle, cutting teeth face down and use forward, steady strokes.   Do not bring the file back across the blade.

Work your way in one direction along the whole length of the cutting edge. Check the sharpness of the blade after a few strokes.  Repeat as necessary.

Wonkee Donkee says "Do not let the file change its angle.  File only on the bevel itself and NOT either side of it."
Too sharp and the edge will be brittle.

If the original angle of the edge is not visible…

You will need to shape the angle yourself.  Sharpness and durability are the two factors to consider when deciding on the angle of an edge.

This would be too brittle for a shovel, however. The lower the angle, the sharper the edge.  However, this means the cutting edge will be brittle and, therefore, less durable. A small paring knife used for peeling and chopping, for example, will have a low bevel angle of around 15 degrees.
Shaping the edge at a steep angle gives a more durable edge The higher the angle, the more durable the edge. Since we’re sharpening a blade that may have to cut through tough roots or rocky soil, a tougher edge is required. A bevel of 45 degrees is the right balance between sharpness and durability.
Position your file at a 45 degrees angle to the front of the blade and sharpen.  Maintain that angle throughout. First, use a double cut file to shape the edge.  Position the file at a 45 degree angle to the front of the blade and push down against the edge, using the length of the file to avoid wearing down a particular area of teeth.

Continue these forward strokes across the entire length of cutting edge and maintain an angle of 45 degrees. Do not bring the file back across the blade.

When the shovel’s bevelled edge is roughly formed, use the single-cut file to fine tune, maintaining the same angle.

Sharpening a round- and square-mouth blade.  Begin at the centre then move out towards one side.  Repeat for a few strokes then work from the centre to the other side.
It is not necessary to file along the entire blade as most of the cutting is achieved within a few inches each side of the tip.
Wonkee Donkee says 'If the cutting edge of the blade is curved, begin filing at one side and work towards the centre.  Repeat for a few strokes then work on the other side towards the centre.

So how do you know when it’s sharp enough?

The burr or feather edge of a newly-sharpened blade You will be able to feel a slightly raised edge when you run your finger ALL along the underside of the bevel.

This is known as the burr (can also be referred to as a feather or wire edge) and is an indication that sharpening is almost complete.

This is known as the burr, which feels rough to the touch as you run your finger along the edge The burr is formed when the edge gets so thin that it is unable to withstand the tension from the file so it curls over to the other side.

The trick is to remove the burr yourself before it breaks off. If you allow the burr to separate, the bevel will become blunt.

Remove this burr by gently filing the underside of the bevel To remove it, turn over the blade to its backside and run your file flush (level) along the underside of the new bevel. Do not tilt the file.  The burr should separate after a few strokes.

To finish, turn the blade over again and gently run the file across the new bevel to remove any burr which may have been pushed back.

How sharp is your blade? Once you’re satisfied with your newly honed blade, treat it to a bit of TLC and apply a coat of anti-corrosion oil.  Please see our section: Care and maintenance 

Now your shovel will be able to give a double edge razor a run for its money…

Sharpen regularly if you use your shovel in rocky soils. If you are using your shovel with stony or compacted soils or using it extensively, this sharpening process may need repeating during the season.

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