How to Sharpen Hand Tools

By Alyssa Davis

Hand tools such as shovels, planes, hoes, gouges, chisels and other woodworking tools all become dull after repeated use. In addition, the bevel sometimes requires repair because of nicks, and at the very least, sharp edges must be maintained to properly do the job. Many people choose to simply toss hand tools aside when they become dull, or they continue to use them because they are unaware of how to sharpen or repair damaged or dull edges.

It does not take the skills of a professional to sharpen hand tools and sharpen them properly. Instead of casting dull hand tools aside or making an easy job more difficult than it really should be, use the following information to give the blades of hand tools a good working edge. Hand tools of all types are really very easy to sharpen, and with proper care and a little know-how, quality hand tools can last a lifetime.

Bevel Angles

Before you begin to sharpen hand tools of any type it is important to know the proper bevel angles for specific tools. A chisel or a plane at the tip should be beveled between thirty and thirty-five degrees. Below the tip the edge should be beveled between twenty-five and thirty degrees. A garden hoe or shovel should have a seventy-five degree angle along the edge. Be sure to observe the original bevel of the hand tools you intend to sharpen in an effort to maintain the proper angles. Consider investing in a honing guide before you begin to sharpen hand tools of any type. It will help you maintain the correct angles according to the hand tools you intend to sharpen, and it will provide the necessary information regarding blade types.

Choosing a File or Stone

Various types of sharpening stones are available, and the stones used to sharpen specific hand tools will depend upon the blades. Select a stone with medium grit for hand tools that require a sharp fine edge. Examples of these types of hand tools are chisels, gouges, and planes. A stone with coarse grit may be necessary if the blade is nicked, excessively dull, or otherwise damaged. Mill files are also used to sharpen hand tools, and they are ideal for hand-sharpening hoes, shovels, axes, mauls, and similar items. When searching for files you will find flat and round varieties. Flat files are easy to handle for most applications, and the round varieties are ideal for smaller areas. Choose a variety of files and stones so you will always have just the right type on hand.

Sharpening a Dull Blade by Hand

Before beginning, the key to properly sharpening hand tools is to maintain proper angles, and this can be accomplished using a honing guide instead of guessing. Hand tools that are not extremely dull can be sharpened within a matter of minutes using a hard Arkansas stone or a water stone while using either water or lightweight oil. If the blade is not excessively dull it will not be necessary to remove very much metal, but keep in mind that the blade should not become too hot, and the file or stone should run toward instead of away from the edge of the blade. If necessary, run water over the blade often during the sharpening process to keep it cool. Twelve strokes or less should do the job for a blade that is not very dull. However, if the blade is nicked or extremely dull it will take a little more work. When you plan to sharpen a very large garden tool it is also helpful to use a sturdy vise instead of trying hold it steady while filing.

How to Hone Fine Blades

Once you sharpen a fine blade with a coarse-grit stone or file, hone it to a fine edge by holding it flat against a fine-grit stone and pulling it steadily inward. This stone will sand away any lines or scratches created by the coarse stone used first and it will remove any metal burrs.

Blades with a Second Bevel

If the tip of the hand tools you intend to sharpen require a second bevel, use a chisel or a plane blade to complete this process. Woodworking tools and some knives require a second bevel, and if they are used to carve softer wood, the second bevel should be honed at a thirty-degree angle. Woodworking tools used to carve harder wood should be honed with a second bevel of thirty-five degrees. To give hand tools a razor sharp edge, invest in a leather razor strap or a hard high-quality Arkansas stone. This process should not require more than four or five strokes on each side of the blade. To make sure hand tools are adequately sharp, hold the blades of the tools beneath a bright light. If the blade is razor sharp along the entire length, it will not appear to sparkle beneath the light. Blades of any type that are improperly sharpened or ignored will not live up to their full potential. Check the condition of hand tools often, store them in an area of low humidity, and properly care for the blades. Hand tools that are properly stored and cared for will provide limitless service and superior results for many years to come.