How to Sharpen a Shovel: Step By Step Guide How To Sharpen a Spade

sharpening a shovel

As we all know, quality tools are essential for easier and faster gardening. It is quite common for people to put away their equipment after using without any attempt to clean or hone them. This lack of commitment to tool maintenance brings trouble very quickly. For one thing, extra time will be spent repairing the damage, or it might even be necessary to buy new equipment before the expected life duration of the tool.

Shovels in particular require thorough cleaning and occasional sharpening for it to be kept in tip-top shape. Shovels are readily used with soil, clay, or other moisture-laden elements that produce rust if left unwashed. The use of a hose and slight brushing will normally be enough to clean the shovel. Afterwards, it will be necessary to dry it off with a cloth before storing.

Storing wet shovels is just as bad as storing them dirty; it only increases chances of rust, dullness and breakage. A few minutes of cleaning your shovel after every job can help avoid this issue. So, do your best to refrain from being sluggish and keep those expensive tools in good, clean condition. If you do so, they will surely last you a really long time, which saves you money in the long run.

Why You Should Sharpen Your Shovel

There are three important benefits to sharpening your shovel: the first being monetary. As we all are aware, sharpening your shovel will cost less than buying a brand new one. As an added bonus, sharpening tools like a mill file are easy to find and cheap to buy.

Secondly, if or when you sharpen your shovel, you will be able to achieve a cleaner cut in flora.

If gardening is your priority, then this is definitely important and beneficial to your garden, as plants tend to heal faster if they have clean-cut edges. Moreover, having a sharp shovel also allows you to be able to penetrate the hard earth more, since the edges aren’t dull. Lastly, a sharpened and clean shovel allows it to last longer and facilitates the work at hand.

To Begin

If you are sharpening an unmaintained shovel - which means it is currently in a rusty and dirty condition - it is important and vital to do prep work before going through with the actual sharpening. To start off, use steel wool or a wire brush to clean excess grime, dirt and rust. The heavier the rust coating, the longer it will be necessary to scrub.

A neat trick is using an electric drill with a wire brush attached for heavy duty rust removal. Using sandpaper can also remove rust, but only light coats of it. After cleaning dirt and rust, rub the shovel down with a cloth to dry it off completely. At the end of the sharpening process, to prevent further rusting, apply a very thin coat of oil such as motor oil to the newly exposed steel.

Once the shovel is clean and free of rust, it is time for the setup process to begin. The shovel should be safely secured in an upright position (blade-up) with a vise or C-clamps. You have the option to choose to hold the tool firmly in your lap if there is no vise or C-clamp available, but it is not the most recommended position. Furthermore, you may opt for a hand-file or a grinder as your sharpening tool, depending on the level of dullness present in the shovel’s blade.

Determine the Angle

Shovels are single-beveled tools and should be kept that way, so finding the correct angle and edge to sharpen is absolutely important. Hopefully, the blade is not too dull for you to find the angle on the blade and work from that. However, if you cannot determine the angle by observing the spade, a 45-degree angle is usually appropriate for shovels. Take note that it is extremely imperative that you only sharpen the inside edge of the tool and not the other one and especially not both edges. That is because doing so will only reduce the overall effectiveness and stability of the shovel.

Going for a steep angle is considerably less sharp, but compared to a low angle, it gives you a much more durable edge. Thus, as a general rule of thumb, keep in mind to have at least ¼” of the new metal show up once you’re done sharpening your shovel. On the other hand, if you do see the bevel of the shovel, try to keep the same angle.

Using a Grinder

Using a grinder to sharpen your shovel is an excellent option, but it requires firm positioning of the tool to avoid sudden movement. Determine the correct angle and the right edge to sharpen as mentioned above.

However, before you start the grinder, there are some things you have to keep in mind. First of all, always remember to wear eye protection, in case of sparks and debris that might fly towards your eyes. Additionally, also remember to not wear loose clothing because this might get caught in the grinder. Second thing to remember is to only use a grinding disk instead of cutting disks. This is because cutting disks are quite thin and will probably shatter

Once that has been taken care of, you may turn on the grinder and start sharpening your shovel. Moreover, if your grinder has different speeds that can be adjusted, set it on the speed setting that’s slow. Afterwards, work along the shovel’s blade in a consistent angle without leaving the grinder in one spot too long. Pass the grinder fully along the blade from end to end each time in order to ensure proper sharpening and avoid unevenness. Do the same at the end and apply a thin coat of oil to the blade when done.

Using a File

Not only are you able to sharpen a shovel with a grinder, you also have another option: using a file. This is a great alternative with necessary materials that are easier to acquire, especially since not everyone has a grinder lying around their garage or home.

What You’ll Need

In order to sharpen your shovel with a file, you will need several things thing, including a flat file. Use a file with a wide flat edge and a rough single-cut pattern of teeth. It is best to use the single-cut file (you may try with an 8-inch or 10-inch mill bastard file) because it allows more control. This will enable you to remove lots of material with one pass. A single-cut file features a set of parallel teeth, while other types of file have a second set of teeth - double-cut or cross-cut.

Additionally, you will also need work gloves to protect your hands during the process, as well as safety glasses to protect your eyes. Similar to using a grinder, prepare a wire brush or steel wool, sandpaper, oil, c-clamp or bench vise and a rag or a cloth. Now you have everything you need to sharpen the shovel with a file, so we can move on to the next step.

More info on sharpening your Shovel can be found here

Cleaning the Shovel

Just like the grinder, you must clean the shovel first before you actually start sharpening it. Remove all the dirt from the shovel blade by using a wire brush or steel wool. Afterwards, gently scrub the metal using one of the two items. You are able to use oil - such as naval jelly or penetrating oil - and a cloth to get rid of the dirt or rust. Once you’ve finished cleaning the blade and removed all the dirt, you are then able to start the process of sharpening.

Sharpening the Shovel

Before you start sharpening the edge of the blade, you need to determine which side of the blade you actually need to work on. You only want the leading edge to be sharpened, so to determine which side that is, simply run your finger along the underside and then the top of the blade. Take note that the side that feels sharper to the touch is the leading side. Now that you know which side you need to sharpen, attach the shovel onto a workbench with a C-clamp or a bench vise. The shovel needs to be positioned so that the head is near the clamp and the concave side is facing up.

Run the flat file down the blade of the shovel by holding the file with both hands. Use the existing angle of the bevel and with moderate pressure, continue running the file down the blade. Push the file using its whole length and repeat this for a while. Additionally, use straight and even strokes and make sure you go over the entire surface instead of going over the same spot over and over again. As the file is pushed down, it removes a layer of material, leaving the shovel a little bit sharper every time.

Furthermore, while sharpening, you have to k​​​​​eep in mind to not pull the file toward you as this will bend the teeth and damage the file. Therefore, always run the file down the blade.

Just like the grinder, the angle is also important when sharpening the blade. It is helpful if you orientate the file so that its teeth are moved at a 45-degree angle to the edge. As a result, this will help sharpen the shovel more evenly. It is recommended that you continue running the file down the shovel blade until a shiny area appears and you feel burr on the blade when you touch it. A burr is what is created when the shovel edge is too thin to endure the pressure of the file, but you do not have to worry about it.

Remove the Burr

Now that the shovel has been sharpened, you need to remove the burr on the side. You are able to do this by rubbing sandpaper across the edge of the surface of the blade, but the opposite of the side that has been filed. In this way, you are able to scrape off the burr created while you were filing the shovel. You must continue to rub the edge with sandpaper until you are no longer able to feel any burr on the blade.

If you do not have sandpaper, there is another way you are able to get rid of the burr created during the process. This can be done by using the same file you used to sharpen the shovel - only this time, you have to carefully pass the file over the face of the blade opposite the filed side.

Cleaning the File

Occasionally, you need to clean the file, as well. If you need to remove a lot of material in order to get a very sharp edge, then you may have to stop to clean the file a bit because it becomes less effective. Metal filings from the shovel can build up between the teeth of the file. Thus, making it less effective because the file cannot cut properly.

One solution is to dip the file in water to get rid of the filings, although it should be mentioned that this does not always work. Another more effective way is to use a file card, which is actually a brush with metal bristles used for cleaning files. Under no circumstances should you knock the file against a hard surface to get rid of the filings because this will only damage your file.

Tips and Safety

Safety always comes first, so before you try to sharpen a dull shovel yourself, you must always take note of these tips. Never start sharpening a shovel without wearing safety glasses and work gloves. This is because pieces of dirt or metal can fly and end up damaging your eyes. To prevent this, always prepare before cleaning or filing metal tools.

If you want to keep the tool conditioned, using a bucket filled with sand and half a quart of oil can do the trick. After each use, simply dip the shovel in the mixture several times. The sand will clean the shovel and the oil will help prevent rusting.

To make sure you have all you need here is some more information


Like most things in life, tools require proper care in order to function adequately and last a long time. Invest a few minutes of your time cleaning your shovel in order to avoid spending money in replacements. If you keep your blade clean, dry and stored efficiently after every use, sharpening can be reduced to once or twice a year.

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