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Sharpening Shovels

 
M Marx
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Location: Los Angeles
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Do you all sharpen your shovels? It might seem like a dumb question . . . but
I ask, since it seems I have run across a large number of people who don't know one can, and in my opinion should, sharpen almost any tool used for slicing into dirt.
Like one of those simple skills that has been misplaced in a number of areas.
I had an old farmer show me how once. He sharpened both sides with the front of the spade having a very steep edge and the back of the spade a less steep edge.
I like a bench vise the most, but it can be done by sitting on the handle too.
It makes digging, in any soil I have dug, ten times easier.
And really only takes a few minutes/moments with a hand file (or dremel if you have).
Anyway, I am just interested since I see a lot of dull shovels out in the world.
 
Ken Peavey
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I do.
I take the shovel to the grinding wheel, put an edge on it. A sharp shovel cuts through roots with less effort, drives into a pile of material deeper, and makes it easier on my back. It's not sharp like a scythe. All I do is grind one side so the edge is more of a wedge and not blunt.

WD-40 can be sprayed on to reduce rusting. I skip the WD-40. I know a guy who slapped together a box, a couple feet on each side, filled it with sand, then poured in the oil from his last oil change. He sticks his shovel in there when he's done using it, keeps the blade oiled, prevents rusting.

 
Darren Collins
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Location: Jamberoo, NSW, Australia
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Yep, I sharpen mine. The first time I did it, I was amazed at the difference it made! I really didn't expect that.

I'd advise anyone to just try it once before doing some digging, and you'll soon be a convert.
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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forest garden hugelkultur
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Ken Peavey wrote:I do.
I take the shovel to the grinding wheel, put an edge on it. A sharp shovel cuts through roots with less effort, drives into a pile of material deeper, and makes it easier on my back. It's not sharp like a scythe. All I do is grind one side so the edge is more of a wedge and not blunt.

WD-40 can be sprayed on to reduce rusting. I skip the WD-40. I know a guy who slapped together a box, a couple feet on each side, filled it with sand, then poured in the oil from his last oil change. He sticks his shovel in there when he's done using it, keeps the blade oiled, prevents rusting.



Is it a good idea to be introducing used motor oil into soil you eat from? I like the idea of a storage box like that to keep tools clean but I wonder if there is a safer (and as effective) substitute for the used oil. Actually I have a lot of used vegetable oil from frying fish that I was trying to find a use for. I could mix that with some play sand from the kids neglected sandbox, then fill up a bucket and add tools. PRESTO! Thanks for the tip

 
L. Jones
Posts: 80
Location: NW Mass Zone 4 (5 for optomists)
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Linseed oil is another "safe" option, so long as you don't use it on rags and store the rags improperly such that you burn the house down. It's the best finish for wooden handles - if you have a tool you use a lot with a wooden handle that has a shiny-film finish on it, try scraping the finish off and using linseed (or walnut) oil as the finish instead - much better on the hands & fewer blisters, IME. No need to bother with a part you don't touch much - the awful factory finish can stay there.

Personally, I prefer to first paint the steel parts of the tools (use your own color scheme and name stencil to make it harder for your tools to grow legs), then use them long enough for the paint to wear off the more active surfaces, and then warm the tool and wax it. Best done at the end of the season or over the winter "slow season" or when a project is wrapping up and the tool won't be used again for a while - keeps it from rusting in storage, and the wax hardens as much as it will during storage - you will wipe a good deal more off faster if you wax a tool right before using it. Bowling alley wax is the easy route to good wax, I find.

Snow shovels and snow plows both benefit hugely from waxing. Dirt shovels also benefit, but they'll wear the wax off faster than snow does. But waxing them before storage so they don't rust helps a lot.
 
Ken Peavey
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The guy with the oily shovel does electrical work. Sometimes he needs to dig out the ends of a trench.
The reason I skip the WD40 is because I use my shovels for edible plants. Substituting fryer oil is Outstanding. I toss mine in the leaves out back. I will surely be building a sand/fry oil box!

Edible oils decay slowly through oxidation. Bacteria are more able to consume the oxidized oil, but the process can be a stinky one. Keeping the oil in the dark can help, but eventually, the batch will want to be left to nature, away from the house.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I do sharpen my shovel... but I particularly sharpen my spade.
Again I too use a steeper angle maybe 30 degrees. I sharpen all on once side, and then just take enough off the back to clean it up. I put it on the ground and step on it and use an 12" bastard file (double cut rather than single cut). I often have an 8" file in my pocket when in the cultivated garden. I figure the steeper angle and jaggedy burrs are more likely to last longer.

First thing I do with a new tool is sand the handle, and then linseed oil. Factory handles are so rough and grab at your skin.

Than I go around sharpening other peoples shovels.

A fire crew I once knew would sharpen their shovels, then paint the whole head for storage... when emergency came, the paint would wear off revealing a nice sharp edge.
 
Benjamin Bouchard
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Sharpening shovels and spades is a must, in my opinion. I have rocky clay soil so I don't bring it all the way down to a knife-like edge, but sharpen the interior only to about a 30-degree angle and leave the edge about 1/4mm thick do keep it from dinging or rolling when hitting rocks. My two most used digging tools are a Predator "Big Red" Diamond Point and a Bully Tools rice shovel. The Predator came sharpened but the Bully didn't. Took it to my 1x42" Kalamazoo belt sander and sharpening belts and thinned it right out. It's a real champ of a shovel and I highly recommend them.
 
Deb Stephens
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Location: SW Missouri, Zone 6b-7a
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I sharpen all my digging tools (shovels, trowels, hoes, etc.). When I was working on my archaeology degree, that was the first thing we were taught in field school. It makes a world of difference digging with a sharp tool. Dull shovels are like dull knives -- essentially worthless.
 
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