How to Clean & Sharpen Your Garden Hand Pruners

Garden Hand Tools
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What You'll Need to Clean and Sharpen Your Pruners

No other gardening tool takes as much wear and tear as your hand pruners. You use them for regular pruning, and you abuse them trying to cut branches much too big for them, confuse them for hammers, and even expect them to cut twine and clip grass. To keep your hand pruners in top shape, despite the abuse, you need to keep them clean, sharp, and lubricated. That may sound intimidating, but hand pruners are very simple to clean and sharpen, and goodness knows they probably need it.

Here's what you'll need to get the job done:

  • Steel wool
  • Medium to fine sandpaper
  • Rattail or mill bastard file or honing or whetstone
  • Warm, soapy water and a small brush
  • Clean cloths
  • Screwdriver
  • Wrench
  • Cleaning solvent (optional)
  • Lubricating oil or spray

Care for the Pruners

Garden Hand Pruners - How to Clean and Sharpen Hand Pruners
The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

And, of course, your pruners. There are many different makes and styles, but they are all assembled, cleaned and sharpened the same way. You can see here that the blades of each of the three pruners are held together by a screw or bolt.

Take the Pruners Apart to Clean

Disassemble Pruners - How to Sharpen Hand Pruners
The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

To do the job properly, you'll need to separate the blades of your pruners. Don't panic; it's just a bolt or a couple of screws. The actual process will vary depending on the make of your pruners, but they are all made the same.

Remove the nut or screw holding the two blades together, and separate the two pieces. There may be multiple screws on the pruner, but you only need concern yourself now with the one in the center of the two blades. Once the blades are separated, the spring coil between the handles will slip off.

Keep Track of the Pieces

Cleaning Garden Pruners
The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

There aren't many separate pieces, once you get your pruners disassembled. However, it's a smart idea to work on a towel or keep the pieces together in on a plate or in a bucket, so that one doesn't roll away unnoticed. And count the pieces, so you know how many there should be when you go to put your pruners back together.

Scrubbing Away the Built-Up Grime

Washing and Cleaning Garden Pruners
The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

The next step is a good cleaning. Wash the pruners with warm soapy water and a small, stiff brush. An old toothbrush works well. Pay particular attention to the nooks where dirt can be trapped.

When you're satisfied they are clean, wipe them well with a dry cloth.

Removing Resistant Soil and Stains

Cleaning Hand Pruners
The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

Any resistant soil, rust, or plant sap on the blades can be removed with some steel wool or sandpaper. You can also use a cleaning solvent, if necessary, to remove any hardened plant sap. Just make sure your tools are clean of all dirt and plant sap before you move on to sharpening.

Restoring the Edge to the Blade

Sharpening Hand Pruners - How to Sharpen Garden Pruners
The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

Sharpening is the intimidating step, but even a less than perfect sharpening job is better than no sharpening at all. And you'll get better at it each time you do it. To start, find the beveled or angled edge. Anvil pruners, with a single blade that comes down on a flat plate, tend to be beveled on both sides, like a knife and will need to be sharpened on both sides of the blade.

By-pass pruners have only one beveled edge, that slides over the solid bottom half of the pruners. To sharpen, take your file or stone and lay it almost parallel to the blade, on the beveled side. With pressure on the outer edge of the blade, file around the blade in one direction, away from you, lift and repeat. Don't go back and forth.

Do this a couple of times, and you'll start to notice the edge getting nice and shiny, and you'll be able to see that the cutting edge has been restored.

Putting Your Garden Pruners Back Together

Reassemble Hand Pruners - How to Clean and Sharpen Garden Pruners
The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

Now you need to reassemble the pruners. Simply slide the two parts back together, position the spring, and replace the nut or screw. Test the pruners to be sure you haven't over tightened and that the blades move correctly.

Once the pruners are reassembled, give all the moving parts a spray of lubricating oil. Also coat the blades, to prevent rust. Wipe off the excess. And that's it!

You should clean and sharpen all your garden tools at least once a year, at the end or beginning of the gardening season. It would be even better if you did this monthly, especially for tools you use regularly, like pruners. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the less time it will take. And you'll notice a big difference when you go to use your sharpened tools.