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It's hard to botch the sharpening of a hoe

Sharpening your garden tools need not be as unpleasant an experience as it was for young Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin tells of a man who wanted to grind his ax, but had no one to turn the grindstone. Coming into the yard, where Franklin was, the man asked the boy to show him how the machine worked. The man kept praising Franklin until the ax was ground, and then laughed at him for his pains.

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You may be one of the millions of gardeners who consider sharpening their tools an unpleasant chore. But setting aside a few minutes now, before the hustle and bustle of spring, will save time and energy later.

You won't have to stop in the middle of planting to sharpen dull and nicked implements. They'll be ready when you are.

There are three methods of sharpening cutting tools: (1) grinding, (2) filing , and (3) whetting.

Grinding and filing are used to restore a tool's bevel and to remove nicks. Whetstones add the final hone to blades which must be really sharp.

To sharpen your garden tools you'll need a file (8-inch flat mill) or a grinder, whetstone, lightweight machine oil (3-in-1 works well) or honing oil, wire brush, crocus cloth, steel wool, oily rag, and a vise to hold your implements steady.

Practice the basic sharpening techniques on your hoe. Mistakes are hard to make on this garden workhorse.

Hoes are sharpened on the backside (the side facing away from you when the hoe is in use). Secure the hoe in a vise, blade up, and with the back side easily accessible.

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Clean thoroughly with steel wool, a wire brush, or crocus cloth.

Lay the file across the edge at an angle; then raise the back of the file (the end with the tang) to a bevel of about 45 degrees. Push the file down and away while sliding it along the edge to remove metal. Your file should attack the cutting edge of the hoe head on. Use even strokes, pushing down with a steady force.

Remember that files cut only on the push or downward stroke. Never drag a file back to the starting position in contact with the blade. This habit will ruin your file and tends to round the edge you're sharpening.

Twenty to 30 strokes should give you a fairly sharp blade.

To sharpen a lawn mower blade and other straight edges such as rototiller attachments secure the blade in a vise and follow the same side-to-side, back-to-front stroking motion you used on the hoe.

Strive for steady strokes since jerky, lopsided movements will leave dull spots in the blade.

Don't forget the rounded blades on your shovels and cultivator attachments. You'll find their bevel on the inside of the blade.

When filing a curved blade let the file slide sideways from the back, or heel , of the blade to the point as the stroke is completed. Sharpen an equal number of strokes on the right and left sides of the blade.

To sharpen a knife or pruning shears, place the whetstone on a flat surface. This way both hands will be free to guide the tool across the stone. A rubber backing cemented to the stone's wooden box, or a small block of wood nailed to the workbench, will hold the stone steady.

Grasp the knife with the blade facing away. Lay the base of the blade, closest to the handle, on the end of the stone nearest you. Raise the back of the blade to a 20-degree angle and push the blade away while sliding it sideways so that the tip of the blade still makes contact at the end of the stroke.

After establishing the 20-degree bevel on each side of the knife, whet the very edge of the blade an additional 5 degrees. Light strokes should be used to form this whetting angle.

Pruning shears are sharpened just like knives, but follow the curve of the blade as closely as possible.

It is a good idea to wipe your tools with oil after sharpening to prevent rust. While you're at it why not oil the wooden handles of your tools? Not only will you get fewer splinters, but the handles will regain some of the flexibility of new wood.

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