Sharpening Digging Tools
Photo: Kolin Smith
Use a mill bastard file to sharpen the bevel on the cutting edge of digging tools when they get dull.
Q: Am I supposed to sharpen my shovel, posthole digger, hoe, and other digging tools? How do you do that?

—Jerry Comeaux, Youngsville, LA.

A: Roger Cook replies: Yes, it is a good idea to keep all your digging tools sharp because you'll get more work done in less time and with less effort. The maintenance is easy: All you need is a good pair of heavy leather gloves, a 12-inch mill bastard file, and a vise. Here's how I keep my digging tools in shape:

1. For safety and stability, secure the tool in the vise by its handle—dished-side up, in the case of shovels and posthole diggers, and blade pointing straight up for hoes.

2. Hold the file with two hands, skewed slightly to the side and flat against the original bevel on the cutting edge. If there's no bevel left, hold the file tilted 45 degrees off the tool's face. Push the file toward the handle in straight, even strokes, moving it in only one direction.

3. When the angle has been restored, lay the file flat against the back of the bevel and remove the burr, which forms as you file the metal. A couple of strokes is all you need.

4. Wipe the metal with a penetrating oil, such as WD-40, to discourage rust. If a tool is severely dented or worn, a 4-inch angle grinder fitted with a medium-grit aluminum-oxide wheel will take care of snaggly edges in short order. Be sure to wear hearing protection and goggles when you switch it on. Hold the grinder so that the sparks fly toward the shovel, not at you. When you're done, touch up the bevel with a file.

Once a tool is sharp, you should only need to file it yearly to keep it keen.
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