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How to Clean and Sharpen Pruning Tools

Behnkes is providing tool sharpening on weekends through February 21, 2016!  (Limit 2 per customer, please.  This is popular and we want to avoid lines.)  It’s first come, first served and doesn’t include lawn-mower blades or saws.  COST: Suggested donation of $3 each or $5 for 2 tools (cash only) — all donations will be given to Emmanuel Methodist Church Foodbank.


John Shearin is our tool-cleaning and sharpening expert on hand to take care of YOUR tools.  John writes:

“It is best to stick to hand-sharpening hand pruners and loppers. Power grinders can cause too much heat to build up in the metal and will destroy the temper (a heat-treating process that makes the metal stronger), thereby causing your blade to dull and develop pits more quickly. Power grinders are fine to use on hedge shears, shovels and hoes, etc., as these blades are often not tempered.”

How to Clean and Sharpen Hand Pruners

First up, John sprays WD-40 oil on the blades of my barely usable pruners, then rubs them with #1 steel wool.  The oil works to remove plant sap that gets on the blades every time they’re used and over time, really build up (my bad!).

After wiping the blades with a cloth to remove the oil, the pruner is ready for sharpening.

How to Sharpen Hedge Clippers

If the blade is badly pitted, dulled, or misshapen, start with a file to do the “heavy work” and then fine-tune the edge with a whetstone. Follow the original angle on the beveled side of the blade. Only pull the file in one direction across the blade. Moving back and forth can damage the file (unless it is one of the few specially designed for multi-directional use) and makes it easier to slip out of the proper bevel angle on the blade.

After sharpening, this old tool also needed its bolt tightened, too.

How to Avoid Harming your Pruning Tools

  • Clean them after each use with WD-40 to remove sap from the blades.  The sap causes that stickiness that keeps the tool from moving freely, and also causes pitting.
  • Don’t store them near fertilizer products – acidic off-gassing into the air can corrode the metal.
  • When using your pruning tools, never strain.  Instead of straining with a particular tool, switch to the tool that’s made to handle the bigger job you’re asking of it.  From a hand pruner you might switch to a lopper and from a lopper to a saw.


Posted by Susan Harris.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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