Ask Angie

Tips on sharpening knives and other blades

Q: My gardening clippers are dull, but when I asked someone at the local hardware store about getting them sharpened, they suggested I just replace them. I’d rather not. Does anyone do this kind of service?

Linda M., South Burlington, Vermont

A: Good tools are worth keeping, and worth keeping sharp. There are a variety of possible sources for this service, including — yes — hardware stores, handyman businesses, and tool repair and lawn mower repair shops. Some services will come to you; others require you to bring implements to them.

Among items that benefit from occasional sharpening are scissors, knives, garbage disposals, lawn mower blades, pruners, hedge shears, shovels, hoes, grass clippers and machetes.

Tool sharpening is usually a good value. Top-rated pros told our team that their charges are often $10 or less per item. One said that a new turbo saw blade costs $55, but he can sharpen one for $7.

A sharp tool provides a cleaner cut, while a blunt or dull one may rip or tear. This is important for pruning and shearing; a clean cut helps a plant heal faster. Also, keeping your lawn mower blade sharp will prevent grass from ripping or tearing, which can stress your lawn and make it harder for it to bounce back from pest infestations or drought.

How often you should sharpen implements and blades depends on how often you use them, experts say. Many tools are fine with annual sharpening. Lawn mower blades should be sharpened at the start of the mowing season, but more frequent sharpening — as often as every eight to 10 mows — is even better. Hedge trimmers ideally should be sharpened a couple times a year.

There are three basic types of blade maintenance techniques:

• Grinding, which requires a grinding wheel, whetstone or honing block to remove tiny portions of blade to reveal a new, sharpened edge.

• Steeling, which uses a hard cylindrical rod to smooth roughness that occurs after a blade is ground. Steeling realigns the blade edge between grindings to maintain an optimal angle.

• Stropping, which involves using a leather strip, with or without an abrasive, to buff the blade to straighten the edge. While leather strops are most common, cloth and paper can also be used.

To help tools and blades keep their edge:

• Perform cutting tasks on softer surfaces such as wood, plastic or cardstock rather than glass, ceramic or marble, which can damage or break the blade tip.

• Store knives in blocks or sheaths to protect delicate tips and edges.

• Wash and dry after each use, preferably by hand. Store them properly after drying.

• Periodically ground and steel your blades, or hire someone to do it.

• Occasionally toss a few ice cubes into your kitchen sink disposal, as some experts say it helps to sharpen the disposal blades.

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