By: Michael Denson, densonm[at]mrd[dot]dnr[dot]state[dot]sc[dot]us, Consulting Rosarian
Let’s take a few minutes to take a close look at your pruning tools. When was the last time they were sharpened? What shape are they in? Are the blades sharp? Is there any visible rust? Is the blade nicked up? Do they close smoothly or do they sound gritty when you open and close them? If you think your pruners need sharpening or cleaning, they probably do! It’s easy to talk yourself out of taking care of your pruners: “I don ‘t know how,” “They’re okay till next year,” “I’ll just buy a new pair!” Stop right there! I want to tell you about the easiest, fastest way to maintain and care for your pruning equipment!
What You Need
- WD 40® or other silicone-based lubricant
- A sheet of sandpaper (400 grit) or/and an SOS pad
- A screwdriver
- A clean rag
- A wrench
- A sharpening stone or GATCO® Sharpening System
Disassemble the Pruners
Don’t be intimidated! Think of pruners as a jigsaw puzzle with 8-10 pieces (or maybe only 4 pieces)! If you’ve been taking good care of your pruners and lubricating them properly, they should be easy to take apart. If you haven’t, you may need a little elbow grease. If the “catch” that locks the pruners into a closed position moves easily, I would not remove it–just spray it with a lubricant.
Next, remove the screw that holds the small oddshaped piece which holds the “toothed nut” in position. You may need to use a small wrench to remove the nut if it is tight and cannot be removed by hand. Remove the plate behind the nut. The bolt that holds the pruners together will slide out and the blade should separate easily from the handles. Sometimes this may be difficult because of a little rust or grimy buildup. Spray some Liquid Wrench® on the trouble spot and wait a few hours‹let the solvent do the work. Drench the parts with WD40.
Cleaning the Parts
Look at the blade. Serious nicks will be impossible to “sharpen out”, so it may be best to replace the blade. Felco pruner blades and other parts are available at good garden centers at reasonable cost. If the blade is dull, lay it flat on your work table. Clean with an SOS pad, first folding the rag and placing it against the sharp side to keep from cutting yourself. Scrub the blade clean. You may need to use sandpaper to polish. Turn the blade over and clean the other side. Next, clean the anvil. The blade has to slide directly against the anvil, so you must remove hardened sap, dirt, etc. Look at each piece, clean it thoroughly, and buff with a rag till it shines.
Sharpening the Blade
Sharpening blades is not difficult. I use a foolproof GATCO Sharpener Edgemate System F-J-61-0561, available from Cabela’s, One Cabela Drive, Sidney, NE 69160, (1-800-237-444) which makes sharpening very easy. Three models are available ($26.99, $36.99, and $59.99). This system has a rod-hone handle and features a permanently affixed rod so the sharpening angle remains constant. A series of sharpening stones ranging from coarse to ultra fine are provided. The stones fit into a groove that holds the blade at the precise angle needed for superior sharpness and durability.
To sharpen, start with the coarse stone. Run the blade through in a circular motion several times until it feels smooth when gently touched, If the nicks are gone, repeat the process on the next finest stone. Continue until the blade is sharp, sharp. That’s all! It took me 60 minutes to disassemble and sharpen 5 pairs of Felco bypass pruners! If you are using a hand-held stone instead of the GATCO System, run the stone along the blade from the handle to the point at a 10-20 degree angle. Try to maintain a constant angle! Very sharp angles produce razor sharp blades. More parallel angles (25-30 degrees) give long lasting but less sharp edges.
Spray each piece with lubricant. Place the blade onto the handle, put the bolt in from underneath, put the other handle flat through the bolt, then the backing plate, and then the toothed nut. Hand tighten the nut until the blades are almost difficult to open, then back it off a little. Match the funny shaped sprocket onto the nut and tighten the screw. The pruners should open and close like sharp scissors at this point. Back the screw out two turns and squirt lubricant in. Tighten up with the screwdriver and replace the spring. You should now be ready for serious pruning!
Caring for your Pruners
Clean your pruners after each use. If you don’t have time to scrub them and clean off the dirt and sap, at least wash them with water and spray with a shot of WD40 or other silicone based spray. These products repel water and retard rust and oxidation. Pruners need special care, especially if you disinfect the blades with Clorox®. Sharpen once a month for superior cutting. This should be a breeze — ten minutes tops! Your roses will love you for it!
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