They are one of the most important gardening tools in your kit. Here is a quick guide on how to get them ready to take on all of your garden pruning needs.
Choose your sharpener – I prefer sharpening tools that allow you to sharpen without disassembling your secateurs and do not require the use of oils as you would with a regular stone (something you are unlikely to do often) – The long oval shaped ‘Felco’ sharpener and the blue ‘Ezi-Lap’ sharpener both use diamonds fragments to sharpen as you rub the edge in a circular motion. The Swiss sharpener (on right hand side) is fast and requires straight strokes of the edge, especially good for hedging shears etc.
Quick anatomy of a bypass pair of secateurs – This is the main cutting blade and the first to show damage from activities such as cutting wire. Any blade with notches that can not be ‘sharpened out’ should be replaced (premium brands will offer replacement blades, otherwise best replace whole tool).
Sap and gum can accumulate on all blade surfaces along with corrosion. This can be a source of infection – transferring plant diseases and also of friction, making cutting harder. Regular cleaning of your tools will minimise the built-up of these material.
Use a Scotch-brite pad to remove all of the surface corrosion and gum build up on all cutting surfaces. These are used over steel wool as they will not leave any readily-rusting reminants on the blade surface. A little bit of WD-40 or similar can be useful when doing this. The blade surfaces (not edge) should feel smooth when you run your finger over it.
To make following the angle of the blade a bit easier for beginners colour in the blade angle with a marker. This can be then be rubbed away bit-by-bit as you sharpen the blade, trying to take it off as uniformly as possible – indicating you are correctly following the angle of the blade.
Using circular motions rub away at the blade edge being careful to follow the pre-established blade angle. The edge will naturally shine as you remove material and will confirm weather or not you are sharpening at the correct angle.
Check the adjustment of the blades. Your secateurs may have an adjustment tool and mechanism such as this pair or just a central nut and bolt. The idea is to get them as tight as you can without them sticking.
A good way to test that your tool is both sharp and well-aligned is to try cutting a couple of sheets of paper or card. If the material folds between the two blades consider tightening them to better align the blades.