How to sharpen garden shears safely

Garden shears cutting green bush
(Image credit: Steven Jenkins)

Remember when you first had your garden shears and they were all sharp and shiny? Learning how to sharpen garden shears can restore them to their former glory and keep them in prime cutting condition. Not only will it make life easier for you, it will be healthier for your foliage and greenery. 

When it comes to gardening season you’ll need well-maintained garden shears alongside the best strimmer and a lawnmower to make sure that you get a good looking garden. A blunt blade won’t help this happen so it’s essential that you clean, maintain and regularly sharpen your shears.

Here we tell you how to sharpen shears, what tools to use and how much you can expect to pay if you get a pro to do it.  

How to sharpen garden shears: A step-by-step guide 

There a few options that work well for sharpening garden shears. Here we give a quick rundown of how to use each. And if you need separate advice on how to sharpen lawn mower blades, be sure to check out our guide.

1. Clean first 

Before you sharpen the blades, make sure to clean them. Depending on how dirty they are you will need a kitchen scourer and warm soapy water or sandpaper. Start with the kitchen scourer, clean and wipe dry with a dry, clean cloth. If there are still stubborn marks left, use a fine grit sandpaper to remove. 

2. Sharpen with a whetstone 

If you are going to sharpen with a whetstone you need to separate the blades to get the best finish. Undo the central bolt of your garden shears and put aside somewhere safe so you don't lose it.

Now set your whetstone on a firm flat surface, place a towel or cloth underneath to stop it slipping. Start with a coarse 120 grit and then use a finer 240 grit to finish. Hold the blade at both ends, place on the whetstone at the right angle and drag back and across to cover the whole blade. Repeat until you get a sharp finish.  

3. Sharpen with a file 

It is a good idea to secure your shears in a vice to ensure your safety and get a good finish. Place the blade in a vice and secure, but make sure you still have access to the part of the blade you want to sharpen.

Now get a flat metal or a diamond file like this SHARPAL Dual-Grit Diamond Sharpening Stone from Amazon. Start with the coarse side and push up and along the blade at the same angle as the current edge. Repeat and finish with the finer side.  

4. Sharpen shears with multi purpose sharpener 

If using a multi-purpose blade sharpener you will need a combi drill like the DeWalt XR Brushed Cordless Combi drill from B&Q to hold the bit. Make sure the drill chuck is tight. Securely hold the shears at an angle – around 45 degrees. Place the multi purpose sharpener on the blade, start the drill and move up and down the blade for five seconds. 

Use the outside of the sanding stone of the sharpener to remove any burr on the underside of the sharpened blade.    

Orange drill with attachment sharpening garden shear blades

You can use a whetsone, file or multi-purpose sharperner to give your shears a new lease of life. Just make sure to clean first (Image credit: Steven Jenkins)

Why sharpen garden shears? 

Garden shears like most garden cutting tools come with a crisp clean cutting edge that will simply slice through most garden foliage and greenery with ease when new. But as time goes by the shears cutting edge will dull and they won't be as effective at their intended purpose.

A dull blade doesn’t cut but rips and tears at foliage leaving it more susceptible to disease. The lack of a clean cut will also lead to browning as it takes longer to recover. And, the blunter a blade the more effort you will need to put in to get a job done. 

Plus, you are increasing the longevity of the shears, meaning you don’t need to invest in a new pair saving you a few quid. Look after your garden shears properly and they should last for years and years.  

What is the best tool to sharpen garden shears? 

There’s a few options to be considered when choosing the right tool for sharpening garden shears and it will depend on the brands of shears you own as Chris Bonnett, the founder of Gardening Express explains, “Some garden shears come with specific sharpeners designed for this particular model of shears.”

But if you own a more generic set of garden shears Bonnett reveals the favoured options, “The most popular options are whetstone and diamond file which are both very effective when it comes to sharpening shears. Whetstones come in various grits, and you’ll typically need a coarse grit for initial sharpening and a finer grit for refining the edge.” He continues, “Diamond files work well for coarser and older blades. They have a diamond-coated surface that can quickly remove material and create a sharp edge.”

A whetstone like the Amtech E2000 Combination Sharpening Stone from Amazon is an inexpensive choice for sharpening. Look for a 200 grit whetstone or close for garden shear blades. To get the best finish remove the central bolt in your shears and sharpen each blade individually.

Another option is to use a multi-purpose blade sharpener like the Multi-Sharp Multi-Purpose Blade Sharpener from Amazon. This is a sanding stone that neatly fits in a drill and creates the right angle for sharpening. We have used this tool multiple times and it provides a crisp clean and sharp edge in seconds. 

Can you sharpen shears with sandpaper? 

No you can’t. But you can use sandpaper to help clean your shears. The blades typically darken thanks to sap drying on the blades which can affect the cutting action. Spray a drop of lubricant like WD-40 from Amazon onto the blades and use a fine grit sandpaper – 180/220 is good – and gently rub down the affected areas until blades are clean. Give them a wipe with a clean cloth or rag and then add a drop of WD-40 and wipe up and down the clean blade to help protect the blade.

While you’ve got the WD-40 out, give the central bolt a quick spray if the shears are a bit stiff – which they often are if they haven’t been used for a while.  

Do you sharpen both sides of garden shears? 

Yes. Garden shears have two cutting edges – one on each blade, so you need to sharpen  both blades to get maximum efficiency and a crisp clean cut. It is pointless sharpening one cutting edge and leaving the other.  

How much does it cost to sharpen shears professionally? 

If you don’t have the tools needed to sharpen your garden shears, or you would prefer a professional to do it for you, the cost is nominal. Typical prices range from £5-£7. But if you are using a mobile sharpening service that comes to your house you should expect to pay a little more. Check your local services for prices in your area.  

Steve Jenkins

Steve is Homebuilding & Renovating's DIY content editor, and has been a writer and editor for two decades. He is an avid DIYer with over 20 years of experience in transforming and renovating homes. He specialises in painting and decorating, but has strong all-round building skills, having previously worked in the industry for 10 years.