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My garden secateurs are blunt!

Have you ever picked up those old garden secateurs to find that they just squish the branches or they have rusted solid because you left them outside all season?

We’ll we’re here to the rescue! In this blog, we will show you how to make those secateurs usable again. Sharpening secateurs is easy so let’s get to it. Read through and you will find our step by step guide to sharpening your secateurs.

What kind of secateurs do you have?

There are two main types. 

  • Anvil
  • Bypass

The anvil secateurs are a design that is best suited to hardwood cuttings. The Bypass secateurs is what I want to show you how to sharpen as these are the most complex. 

Once you understand the theory behind the cutting process you will know exactly what to do. 

How do Anvil secateurs work?

Like the name suggests the anvil secateurs have an anvil. Not the sort you would find in a foundry but a soft metal or plastic anvil that the blade mates. A cantilever mechanism maintains the cutting blade parallel to the anvil. For these to work well it is imperative that the anvil is in good condition and the blade is razor-sharp.

How do bypass secateurs work?

Unlike the anvil secateurs, the bypass model works on a similar basis to scissors. The slicing action of the blade against the bottom blade cuts soft vegetation with ease. The action is emphasised by the mating top blade which accurately swipes across the side on the heavier bottom blade. Just like the anvil type the bypass is reliant on the cutting surfaces being very sharp but also accurately machined.

Big mistakes when sharpening your secateurs

You are doing some pruning and those Felcos bypass secateurs are badly bruising those rose stems. So what do you do? You bring out that pocket diamond sharpener and attempt to put an edge back on that tool, a big NO. 

Here you will learn how I sharpen my bypass pruners. The model in the picture are made by ‘Wolf’ but these are very similar in design to the repected and iconic ‘Felco’

Remember me saying about the precision grind? The problem is when these tools start to crush softwood instead of cutting it is a telling tell sign that the mating surfaces are worn. The best thing to do is polish off the back of the blades which we will explain.

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Re instigating the cut of the bypass secateurs.

Well, I am finally going to explain how I sharpen my bypass secateurs. Take a look at that tool and you will see it is made up of a few components.

  • Blade
  • Bottom blade or sometimes incorrectly called the anvil
  • Keeper plate
  • Top handle
  • Bottom handle
  • Blade screws
  • Centre nut and bolt
  • Rubber bumpers
  • Locking button

Apart from a bit of lubrication the only two components you need to worry about is the bottom and top blade. The bottom blade has no real edge but it must be perfectly flat. The top blade has a sharp edge and also need to be perfectly flat but also sharp. 

Tools needed for sharpening garden secateurs

There are many so-called all in one sharpening solutions but frankly, you should stay clear from anything that promises the unrealistic. All you need is a flat stone and a sharpening file.

I personally use diamond sharpeners

If you do not already have a perfectly flat sharpener consider purchasing a 600 grit diamond sharpener. Diamond sharpeners are fast and efficient. They also stay flat unlike silicon carbide sharpening oil stones. Also, a diamond sharpener only needs water for lubrication.

Are my secateurs in need of honing?

  1. Inspect the edge and if it looks rounded on the flat face you will need to flatten it
  2. On inspection check for any nicks or other damage
  3. Do they crush soft material
  4. When you cut a branch are there tramlines left in the cut

Sharpening the bottom and top blade.

First of all, you need to remove the bottom blade. Looking at the blade you will see two machined faces. One flat and one perpendicular which has a curve.  Don’t overly worry about the curved face as the will be sorted with the first process. 

Disassembling your bypass secateurs 

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Before you can sharpen your secateurs you will need  to dismantle them.

  1. undue the lock retaining screw.
  2. Remove the serrated nut
  3. The spindle bolt can now slide out
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So you have exposed the spindle bolt.

  1. Remove the bolt and seperate the two handles
  2. Remove the top and bottom blade from the handles, you may need to prise them off.
  3. Clean all the components ready for sharpening
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  1. Put the diamond sharpener onto a flat surface. You want to prevent it from sliding around so use a rubber anti-slip mat or put it in a vice. 
  2. Place a blade flat machined  side down onto the sharpener
  3. Lubricate the sharpener with water or Windex
  4. Using your finger push the blade back and forth several times until it is perfectly flat and polished
  5. If your top blade has a micro bevel you should hone this onto the blade with with a fine diamond sharpener.
  6. Hone the 30° bevel grind using the flat diamond sharpener and a swiping motion
  7. The process will create a burr which you will need to remove
  8. you need to bend the burr back and forth until it breaks away using a simple leather strop or the palm of your hand.
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Repeat the process on the the bottom blade. With the exception of a little work on the grind angle. Use a round diamond file for that angle. You are only knocking back the burr that was created from the previous process. 

After you have completed the sharpening of the bottom and top blades  you can go to the assembly stage.

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  1. Lubricate all the parts of you secateurs before you commence with the reassembly.
  2. Clean the threads of all screws.
  3. Attach the top blade to the top handle. 
  4. Slide in the bolt from behind
  5. Slide the bottom blade over the bolt.
  6. Slide the handle lock plate over the bolt.
  7. Now grab the strange looking nut, the one with the serrated edge.
  8. And screw on clockwise to the bolt. 
  9. At this stage do not tighten
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You are well on the way to finishing up

  1. grab a screw and the locking plate. This plate locks the main nut.
  2. insert and tighter the two bottom blade screws.
  3. Pop the return screw back onto the two nodes 
  4. Apart from a little tweaking your done and now have some super sharp secateurs.
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When you have all the parts back together so they now resemble your secateurs you might need to adjust them.

  1. You do this by slacking the locking screw and plate. Turning the nut clockwise to tighten and anticlockwise to loosen. You want the cutters to operate smoothly and the spring to return them to an open position.

The sound they produce should resemble the sound you hear when you use scissors. No grinding or notches. 

The end result of sharpening pruning tools

The above process will machine the flats so they marry up perfectly. Once they are mating the cutting edges will naturally meet right on the edge and should feel positive. As long as they meet perfectly the ability to cut should be as good as you could should expect.

History of the secateurs

The first secateurs were the Anvil pattern. These were invented by a French aristocrat who happened to be a politician. During the French revolution in 1789, Marquis Bertrand de Moleville fled France for Britain to escape being executed by the mob with their guillotine. 

After his near-death experience with the blade, it was apt that de Moleville invented the secateurs in 1815

Because this new tool was easy to use and required only a little force they were ideal for lady gardeners to use. The tool was a revelation and changed the way pruning was undertaken. Before the secateurs was even an idea pruning tasks were carried out with a sharp pruning knife or scissors.

Garden writer William Robinson saw how these novel single-handed secateurs could change how pruning was done. He extensively wrote about the practical implication of the tool and soon any stigma from the male gardening population was soon erased. 

My conclusion of sharpening  secateurs

The above technique is what I use when I sharpen any of my secateurs and it works perfectly well for bypass loppers too.  So why not give it a go and save money while you garden.

Thank you for reading my blog on sharpening those blunt secateurs and if you would be kind and share this with your friends.

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Thank you for reading our blog in ‘How to Sharpen’ your secateurs. If you are wondering who I am and why you should follow our advice on sharpening? I have been working in woodworking for over thirty years and a keen gardener. I have sharpened everything from plane irons to TCT saw blades by hand and machine. This experience is easy to translate into any format of sharpening as the principles are the same. 

Written and edited by Marcus Kett – creative working for over 30 years.

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