When Sharpening A Shovel Should Bevel Be On Top Or Bottom Of Edge

Question From: Plymouth, Michigan, United States
Q: Nancy, I've been researching how to sharpen a variety of garden tools and the only ones I'm confused about are the round-nose shovel and the flat spade. Everything I've seen online shows that the shovel should be sharpened on the top edge (the side that soil is picked up). I've not been able to find anything about my flat spade, but I bought it almost 40 years ago (when manufacturers put a bevel on it) and the bevel is on the underside (opposite of the shovel). Can you tell me why the top of the shovel is sharpened, while the bottom of my flat spade would be sharpened (sharpen only the bevel)? Would it have anything to do with the angle the tool enters the soil? Thanks!

A: Frank, Current wisdom says the bevel goes on the top edge. Never try to change the bevel regardless of the side it's on. Here's a great article by my gardening friend, Pat Stone, who used to be the editor of Mother Earth News. It should answer most of your questions. If you need more help e-mail him at [email protected]. Subscribe to his magazine Green Prints and he will be your friend for life. Best And Happy Yardening, Nancy http://www.motherearthnews.com/diy/tool-sharpening-zmaz87ndzgoe

Q: Nancy, thanks for the reply, but I already have that article and it doesn't answer my specific question because it assumes (in Sharpening Axiom No. 1: Sharpen single-beveled tools ONLY on the beveled side) that there is already a bevel. I contacted Ames tool company about putting an initial bevel on a flat spade (all sources agree that the top/inside of the shovel is what should be beveled) and they said it could either be created on the top (like a shovel) or on the bottom (like my 40 year old flat spade has from the factory). Any other sources that you might have, so I can answer definitively where to put an initial bevel on a flat space (front-inside or back)? Also, you said "Current wisdom say the bevel goes on the top edge" but is there any justification for that (e.g. any reasoning that explains why that is the current wisdom), so I can explain it to others and have it make sense? Thanks, Frank

A: Interesting questions Frank. I am knee deep in moving - cleaning out a pole barn, a 1500 square foot basement and - on and on, so I haven't the time to do deep research. But I have some folks who make tools that I can contact, but that will be a winter project.

You could be correct that bevel selection might have something to do with the angle at which the flat spade is expected to enter the soil (or is used to scoop up a pile of material) - and possibly different uses warrant different bevels.  Regarding different angles for different uses, there is some similar interesting debate among woodworkers regarding the bevel on hand plane blades (see this video for some interesting discussion of wood plane blade angles: http://www.renaissancewoodworker.com/the-bevel-up-and-bevel-down-hand-plane-debate/ ) and when using wood chisels bevels can sometimes be used up or down depending upon what one is doing.  It's also possible that if the bevel is on the bottom side of your flat spade and is parallel to the ground as you are scraping up material from a pile, you might preserve a sharpened edge for a longer period of time as the scraping that occurs during work (especially if scraping a pile of material off a harder surface) is more in-line with the beveled edge than running against it.

Best Nancy