Sharpening a flatground blade

2 Push gently along the stone. Lift, and repeat movement several times. Give final rub on the fine side of the stone.

1 Pour a little oil on the coarse side of a carborundum stone. Hold a hollow-ground blade facing forward at a very acute angle to the stone.

2 Push gently along the stone. Lift, and repeat movement several times. Give final rub on the fine side of the stone.

Lay flat-ground blade on the stone. With slight pressure towards sharpened edge, draw along the stone to the end. Repeat movement.

Although a sharp knife has always been regarded as the gardener's main cutting instrument for propagation, modern practice makes just as much use of a suitably designed pair of secateurs; and where these can be used, they are much more effective than a knife because they are quick and easy to use and because they are also less liable to cause injury to the plant material.

A pair of secateurs can not only cope with the final cut on any stem that is firm and hard enough to cut cleanly but can also be used for the initial cutting of softer stems, which may at the final stage need to be trimmed carefully with a knife or razor blade.

There are two basic secateur designs: the "anvil" type and the "scissor" type. Anvil secateurs have one sharp blade, usually hollow ground on both sides, which cuts through the stem by "crushing" it against a broad flat surface (the anvil). Scissor secateurs also have one sharpened blade, but normally only the internal surface is ground flat. This blade cuts by rotating past the anvil blade as in a conventional pair of scissors. The scissor types are preferable simply because they make a cleaner cut and cause less crushing and bruising in the region of the cut. Other secateur designs such as those with a ratchet action are not necessary for propagation.

When choosing a pair of secateurs ensure that their size is convenient, the handles feel comfortable, and that they are easy to operate. It~is best to choose a spring-loaded pair so that they reopen automatically after each cut—it is tedious to have to keep opening the blades for each incision. Select a pair with a catch that keeps the secateurs closed when out of use so they are not dangerous and the cutting edge is protected. Some types of secateurs have a sap groove, which helps to prevent the blades sticking. Like all tools for propagation, a pair of secateurs should ideally be kept only for this purpose to prevent the blades becoming prematurely blunt and ineffective.

As with knives it is usually possible to judge secateurs on the basis of cost: expensive types are normally well designed, easy to dismantle and reassemble and have good-quality steel blades that retain their cutting edge for a long period.

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