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How To Sharpen Your Trowel by Hand


The New, Improved, WHS Trowel

The New, Improved, WHS Trowel

Katrien Janin (c) 2006
An archaeologist's closest friend is a sharp trowel, handled safely and deftly. Sharpening your trowel in the correct fashion is a time-honored way to show you really are an archaeologist...
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 30 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Buy the right brand of trowel: either Marshalltown or a WHS pointing trowel. Both of these types of trowels are built to stand up to the kind of abuse only an archaeologist can dish out.
  2. If this trowel has never been sharpened before (in other words, you just purchased it at the local hardware store), seriously consider using a bench grinder to put the initial edge on it. The entire process will take a lot longer if you start with a never-sharpened edge.
  3. Obtain a serviceable rasp or bastard file. Make sure there is no dirt clinging to the file and that there are no rusty places on it; use a wire brush to clean the file first if necessary.
  4. Sit in a comfortable position out of doors. Shade is good, since you'll be there for awhile.
  5. Place the trowel blade flat on your thigh just above your knee. If you are left handed, use your left thigh; right handed, use your right thigh.
  6. Point the handle toward your body. Maintain the bastard file at a flat angle nearly parallel to the blade of the trowel.
  7. For the first stroke, push the file across the edge of the long edges of the blade of the trowel, moving it away from your body towards your knee in a single long motion. Begin in the center of the trowel and move outwards. Your goal is a shallow fairly sharp edge.
  8. Repeat each stroke in the same manner. Don't scrub it back and forth! Switch from inside blade edge to outside blade edge as your hands tire, but don't sharpen the bottom of the blade.


  1. Don't sharpen the two short edges of the blade closest to the handle. This is not only useless to the excavation, it's downright dangerous in the case of trowel slippage during use.
  2. A bench grinder is a wonderful thing--just be sure to sharpen only the top side of the blade, and make a fairly shallow angle to your blade.
  3. A very sharp trowel is not always wanted at an archaeological site; if it's too sharp it can cut right through bone or soft ceramic sherds. Consider your particular conditions before you take it to dangerous edges.

What You Need

  • Trowel (WHS or Marshalltown)
  • Bastard file
  • Bench grinder (optional)

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