One of the most important things a gardener possesses is his or her gardening tools. Gardening tools make our experience in the garden faster, easier, and more enjoyable overall. That said it simply amazes me when gardeners don't take care or maintain their tools. Not only do they make our gardening experience more enjoyable, but they also cost a LOT of money. So since fall has arrived, and we are all starting to clean up and put our tools away, I thought I would put together a quick "Garden Tool Maintenance" post.
There really are no secrets to long lasting tools, if you buy good quality tools to start with, and maintain them they'll serve you well into the future. Taking care of your gardening tools isn't difficult, and it just takes a little time and some everyday household products.
Gather these materials/products before you begin:
- Work gloves
- A simple bastard file
- Wire brush, steel wool, or a wire brush attachment for your drill
- Rags (I use old T-shirts ripped into pieces)
- Linseed oil or some type of lubricant
- Drop cloths
First, and maybe the most important thing to remember is to keep your gardening tools protected from moisture! The second thing to remember is that poor regular maintenance lets wear and tear to take over, and ultimately the tools fail. The final, and probably the most important thing to remember, is that preventative maintenance is the best maintenance.
There are 5 basic steps to maintaining your gardening tools:
- Cleaning the tool
- Removing rust from the tool
- Sanding the tool (if a wooden handle is involved)
- Sharpen the tool
- Oil the tool
Step 1: Clean the tool
Spray of any mud, dirt, or grime using your TUFF GUARD brand Perfect Garden Hose, and the jet setting on your hose nozzle. Next, dry the tool completely with old cloths or rags (I like to use old ripped up T-shirts), and leave in a dry place overnight to ensure all moisture is removed.
Step 2: Remove rust and/or “grime” from the tool
Use steel wool for lighter tools such as pruners, and use a wooden handle or wire brush attachment for your drill for heavier tools like shovels. I use a pretty heavy steel wool on my pruners as they pick up a lot of “grime” from sticky limbs, flowers, and shrubs. My tools are kept inside my gardening shed so their exposure to moisture isn’t that great. That said a simple wooden handled wire brush is sufficient to clean what rust accumulates on my shovels, spades, etc… However, if your tools are exposed to a lot of moisture, and have accumulated a large amount of rust I highly suggest investing in a wire brush attachment for your drill. Try not to dig into the steel to much as you’ll weaken the tool.
Step 3: Sanding the tool
Many tools today can be purchased with handles forged from fiberglass or other “man-made”, but if you’re like me you love the old fashion wooden handled tools. Start with heavy grade sandpaper and work down to a light grade for the best results. After you’ve removed any splinters and have a nice smooth handle wipe it down with a damp rag to ensure there’s no debris left.
Step 4: Sharpen the tool
Use a metal bastard file to sharpen the tool. For shovels and the like only file enough to remove any nicks or burs that are present, like removing the rust you don’t want to go to deep as you can weaken the tool. Use the same file to sharpen cutting tools like pruners, but follow up with an oiled sharpening stone for best results.
Step 5: Oil the tool
I prefer to use linseed oil on my own gardening tools however any form of lubricating oil will work. Rub the oil into the steel & wood parts of the tool with a clean rag, wiping away any that is not absorbed by the tool. The oil will act as a barrier to moisture preventing rust, and rot. You can put a fresh coat of polyurethane on the wood handles but the oil is fine. Also, oil the moving parts of pruners, shears, hedge trimmers, etc…with lubricating oil to ensure the tool doesn’t “set up”.
- Always put your tools away clean, and dry
- Store your tools off the ground and in a dry place
- Remove any rust that forms on a tool
- Keep wooden handles smooth by sanding and oiling them
- Keep cutting edges sharp
- NEVER use your tools or something they were not intended to do!!
So as you can see, whether it preventative or regular maintenance, what you're really trying to do is prevent the handles on your tools from drying out, and the metal from rusting it’s as simple as that! Like I said before, there really are no secrets to long lasting tools, a little time & elbow grease and your gardening tools will serve you and yours well into the future!
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