Note From The Editor: Please welcome my husband, who has agreed to add to our blog with bits of wisdom from around the Homestead. I am creating a special maintenance and DIY category just for him. I look forward to all of his great ideas!
Making Your Garden Tools Last Takes a Proper Maintenance Program
Spring is finally creeping up on us and with it comes the time to check over all of your garden tools and make sure they are up to the task. If you had taken the time to prepare them for storage at the end of last summer, this shouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand if you are like most of us, you knocked the worst of the dirt off and stuck them in the shed or garage. With this in mind, join me as I take you through preparing your tools for storage and taking care them throughout the year.
It is Only Natural to Have a Large Collection
If you are like most avid gardeners, you have managed to acquire an extensive collection of garden tools. I know we have invested a pretty hefty chunk of money in garden tools. Unless you plan to continuously replace your tools as they fall apart, you need to institute a proper and regular maintenance program. As with any tool you own, if you do not invest the time to take care of your garden tools, they will not last.
Whenever you have a hobby that requires specific tools, there is nothing better than spending that little bit extra to buy good quality tools. While it might require spending a little extra in the beginning, I find the payoff is not only having tools that will last longer, but in having tools that will make each task a little easier.
Just as the chef keeps his knives sharp, you will find keeping your garden tools clean, properly sharpened and ready to use makes gardening far more fun. Our newly sharpened hoe cuts down weeds far more effectively and churns up the soil in far less time. A rake with well-defined points and straight tines will make leveling your soil and raking up the weeds faster with less effort. You can’t do this with cheap tools any more than you can with tools that are not properly taken care of.
The best part is that it does not have to take hours to care for your collection of hand tools, it only takes a few minutes for each tool. But that few minutes of your time can provide you with tools that last a lifetime.
Starting with the Handles
Chances are good that most of your garden tools have wood handles, some are short such as your garden fork, and others like those on your rake or hoe are much longer. Long or short the handles must all be taken care of if you don’t want splinters in your hands. Each handle should be sanded smooth at least once per year. Clean the dirt and grime off each handle using a damp cloth, and set them aside to dry.
Take a sheet of fine sandpaper and lightly sand the handle to remove any roughness, this is a good time to give the handle a thorough inspection. As long as there are no major cracks or divots in the handle, it is ready for the final touch. Wipe the handle down with a good quality linseed oil. The idea is to soak the handle to the point where it will absorb any more oil. Set it aside and repeat for each wooden handled tool.
Once you have done this to all of your wooden handled tools, leave them to sit and dry for approximately half an hour. Wipe off any excess oil and you are done. Doing this once each year at the end of the gardening season ensures the wood will not dry out over the winter and that the handles will stay smoother and more flexible all summer long. If you have not done this over the winter, you can still do it now, but be sure to do it next fall before you put your tools away.
Fortunately, fiberglass handles require very little in the way of maintenance. All you really need to do is give them a good wash down to remove any dirt or grime. However, now is a good time to give each handle a thorough examination. Fiberglass can be damaged by the sun and if you apply to much stress it will crack. Catching any signs of damage early can save someone from getting seriously hurt if a handle should happen to break under a load. Remember to store your tools with fiberglass handles out of the sun.
Metal Tools and Tool Surfaces
The biggest problem you are ever likely to face with your garden tools is rust. If you are not proactive in your fight against rust, it will destroy your valuable garden tool collection in a very short period of time. Taking care of the metal parts of tools such as garden forks, hoes, shovels and spades is a two part process.
The first part of the process covers how you clean and store them, the other concerns how you take care of them at the end of the season. Let’s start with daily cleanup and storage.
You will need the following:
- A garden hose
- A five gallon bucket
- A bag of sand
- Motor oil (you can use vegetable oil if you prefer, it is less hazardous to your garden).
Pour the sand into the five gallon bucket, and add enough oil to keep the sand damp. Clean and rinse as much dirt as you can off of each tool. Then insert the tool into the bucket and then move it up and down several times. Not only does this remove any leftover dirt, the oil will help to protect the metal and keep it from rusting. You can store your tools in the sand all year long, right through winter, the oil in the sand will continue to protect the metal.
At the end of gardening season, you should take a wire brush and use it to remove any dirt or light rust that may have formed. If any of your tools have a heavier layer of rust you can use steel wool to remove it, or soak the tool in pure white vinegar. If you have to sand the rust to remove it, you need to protect the bare metal by spray painting it with a good quality rustproof primer. You can then store your tools with a fresh coat of primer or for those that will fit, slide them back into your bucket of oiled sand for the off season.
Sharpening Your Tools
If you are serious about taking good care of your garden tools, proper maintenance includes keep the edges of certain tools nice and sharp. This includes hoes, shovels and spades, it can also to a certain extent, include the prongs on your garden rake. There are two methods you can use, the simplest and safest is to use a metal file. You can also do the job with a small, handheld electric grinder.
The only other tool you need is a bench vise to hold the tool in place. This is not absolutely necessary, but it will make the job easier. If you are going to use a hand file, you need a good quality mill file. This is nothing more than a common metal file available in any hardware store, you need one that is relatively fine.
Take the file and set on the edge of the tool trying to match the original bevel. You move the file away from your body using smooth even strokes. Do not drag the file back, lift it from the edge and place it back at the starting position. This results in a faster cut and no damage to your file. With a hand grinder you can achieve the same results in far less time, but you must use a light touch or you could destroy the edge rather than sharpen it.
Once you have restored the edge to your tool, flip it over and file just enough from the other side to remove any burrs or roughness. Lightly oil or paint the fresh edge and your tool is nicely sharpened and ready for use. You should do this several times during the season and at the end of the season before you place your tools in storage. If you are not storing them in the sand bucket, you should paint the fresh edge to prevent rust.
Pruning Tools Take Extra Care
If you have pruning tools in your garden tool collection, you need to oil the pivot after every use. In order to sharpen them properly, you may need to disassemble them. Instead of a file, you need a whetstone to put a new edge on them. A good trick used by professionals is to use a black marker and run it along the surface of the edge to be sharpened.
You are finished once all of the marker has been removed. The only edges you should be sharpening are those that are beveled. You must keep the shape of the bevel as you sharpen to maintain maximum cutting ability. If you have a very expensive pair of pruners, you may find taking them to a professional sharpening service is a better idea.
One Final Thought
Your garden tools are only going to last if you take good care of them. Anytime you are using a file or a grinder, you need to be wearing safety glasses to protect your eyes from flying metal filings. All it takes is a single metal filing in your eye to cause serious damage. With a little care and attention, your tools should last for many, many years and help you produce endless amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers.