Keeping your garden tools in good repair will add years to their life. It will also make your job easier next spring, as they will be sharp, oiled, and ready for use. The first step to putting away your gardening tools for the winter is giving them a thorough inspection.
Wooden handles – These will need to be sanded and oiled well before storing for the winter. Wipe handles clean to remove dirt, using little or no water. Using fine sand paper, sand the handles smooth.
To preserve your wooden handles, wipe them down with soft rag to remove the dust from sanding. Using a soft cloth, rub the wooden handles with linseed oil and let it soak in. Wait about half an hour between applications. Keep applying the oil until the wood no longer absorbs any more. Wait another half hour and then dry off any oil remaining on the surface.
If you have wooden handles that are starting to split, wipe them down with a soft cloth to remove dust from sanding, then tape them with electrical tape. Start at the top of the split and wrap the tape in a spiral pattern, being sure that each wrap laps over the previous one. The taped area should extend at least an inch above and below the splitting area. The taping should be done down the length of the split area and at least back up again. I would do another layer on top of that, making the taped area three layers thick. You may want to wrap the entire handle, as you will not be able to oil one that has been taped.
Fiberglass parts – Wash with warm soapy water and then hang them up to dry. Check handles for any signs of splintering or cracking. You don’t want to place a lot of pressure or force on a tool with a cracked handle. Tools with cracked fiberglass handles should be replaced. If it should it break while you were using it, you could end up wounded or worse.
Metal surfaces – Metal tools like shovels, rakes, and hoes should be stored in a five-gallon bucket filled with sand to which oil has been added. Coating the tools with oil removes rust from them and prevents it from recurring. You can use motor oil, vegetable oil, or WD-40 – any of these works well. They can stand in the bucket all winter or for a short time to prepare them for storage. If you remove them from the bucket, wipe off any oil and sand left on the surface. You can also use a small bucket of oil and sand as a cleaning station year round. Each time you use the tools, clean off as much dirt as possible, then dig them up and down in the sand a few times to complete the cleaning and coat them with oil at the same time.
Once a year you should clean the metal surfaces of your tools with a wire brush to remove dirt and light rust. If the rust is worse, it can be removed by soaking the tools in white vinegar; otherwise scour them with steel wool (while wearing leather gloves to protect your hands). The extent of the rust damage will determine what grade of steel wool to use. Start with the least coarse grade that will remove the rust. Once the rust is completely removed, you can spray the tool with a rustproofing primer. Steel wool lightly when dry and repaint any rough areas.
File the cutting edge(s) of your metal tools to keep the blades sharp. Remember, even a badly sharpened tool is easier to use than a dull one. The more practice you get at filing, the better you will be. You may want to add a bench vise to your workbench to make your filing go a lot easier. It is like having an extra set of hands to hold the tools in place while you file away. If your tools are sharpened regularly, it will only take a few strokes to keep the edges sharp.
To file, use a Mill file. Starting with the top edge of the tool and file away from you. Use long, even strokes at the same angle as the original bevel. Lift the file between strokes. File the opposite side lightly to remove roughness and burrs for a clean, sharp edge.
Always hose off and dry tools well after use and sharpening to keep them sharp and free from rust. Use a general-purpose oil like three-in-one oil or lithium grease to wipe over the blades and metal surfaces between uses to condition them.
Pruners – Clean tools and blades each time they are used. Use WD-40 to keep parts moving freely. Pruners may need to be disassembled before you can sharpen them. Use a whetstone to do the sharpening. Some gardeners color the blade with a black felt marker and sharpen evenly until there is no black remaining on the blade. Only sharpen beveled edges – always sharpening away from you – and shape blades to maintain the original bevel shape.
If you have very expensive pruners, have them professionally sharpened or invest in the specialty tools to be sure that they are sharpened correctly.
If you are not confident in sharpening your own tools, you can have them sharpened professionally. No matter which choice you make, your tools will last for decades, giving you many years of easy use.
Safety glasses and gloves are as important as the care you give your tools, for they will protect you while you service your tools.
Good tool maintenance practices are not hard to complete, but not doing them will make your gardening much less pleasant. So use your time wisely and do the required maintenance to your tools each time you use them and before you store for the winter.
©2011 Off the Grid News