While we are waiting for the weather to warm up and planting season to begin, it is a good time to do some maintenance on our gardening tools. Some simple, regular maintenance can extend your tools' life and help them work more efficiently when used.
Make it a habit to clean your tools after each use. Keeping your tools clean and storing them properly is essential if you want them to last.
- After use, you should always be sure to rinse off dirt and dry thoroughly with a towel or rag before storage.
- If you’ve used a tool on diseased plants or in pest-infested areas, you should sanitize them with a soak in a diluted bleach solution comprised of 2 cups of household bleach and 1 gallon of water. Rinse thoroughly and dry before storing.
- Disinfecting wipes can be handy to remove bacteria, fungus, and sap.
- Create a lubricated sand bucket for cleaning and lubricating digging tools. You’ll want to add a plant-based oil to the sand, enough to get the sand damp, but not wet. Plunge your tools into the sand a few times to remove dirt and lubricate them before putting them away.
Avoid using petroleum products in cleaning and lubricating your tools because, upon your next use, you could introduce petroleum products to your plants. Instead, we recommend using boiled linseed oil which is available at most home improvement stores or your local hardware store.
Dealing with Rust
Regular cleaning and lubrication should help to prevent rust, however even stainless steel tools can develop rust. If you have a neglected tool that has developed rust, here are some things you can do to restore it to working order.
- Soak the tool in a 1-to-1 mixture of vinegar and water overnight
- Scrub the affected area in a circular motion with steel wool
- Rinse in soapy water and then in clean water
- Allow to dry thoroughly and then rub lightly with linseed oil
Caring for Shears and Pruners
At least once a year, you should take apart your pruners and thoroughly clean and lubricate Doing this is a good idea before you put your tools away for the winter.
- Remove the nut that holds the 2 halves of your shears together.
- Wash all parts separately in soapy water to remove stuck-on dirt
- Give a sanitizing soak in a bleach and water solution
- Rub everything with boiled linseed oil and reassemble
Sharpen Your Tools
There are many methods for keeping your tools sharp such as files, whetstones, and grinders. The best option depends on the size and type of tool. Whichever option you choose, be sure to wear eye protection and heavy gloves as metal slivers in the eyes or under the skin can be very painful.
- Make sure your tools are firmly secured. A table-mounted vice is a good option for this.
- Always follow the original bevel on your tools
- Move the file/whetstone in only one direction. Don’t rub back and forth.
- Clean and lubricate tools when done
- Don’t neglect the edges of your hoe and shovel. Keeping the edges straight will help them cut into the soil more efficiently.
Don’t Forget the Wood Handles
Exposure to moisture will tend to raise the grain of the wooden handles on your tools. Part of your annual maintenance should include sanding and sealing your wooden-handled tools.
- Start with 80-grit sandpaper to smooth the grain and finish with finer-grain sandpaper, like 120 grit
- Wipe off any dust resulting from the sanding process and then wipe a generous coat of boiled linseed oil into the handles. Allow it to set for about 15 minutes and wipe off any excess.
- You can wrap handles with cracks in them with hockey tape to prevent further damage (and save you from splinters)
Tools should be stored in a well-ventilated, dry area like a shed or garage. Hand tools can be stored and plunged into a bucket of sand dampened with boiled linseed oil. Long-handled tools like shovels, hoes, and rakes should be stored hanging up if possible to prevent dulling the blades.
A good tool can make any job easier, so it’s important to take care of your tools to ensure they last a long time. A little maintenance now will make pthe lanting season smoother.