Garden Tool Care & Maintenance
Take care of your garden tools and they will take care of you! Well, that’s easy to say but if you are like me, cleaning and oiling my garden tools is the the last thing I want to do after a day of gardening! My mind will be clearly set on showering and putting my feet up with something cold to drink. But seriously, your garden tools will last a lot longer (especially the wood handled tools) if you show them a little love every once in a while. Read our tips below to learn how best to clean, sand, sharpen, and oil your garden tools!
Round up all your tools, a bucket of warm water and a wire or stiff bristle brush. Start with the brush and knock off the majority of the dirt on your tools. Once you have the dirt removed, scrub the remaining off with the warm water (warm water isn’t a necessity but is helpful). Then rinse and let them air dry or wipe them with a towel.
Once your garden tools are dry, it’s a good time to sand any wood handles. Moisture, whether it’s from water in the soil, dew or rain will raise the grain of the wood, making it feel rought. Gardeners that live in high humiditiy regions will also see/feel this “grain raising” more often. Just about any sandpaper will work for this, but I suggest starting out with an 80 grit paper and finishing with a 120-150 grit for a nice smooth handle surface. Also, now is a good time to take care of any rust on your tools. A wire brush is a good option for knocking off the majority of rust, especially in those tight spaces, but you’ll find that that 80 grit sandpaper will do a better job. If you have a small electric sander, this process will go a lot faster.
Now is a good time to to have a look and sharpen any tools that need it. You can sharpen your tools with a range of sharpening tools, but most gardeners find that a flat file (available here or at your local hardware store) will handle all their sharpening needs. Before you start, a word about safety. Please, wear eye protection. The smallest sliver of metal in the eye can be very painful. Also, wear some heavy gloves to prevent those same slivers of metal from your hands and to prevent cuts from you newly sharpened tools. Garden tool sharpening can be a dangerous operation if you don’t have the tool secured properly, so secure it in a vise if you have one, clamp it to a table or just get someone to sit on it. Just make sure it’s secure before you start sharpening. Every tool blade typeically has some sort of edge bevel on it, so try to file it at the same angle that is already there. Too much (steep) angle will indeed make your tool very sharp, but because the leading edge is so thin, it will be subject to damage by the smallest of stones, so try to stick with the angle provided.
Let’s start by saying, do not use any petroleum based oil on your garden tools…you’ll just end up transferring that oil on your tools to the soil in the garden. Boiled Linseed Oil is a recommended natural product from the seed of the flax plant and can be used on the metal and wood parts of your tools. Apply liberally to the tools with a soft cloth, let it sit for about 15 minutes and then wipe off any excess. Gardeners who live in drier climates should oil their handles more often to prevent your handles from drying out and cracking. Rust on any of your tools is the result of oxygen and water reacting with the metal, so the purpose of the oil is to create a barrier between the metal and oxygen/water.
When you buy a tool that was not made with quality materials or craftsmanship, you will replace that tool many times. Those same tools are not designed for easy movement of the body. The lack of quality materials and design will wreck havoc on your body and the time you spend in the garden. Although you will spend more on a well made tool, you will have it for many years rather than having to replace it every couple of years. The tool companies listed below will guide you in selecting quality tools that you can pass down to other gardeners.