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Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011 04:38 pm

Fall is time to care for your tools

Garden best practices: clean, sharpen, store properly


After the garden is cleaned up and put to bed for the winter, it is a great time to give your tools some attention.   Ideally garden tools should be cleaned, sharpened and hung in the correct place after every use.  However, I think most gardeners are like myself, use the tool and be happy that it ended up in the shed and not laying in the yard.  

There is one tool in my shed that never gets touched, Grandma Edna’s shovel.  In the corner of my grandmother’s shed was a wire brush, a bucket of sand with oil in it, a cotton rag and a mill file.  After every use my grandparents cleaned and sharpened tools and put them back in their place.  Since I respect my grandmother and her diligence in caring for her tools, I can’t bring myself to use the shovel unless I follow this cleaning ritual.    

Quality garden tools that are properly cared for will last longer  and clean, sharp blades will make garden work easier.  In addition, cleaning tools removes disease inoculum that can be in soil and plant debris left on the tool.  

Before storing tools for the winter, first remove soil and debris.  Use a strong spray of water, wire brush or putty knife to remove caked on soil.  Don’t forget the back of the neck. Remove small soil particles and rust spots with sandpaper or steel wool.  If tools have rust, clean with a product such as Loctite Naval Jelly Rust Dissolver. Lubricate tool pivot points and springs with machine oil.

Sharpen larger tools such as hoes and shovels with a #10 bastard mill file or power drill with a coarse grinding disk or wheel.  To prepare for sharpening, place the tool in a vice, wear a pair of leather gloves and don’t forget your safety glasses.  The cutting edge should be sharpened to maintain the same angle as the original bevel.  Start with the top edge of the tool, file away from you, and only file one way maintaining a 45-degree angle.  File the opposite side lightly to remove metal burrs. If you haven’t sharpened a tool before, it takes practice. If you regularly file your tools, this job will be much easier.  Finally, wipe or spray metal parts with a petroleum-based lubricant and rust-inhibitor such as WD-40.

Now that the metal parts are clean, the handle needs some attention.  Fiberglass handles simply need to be washed and dried.  To prevent splinters, sand any rough spots on wooden handles with a fine to medium sandpaper.  Replace weak or broken handles.  Most hardware stores carry replacement handles.  

Remove dust and rub linseed oil into wooden handles.  Let it soak in.  Apply until it doesn’t absorb into the wood anymore, then dry off any remaining oil.  Tighten nuts, bolts and screws.  Replace them if they are worn or rusty.  Last but not least, apply a band of bright colored paint or tape to the handle.  This will help you to find tools that have been left out in the yard or in your neighbor’s garage.

Bladed tools should be disinfected after each use with rubbing alcohol or a 10 percent bleach/water solution. Lubricate moving parts of clippers and pruning shears with oil.  Once a year or as pruners become dull, sharpen the blade.  Many pruners can be disassembled for sharpening (just remember how to put it back together).  Use a whetstone to sharpen beveled blades and be sure to maintain the original shape of the bevel.

Store tools in a clean dry indoor area and keep the blade end off the ground.  Hang tools or store blades upright.  

Don’t forget about chemical sprayers. These should be cleaned after every use.  Before storing for the winter, thoroughly wash and rinse all parts.  Most chemical manufacturers recommend triple rinsing of sprayers.  Check the owner’s manual for other maintenance suggestions such as applying oil to all moving parts.  Hang the sprayer upside down until thoroughly dry.

Garden hoses are often forgotten in the fall.  Odds are we haven’t used them lately and therefore, we forget to store them properly.  Be sure to drain all water from the hose and store it in a dry location.  In the winter, water left in plastic hoses will cause the hose to freeze and crack.  Store hoses on hose reel supports or coil loosely.

Wheelbarrows, carts and wagons should be thoroughly cleaned.  Touch up chipped paint surfaces with spray paint to prevent exposed steel from rusting.  

Refer to the owner’s manual for specific instructions on cleaning and storing power equipment.  Avoid costly mistakes such as storing a power washer in an outdoor shed. In general, power equipment such as lawn mowers, tillers and chippers should be thoroughly cleaned.  Remove caked-on soil, plant material and grass clippings from equipment.  Tighten loose screws and nuts.  Sharpen blades.

If you don’t have the tools to (or feel comfortable with the task) sharpen mower blades or pruners, take them to a professional.  It is best to do this in the fall when there is no big rush to get them back.

Just think about how nice it will be next spring when you go to the garden shed or garage and find all your garden tools ready for use.

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