Tools: Maintain Your Garden Tools Properly

Our garden tools are the backbone of the garden. It’s important to take proper care of them. By taking the time to clean, sharpen and put away your garden equipment you will make it last for years.

As I write this on the first day of fall, I am thinking about what chores I need to do to tuck most of my beds away for the winter. Some beds – the chosen ones - will remain productive with cool weather crops and overwintering garlic and onions.

This article will cover the basics of getting your tools ready for a long winter’s nap.

Why Bother?

My grandfather’s family immigrated from Italy in the early 1900s. They were lucky to have a piece of land during the depression when hard times made a big garden a necessity.

Being poor they valued their tools and took good care of them. He taught his children and grandchildren the value of good tools. Woe to the grandchild that left a tool out in the garden or livestock pen without putting it away. We were taught to take care of his tools – or else.

Garden hand tools cost money, especially if you have to buy new ones every year because last years spent the winter outside. My goal is to work towards self-sufficiency. That means I want to lower my garden expenses. So taking care of my tools makes sense.

Another good reason to keep your tools clean is that it keeps your garden clean. Soil-borne diseases such as dampening off and root rot can spread by the dirt on your shovel. You can also carry over pesky microorganism like nematodes.

To learn more about what basic tools I recommend for gardeners you can read my blog Tools: Choosing the right garden tool for the job.

You can make your tools last much longer by following a few simple steps.

Caleb and Hannah cleaning stalls and sending manure to the compost pile.

Caleb and Hannah cleaning stalls and sending manure to the compost pile.

Clean Your Tools

Let’s face it. Anything we use in the garden is going to get covered with encrusted dirt. Taking that dirt off before storing will preserve wood handles and keep metal from rusting.

1.      Remove the dirt. Use a metal brush like the one you use on your grill to clean off the metal parts. For the wooden handles use a kitchen scrub brush so not to gauge the wood.

2.      Use some water to remove the remaining dirt and stick it in the sun to dry.

Fine Tune

1. If your wooden handles feel rough or have splinters you will want to smooth them over. Use medium-weight sandpaper such as 100 grit and rub it over the rough spots.

2. After your tools are clean and dry the next step is to sharpen the edges and tines depending on the tool.

I start with a use a coarse file to smooth down the edge. Then I switch to a finer file to hone it down and make it sharp. It is important to maintain the factory edge or bevel. Use a 45-degree angle and scrape in the same direction. Don’t go back and forth. Work from the outside of the blade to the center.

Smaller tools such as your pruners have a joint. Use olive oil or a bicycle lubricant such as … to keep the mechanism clean and opening and closing easily.

Caution and safety are important when sharpening tools. Use eye cover. A small piece of metal in the eye can do a lot of damage. Put the tool in a vise to hold it securely so you can file them evenly.

Prevent Rust

My grandfather kept a bucket of sand that was mixed with motor oil. He would put the tool in and out of the bucket several times to coat it with the motor oil. While that does prevent rust it is not an eco-friendly method.

Boiled linseed oil is made from the plant flax. It is an environmentally friendly way to preserve the wood on your tools and prohibit rust on the metal parts.

Store Tools

The best way to store your tools is to have a designated place for them. Let’s be honest. If you’re like me you are often in a hurry and trying to do multiple things at once. You can’t afford to be looking for a tool to get a task done.

Having a designated storage place makes it easy to find your tools. A garden shed or barn works well.

Make sure you hang them up so that they do not get knocked over and broken. This also helps to keep them clean.

Larger tools can hang on hooks on the side of the barn. I hang my bigger tools on the back wall of the barn.

Smaller tools can hang on a pegboard. I have a workroom with a pegboard and shelves to store my smaller tools.

If you live in the city you may not have a barn or a tool shed. Make a designated area in the mudroom or the garage. There are a lot of good storage space saver options that will help you keep organized.

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Author, Ame Vanorio is a former teacher and the director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center. She teaches classes locally and online about organic gardening, green building, living off-grid and wildlife conservation. Ame is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. In addition, she is a freelance writer and writes for several gardening, tiny house and pet websites. She lives off-grid on her Kentucky farm with a myriad of domestic and wild animals.