Like any tools, garden tools need maintenance to keep them working well and to extend their lifespan. Using clean, sharp, and well-functioning tools makes your work faster and easier. Plus, it helps your plants as well, which heal much better from clean cuts, rather than messy ones. Here’s a quick lesson in the essentials of cleaning, sharpening, and oiling your garden tools!
The frequency of maintenance really depends on how much you use your tools. If you’re gardening every day, you’ll want to clean and sharpen them once per week. If you’re in the garden less frequently, perhaps once a month is enough to sharpen them, or any time they start to feel dull.
Cleaning can be a much more regular affair. Since moisture and soil on shovels, forks, and rakes encourage rust, it’s a good idea to brush them off after using them. Some people keep a bucket of moist sand in their shed, in which they thrust their dirty spades and forks to quickly remove the dirt after each use. It’s also a good idea to sanitize hand pruners and shears after each use, so you don’t spread fungi between plants. If you don’t do that every time, just remember to do it after you prune any infected branches.
Whether you do it weekly, monthly, or a few times a year, a complete round of garden tool maintenance should include cleaning, sharpening, and oiling. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
The first step is to remove any soil that’s caked onto your tools, especially your shovels, steel rakes, hoes, and forks. You can do this with a steel brush or steel wool. Simply brush and rub away any big clods of dirt, so the tools are ready for the next step. If anything is stubbornly stuck on, don’t worry, the next step will take care of it.
There are different ways to clean tools, but one easy and powerful way is to lay your tools on a tarp and spray them lightly with oven cleaner. Spray the blades of your shovels, edgers, shears, and pruners, and the heads of your rakes and hoes. You don’t need to spray the handles. Let them sit on the tarp for a few minutes so the oven cleaner sets in, and then scrub them with steel wool or a scouring pad. Scrub away any rust while you’re at it. After you’re finished, all the blades, tines, and heads should be clean.
Note: an alternative is to use a bucket of warm water and soap. Using a wet rag on the handles is often enough to clean them, unless they’re unusually dirty.
Different sharpening tools work in different ways, but the simplest way is to use a sharpening stone. The first step is to set your sharpening stone so it is flush with the bevel on your blade. Keeping it at this angle, put pressure on the stone as you move it along the whole blade. Repeat a few times. Through this process, you are removing a thin layer of the metal on the blade, so it becomes sharper. You can sharpen pruners, shears, loppers, spades, hoes, edgers, and even the pointy ends of forks and steel rakes.
Note: you must keep the same angle every time you move the stone along the blade, and you only need to sharpen the beveled edge of pruners, shears, and loppers. In other words, don’t sharpen the flat edge; it doesn’t need to be sharpened, and doing so can harm the design of the tool.
When testing the sharpness of the blade, lightly feel the edge with your thumb. It’s important not to run your thumb lengthwise along the edge, as that can easily cut you. Instead, lightly brush your thumb across the width of the blade. Once it feels like the blade is grabbing your skin, then it is sharp enough.
Once your tools are clean and sharp, the final step is to apply a thin layer of oil. Linseed oil is a good organic choice for this purpose. Drizzle a little on the blades or heads of each tool, and rub it over the metal with a rag or paper towel. Oil protects the metal from rusting. You can also dab a drop in the joints of shears and pruners to keep them lubricated.
With your tools clean, sharpened, and oiled, they’ll be ready to use or store. Perform these simple tasks often enough, and your tools will last you a long time. Plus, your gardening tasks will be much easier and more efficient!
If you have any more questions on garden tool maintenance, or if you need supplies, feel free to visit our garden center in Glenside, PA!