A Cleaner, Sharper Tool = A Happy Garden

By: Darcy Cropp

Spring is right around the corner, so I thought it would be a good time to talk about our garden tools.  We work with them all year long, sometimes forgetting to store or clean them properly.  This month we are going to talk about how to clean and sharpen your tools.  Since the weather has been so unpredictable, on the cold days you can go through your tools in your garage or shed.  On the nice, sunny days you can pull all your tools out and do some inventory.  Let’s get started!

I like to divide and categorize my tools as I am going through them.  For example, I put my digging tools in a separate pile from my rakes, and my hand tools separate from pruning tools.  I check to see what needs sharpened, cleaned or thrown out.  Don’t discount your shovels with broken handles because the handle can be replaced, which means a brand new shovel is one less tool you’ll need to purchase in the spring.

My next step is to break out my cleaning supplies, which includes WD-40, rubbing alcohol, linseed oil, a steel brush or abrasive pad and sand paper.  These are just a few of the basics to get started.  Everyone has, or uses, different products, so find what is around the house that will be appropriate for cleaning up dirty, rusty tools.  It is a good practice to clean tools after each use.  I don’t remember to clean them every time, but I try to do it regularly because of the risk of infecting my plants with a disease or virus.

Here’s what to do when cleaning your tools.  When I have a rusty shovel or loppers,  my WD-40 comes in handy.  I use a wire brush or abrasive pad to clean off as much rust as possible.  Then I wipe it down with a rag to see if I need to do any additional scrubbing.  After I clean all my rusty tools, I spray them with WD-40 and rub it in with another rag.  This practice helps to protect my tools — as long as I don’t forget and leave them outside of course!  I use the sandpaper to sand down my handles where they have become rough and splintered.  After I sand them so nothing catches when I rub my hands along the handle, I put linseed oil on a rag and rub it into the handle.  The oil is absorbed into the wood and helps to soften the handle.  For those tools that aren’t rusty, use rubbing alcohol to sanitize parts that were used in cutting or digging.

When I pull out my cleaning supplies I also pull out my sharpening supplies, which include a mill file, dry stone and a grinder.  These are just a few of the tools that can be used to sharpen shovels, loppers and shears.  For those tools that need more sharpening than you as a home gardener are up for, such as your saw blades, there are people in the community who provide tool sharpening services.

Working with sharp tools makes life so much easier in the garden.  Even our shovels need an edge put on them from time to time so that we can cut through soil and roots with ease.  Here are a few pointers for sharpening a couple of tools, and then I will give a website to check out that I have found extremely helpful. . When filing your shovel, place the file at a forty-five-degree angle and file along the tip of your shovel from left to center, right to center.  You will need to make at least fifteen strokes in order to show new metal.  If your shovel is in need of more than just a sharper point, then the grinder will be the tool for you.  Now for your loppers, start at the tip and make your way to the bevel.   Apply pressure as you push the file away from you.  When you see fresh steel, you know you have accomplished your goal.  Just check the back side for any burrs, which can be filed smooth.  To view photos of these and other pointers visit www.familyhandyman.com and search “sharpening garden tools.”  This website provides step-by-step instructions and photos as well.

By cleaning your tools properly and keeping them sharp you will ensure that you make good, clean cuts on your plants and that they are healthy.  Hopefully these tips will put you on the right track for getting one more thing accomplished before spring.  Happy gardening!