by Matt Gibson
A gardener’s toolkit is like a fisherman’s tacklebox or a handyman’s wrench set. Most gardeners have a collection of tools that are well-worn, oft-used and more often than not, covered in rust and stained with soil. A good gardener focuses a lot of energy on maintenance and care. But a gardener’s job is not complete when their plants are provided with everything they need to look their best.
A regular session of maintenance and care is also needed to keep garden tools functioning at their best. Not only do garden tools need to be sharp, they also need to be clean and sterile to help prevent the spread of diseases and viruses throughout your garden. Tools that are exposed to soil or plants with fungal, bacterial, or insect infections can easily spread infected particles all over your garden area.
How do you clean and care for garden tools?
Though tool care may seem like a tall task after a hard day of work, whether that work was done in the office, or out in the yard, but taking care of your garden tools will help your tools last a lot longer, which will save you money on replacements in the long run. Not only will regular tool care increase the lifespan of your tools, but it will also increase their effectiveness in the short term. Sharp, clean, sterile tools will get the job done right, whereas dull, rusty, worn-out gear makes you want to skip the garden tasks altogether, just let your plants die off and allow weeds to win the war you’ve been winning for years now.
Don’t let the chore of tool care scare you away from the gardening hobby you’ve grown to love. Cleaning, sanding, oiling, and sharpening your tools is really not an extremely hard or time-consuming task at all. In fact, if you know what you’re doing, properly caring for your garden gear can be a fun and rewarding job that you can knock out in just a couple of hours.
First you want to gather all of your tools together in the same location. Then, prepare a bucket of warm water and grab a stiff bristle brush. Use the brush to knock loose the dirt and soil that has built up on the surface of your tools. You should be able to get off a large majority of it with no problem. Once you have a good portion of the dirt removed with the brush, scrub off the rest with warm water and a bit of elbow grease. Then rinse them off, let them air dry naturally or dry them off with a towel or paper towels.
Once your tools are clean and dry, the next step is to sand down any wooden handles on any of your tools that may have them. Moisture is unavoidable in a garden. It gets on your tools when you water your plants, when you set your tools down in the soil which is still moist from a recent watering or downpour. Moisture could also affect the wood on your tools if they are left unprotected during a rainstorm, or if moisture builds up on them from the morning dew. Either way, moisture will raise the grain of the wood, making it appear rough to the touch.
Gardeners who live in an especially humid region will notice the, “grain rising,” effect take place on their wooden tools and handles more often, and experience it in a more dramatic way than gardeners in dry climate areas. Just about any sandpaper will work perfectly for sanding down wooden handles, but your best bet is to start out with an 80 grit sandpaper at first and then finish the job with a heavier 120 to 150 grit sandpaper. The heavier sandpaper will help to create a nice smooth handle surface, which will make them seem like you just bought then new.
After you have your tools cleaned up and your wooden parts smoothed out with sandpaper, you now need to focus on getting rid of any rust that has built up on your garden tools since the last time you cleaned and protected your garden investments.
The best tool for removing rust is a sturdy wire brush, which will knock of the majority of rust build up, especially in hard to reach places. Another good tool for rust removal, which you already have on hand, is the 80 grit sandpaper. The sandpaper and the wire brush should work wonders on any rust on you’re removing, but the sandpaper is the better of the two tools for the job. If you happen to have a small electric sander on hand, it will make the task move along a lot faster. If not, you will need to complete the job by hand.
What can I use to sharpen my garden shears?
There are a wide array of sharpening tools that will work for this task, but most folks use a flat file, which you can find at your local hardware store. This simple, inexpensive file should be able to handle all of your sharpening duties.
How do I sharpen my garden tools?
Next, you will need to sharpen any tools that have dull blades and have been used enough to deserve a clean edge upgrade. Before getting started, please use eye protection goggles. If you don’t have a pair on hand, this is absolutely worth a trip to the hardware store. You may think, I’ll be okay if I skip the safety goggles just this once, but trust us, the smallest little piece of metal can do a lot of damage to an unprotected eyeball, and sharpening tools creates a lot of airborne slivers of metal, each capable of wreaking havoc on an unprotected eye. Also, wear some heavy duty work gloves to keep those same metal slivers from cutting up your hands as well.
Aside from tiny slivers, another safety precaution to consider when sharpening your tools is the freshly sharpened blades themselves. If the sharpening tool is not properly secured, you can do a lot of damage to your exposed extremities. If you have a vise, clamp your sharpening tool down to a table or use another method to insure that the blade is secure before you begin sharpening it and perform the sharpening slowly and carefully. This is also a great time to put your cell phone and any other distracting items away so that you can concentrate fully on the task at hand until it is completed.
Every blade on your dull tools still has an edge bevel on it, so try to sharpen using the same angle that is already used on your tool that needs sharpening. Too steep of an angle may make your tool incredibly sharp, but if the leading edge is too thin, it will be easily damaged by small stones and any imperfections in the branch or whatever you are cutting through, so attempt to keep the angle that was originally on the tool’s blade to begin with instead of creating your own.
Next, you will want to oil your tools. Please refer to the section below about which oil to use on your garden tools for the last task in your tool care instructions.
What oil do you use for garden tools?
When oiling your garden tools, you will want to avoid using any petroleum based oil. Petroleum based oil is toxic, and you will be transferring the majority of the petroleum oil to your garden soil if you use it on your garden tools. We recommend boiled linseed oil, a natural oil extracted from the seeds of the flax plant. Use linseed oil on the metal and wooden parts of your tools. Apply a good amount to all wooden and metal parts of your tools after you have cleaned them, cleared them of rust, sanded them down and sharpened them. Wait about fifteen minutes for the oil to sink into the tool’s thoroughly, then wipe off the excess with a clean rag. If you live in a drier climate, you should oil your handles more often to prevent excess drying and cracking from occurring.
The wooden parts of your tools are oiled to keep the wood from drying out, cracking, and splitting. Metal parts are oiled to keep rust from developing on the outer layers of the tools. Rust is the result of oxygen and water reacting with the metal. Oil works to create a barrier between the metal and the oxygen/water.
Cleaning, sanding, and oiling your tools is a simple way to protect your investment and insure that the tools of your trade will last a long time and function properly while you are using them.
Want to learn more tips about gardening tool care?
A Way to Garden covers 5 Simple Garden Tool-Care Tips
Better Homes & Garden covers How to Care for Garden Tools
Bob Vila covers How To: Care for Garden Tools
Garden Design covers How to Care for Garden Tools
Garden Tool Co covers Garden Tool Care and Maintenance
Grow Veg covers How to Care and Sharpen Gardening Tools