Take care of your garden tools and they will take care of you! Well, that’s easy to say but if you’re like me, the last thing I want to do after a day of gardening is clean and oil my garden tools...my mind is clearly set on showering and putting my feet up with something cold to drink.
Seriously, your garden tools will last a lot longer (especially wood handles) if you show them a little love every once in a while, so take a little time to clean, sand, sharpen and oil your garden tools.
Clean - Round up all your tools, a bucket of warm water and a wire or stiff bristle brush. Start with the brush and knock off the majority of the dirt on your tools. Once you have the dirt removed, scrub the remaining of with the warm water. Then rinse and let them air dry or wipe them with a towel.
Sand - Once your garden tools are dry, it’s a good time to sand any wood handles. Moisture, whether it’s from water in the soil, dew or rain will raise the grain of the wood, making it feel rough. Gardeners that live in high humidity regions will also see/feel this “grain raising” more often. Just about any sandpaper will work for this, but I suggest starting out with an 80 grit paper and finishing off with a 120-150 grit for a nice smooth handle surface.
Also, now is a good time to take care of any rust on your tools. A wire brush is a good option for knocking off the majority of rust, especially in those tight spaces, but you’ll find that the 80 grit sandpaper will do a better job. If you have a small electric sander, this process will go a lot faster.
Sharpen - Now’s a good time to have a look and sharpen any tools that need it. You can sharpen your tools with range of tools, but most gardeners find that a flat file (available here or at your local hardware store) will handle all their sharpening needs.
Before you start, a word about safety. Please wear eye protection. The smallest sliver of metal in the eye can be very painful. Also, wear some heavy gloves to prevent those same slivers of metal from your hands and to prevent cuts from your newly sharpened tools.
Garden tool sharpening can be a dangerous operation if you don’t have the tool secured properly, so secure it in a vise if you have one, clamp it to a table or just get someone to sit on it. Just make sure it’s secure before you start sharpening. Every tool blade typically has some sort of edge bevel on it, so try to file it at the same angle that is already there. Too much (steep) angle will indeed make your tool very sharp, but because the leading edge is so thin, it will be subject to damage by the smallest of stones, so try to stick with the angle that is there.
Oil - Let’s start by saying, do not use any petroleum based oil on your garden tools...you’ll just end up transferring that oil on your tools to the soil in your garden. Here at Garden Tool Co., we only use Boiled Linseed Oil. It’s a natural product from the seeds of the flax plant (except for the solvent used to keep it from hardening in the can…it evaporates after application) and can be used on the metal and wood parts of your tools. Just apply it liberally all over you tool, let it sit for about 15 minutes and then wipe off excess. Gardeners that live in drier climates should oil their handles more often to prevent your handles from drying out and cracking.
Rust on any of your tools is the result of oxygen and water reacting with the metal, so the purpose of the oil is to create a barrier between the metal and oxygen/water.
That’s it, protect your investment in garden tools and they will last a very long time.