Every gardener has his or her own tool rituals. Some buy one new deluxe tool every season and take particular care to maintain and store it properly, while others simply replace ho-hum tools as they break. To simplify gardening and save time, purchasing and taking care of high quality tools is its own reward.
There is something about really good tools that makes any hobby or project more enjoyable. A good fountain pen may not make the writer, but the even flow of ink and the scritch-scritch as it delivers your thoughts on paper can make old-fashioned scribing an enjoyable and relaxing past time. And most cooks know that high quality knives are not only more comfortable to use, but are better balanced and retain their edge longer.
So it is with gardening tools. Tools with sharp, forged blades take out weeds painlessly, cultivate effortlessly, and are a pleasure to hold. Never cheap, such tools require regular care to hold their edge and retain their value. Tools that have been cared for take on a patina over the years and become constant companions. As the price of high quality tools rises, you'll notice the higher quality of your older tools as compared with similar new tools with increasingly hefty price tags.
Wood handles on long and short tools need to be sanded and oiled at regular intervals, usually once a year is enough. Wipe off the handle to clean, and use little if any water. Use fine sand paper to smooth the surface. Remove the dust and rub linseed oil into the handle. Let it soak in. Use as much as it takes until it doesn't absorb any more. Wait about a half hour, then dry off any remaining on the surface.
Wash with soap and water, then dry.
Store metal tools like shovels in a 5-gallon bucket filled with coarse sand to which oil (motor oil or vegetable oil) has been added. You can store tools in the winter in the sand or remove and wipe off. Alternately, you can use a smaller bucket of sand and oil as a cleaning step. Each time you use your tools, clean as much dirt as you can, then dig the tool up and down in the sand a few times to clean off remaining dirt and coat the head with oil. The oil coating prevent rusts.
Once a year, clean metal surfaces with a wire brush to remove dirt and light rust.
If the rust is a bit worse, you can sometimes remove it by soaking the tool in white vinegar; otherwise, use steel wool. The extent of the rust determines what grade to use. Start with the least coarse grade you can to remove the rust. Once the rust is removed and the entire surface is clean, you can apply a rust-proofing primer. Steel wool and repaint any rough areas.
File the cutting edge of your metal tools to keep the blade sharp. Practice makes perfect. Even a badly sharpened tool is easier to use that a dull tool. To make short work of your filing projects, install a vise on your workbench. With the tool securely gripped by this second set of "hands" you'll be able to quickly and safely file the business end of your tool. If you regularly file your tools, it will take but a few strokes to keep a fine sharp edge.
To file, use a mill file. Start with the top edge of the tool. File away from you, using long even strokes at the same angle as the original bevel. Lift the tool between strokes. File the opposite side lightly just to remove roughness or burrs for a clean, sharp edge.
Always hose off and dry your tools after use to keep them sharp and prevent rust. Use a general purpose oil to quickly wipe blades and metal surfaces to condition between uses.
Clean the tool and its blades each time you use it. Use WD-40 to keep hinges working freely.
Pruners may need to be disassembled first. Use a whetstone to sharpen blades. Many gardeners color the blade to be sharpened with a black felt tip marker and sharpen evenly until all traces of the marker have been removed.
Sharpen only beveled edges and always shape blades to maintain the original shape of the bevel.
For very expensive pruners, have them professionally sharpened or invest in a specialty tool to make sure you can sharpen them correctly.
You can condition and sharpen tools yourself, or find a professional to sharpen them for you. Regardless of which direction you decide to go, your tools will last for years and give you decades of easy use.
Remember to always use safety glasses when working with files or power tools. One metal splinter can cause a heck of a lot of damage if it gets in your eye.
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