6 Easy Ways To Keep Your Garden Tools In Great Shape
Love to garden? With gardening so popular these days, there aren’t many backyards that don’t have at least one patch, pot, or container with something growing in it. But most likely, you’re paying a lot of attention to your plants and not so much to the tools you use to grow them. Trowels, hoes, spades, and shovels take a lot of abuse during the growing season, and if you take a little time to love them, they’ll work better and last longer for you.
Before we talk about the garden gear you already have, remember when buying new gardening tools that spending more on high-quality tools will save you grief and money in the long run. Pay a little extra for a tool that will last, rather than cheap tools that will wear out and need to be replaced frequently. And then use them appropriately! As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail—but using a tool for something it isn’t designed to do is a quick way to damage or break it (and even hurt yourself in the process). A long-handled shovel is not a crowbar, the back of an ax is not a sledge hammer, and a hand pruner is not designed to saw through a one-inch branch. If you need to do something your current stash of tools isn’t up to, consider buying something suitable, borrowing from a friend, or renting one for a few hours (a good solution for specialty tools you won’t need often).
Once you have a set of good gardening tools, here are 6 easy ways to maintain them, starting with storage!
(Whether you’re starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)
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A shed is a tool’s best friend because after misuse, the number one enemy of tools is exposure to the elements. Tempting as it may be to leave your tools where you will need them tomorrow (or next week), don’t do it! Store all your tools in a shed, garage, or even a weatherproof tool storage unit out in the garden (a rural mailbox makes a great weatherproof stash for hand tools), and they will last many times longer than tools that spend time out in the sun, rain, and wind (or get hidden in the tall grass and then get run over).
Outdoor storage is worst for wooden handles, which can roughen, crack, split, warp, and rot over time. The ideal tool-storage area protects your tools from the weather but allows for air circulation, so tools can dry and rust and mildew are less likely to occur.
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Soil holds moisture and encourages rust, so putting your tools away clean will help them to last longer. That’s also a good way to prevent bits of weed roots and seeds or soil-borne disease from being transferred from place to place. Before you put your tools away, wash off any soil, or scrape it off with a putty knife (keep one in each of your tool storage areas). Use a rag (with a little turpentine, if necessary) to remove plant sap and resins from cutting tools. Dry the cleaned tools, especially any metal and wooden parts, with an absorbent rag.
If you have been working with obviously diseased plant materials, soak your cleaned tools in a solution of half rubbing alcohol and half water for five minutes to kill off any germs before drying the tools and storing them.
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Most good cooks know the value of a sharp knife, but how many gardeners realize that sharp tools make gardening tasks faster, easier, and in some cases even better for the plants? Keeping a good edge on a hoe or hand pruner is easy and will save you time in the long run. Don’t wait until your tool is dull: Think of sharpening as daily flossing for your tools!
Start by looking at the edge of the blade. Many tools are flat on one side and angled (beveled) on the reverse side; other tools are angled on both sides. Also observe the angle of the "bevel." Is it sharp and thin like a knife or is just the very edge sharpened at a more blunt angle? Your goal is to maintain the original configuration.
For soft steel tools (such as hoes, shovels, and axes), the best tool for sharpening is a file, specifically a single-cut mill bastard file with a handle; "single-cut mill" indicates its shape, and "bastard" indicates the size of the teeth. Hold the clean, dry (wetness dulls files) tool firmly with its sharp edge pointing away from you. Rest the far end of the file flat against the bevel of the blade and push the file away from you in one long stroke. Maintain that same angle along the entire edge of the blade to keep things uniform. Then LIFT the file OFF the blade—pulling it backwards on the blade dulls the file and does nothing for the tool. You should see tiny chips of metal coming off either during the filing or afterward. If you don’t, the file is dull and needs to be cleaned or replaced, or the metal is too hard to sharpen with a file and you will need a stone (keep reading). Use a small wire brush to clean the metal filings out of the file as needed (it is a good idea to wear safety glasses when you do this). If both sides of the blade are beveled, flip it over, reposition the tip end of the file on the blade you are sharpening, and repeat. To test whether your tool’s blade is sharp enough, hold a grass blade in both hands and pull it along the sharpened blade; the blade should cut your grass easily and smoothly.
Large blades, such as those on your lawn mower, can also be sharpened by hand with a file. If you have an electric or gas-powered mower, disconnect the spark plug wire or unplug it to prevent accidents, and then remove the blades for sharpening (consult your owners manual for a how-to). For a reel mower or for ordinary grass shears, it’s worth investing in a special scissor sharpener, which has a fixed guide to help you maintain the exact angle required for efficient cutting.
For a tool made of harder steel (such as a hand pruner) that doesn’t yield well to files, a small pocket whetstone is the tool of choice. Unlike files, sharpening stones work in all directions. Hold the blade firmly, rest the flat side of the stone flat on the bevel of the blade, and rub the stone in small circles along the length of the blade, maintaining the same angle throughout. Stones work better wet, so for the best results, dip and rinse yours in water frequently.
Most metal tools benefit from a thin coating of oil to prevent rust, unless they’re made of stainless steel, which is immune to it. Keep a can of linseed oil in your tool shed along with a soft rag, and give your cleaned tools a quick once-over before putting them away. Please don’t use motor oil on your tools! Plenty of garden books still recommend it, but do you really want to be putting motor oil into your nice garden soil? I certainly don’t.
If you see any rust, use a wire brush or emery cloth (sort of like a nail file glued to cloth instead of cardboard and used by metalworkers) to remove it. You can also rub it away with oily sand. Keep a sturdy bucket full of sand moistened with oil in your shed, and just plunge the cleaned tool into the sand a few times. That’s usually all it takes to both polish and oil your tools at the same time.
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Periodically apply a thin coating of linseed oil to dry, unpainted wooden handles and buff off any excess with a clean rag the next day. A badly weathered handle will soak up quite a bit of oil, so add a thin coating daily until there is a little oil left on the surface the following day. If you can’t find linseed oil at a local hardware store, head to your local natural food store. Flaxseed oil that you cook with is the same thing as linseed oil—"lin" as in "linen," the fiber made from flax. This is also a good way to use up any old flaxseed oil in your kitchen that has developed an off taste.
Varnished or painted wooden handles should be touched up with a tough water-based spar varnish or matching paint as soon as they show wear, as a waterproof finish will start deteriorating fast once water gets under it. If the varnish or paint is in bad shape, consider sanding off the remainder and oiling the bare wood with linseed oil from then on. Some gardeners actually remove the finish from new handles and oil them right away, as an oil finish is easier to touch up and maintain than paint or varnish is.
Got a tool with a loose or damaged handle? Do the eco- (and wallet-) friendly thing and see if you can replace the handle rather than junk the tool. Large hardware stores or garden centers often carry replacement handles, and a full-service store should be able to give you advice for safely removing the old handle and securely mounting a new one.
via Rodale’s Organic Life http://bit.ly/2q5p8ZW
April 3, 2018 at 04:16PM