Tool Maintenance Now Saves Time in the Spring

By Trisha Gedon, Oklahoma State University

First posted on 12-11-2014

Now that Oklahoma is experiencing some winter weather, gardening activities have been slowing down just a bit.

This is a great time of year to take care of tools and equipment so everything is ready for use next growing season, said Kim Toscano, assistant specialist with the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension, and host of “Oklahoma Gardening.”

“As with any job, having your garden tools in good working order makes the job much easier,” Toscano said. “A sharp tool is important in the garden because it cuts rather than tears or bruises the plant. A clean cut allows the plant to recover more quickly and reduces the possibility of disease.”

There are different types of tools and several implements or methods for sharpening tools. Let’s start with the larger tools such as spades or hoes used for digging.

Toscano said a flat file is inexpensive and works well in achieving a sharp cutting edge.

“Always wear the proper safety equipment such as gloves and safety glasses when handling tools. When using a flat file make long diagonal strokes away from your body across the cutting edge. This gives a more uniform edge than short strokes in one spot,” she said.

Power equipment such as a rotary tool or bench grinder helps complete the task much more quickly. However, power tools can wear down the blade quicker if you are not careful and can heat the metal quickly causing the blade to be weaker. Sharpen the beveled edge only and try to keep the same angle on the new edge as when it came from the manufacturer.

Smaller tools such as loppers and hand pruners also can be sharpened in the same manner. In some cases the tool may need to be disassembled to access to the entire cutting edge of the blade.

Toscano said mower blades also should be sharpened regularly.

“Because you are sharpening opposite ends of the blade, it should be checked for balance before reattaching to the lawn mower. Do this by hanging the blade by the center hole on a nail or screwdriver,” she said. “If one side hangs lower than the other, a little more needs to be taken off that side of the blade to bring it back into balance.

Be sure to clean the rust and dirt off of your tools. Dirt can be scrubbed off with water or scraped off with a wire brush. Rust can be sanded off with sandpaper or steel wool.

Apply a thin coat of oil to the blade and lubricate moving parts. A five-gallon bucket of oily sand can be used to clean tools and apply oil so rust won’t form on the blade. After using tools, stick the blade or tines into the sand a couple times to remove dirt and oil the tools.

Handles should be inspected and broken handles replaced. Rough spots should be sanded smooth. After sanding, apply boiled linseed oil to help preserve the wood.

“Drain or use up fuel in the tank before storing power equipment for the winter. Also replace the old oil with new oil,” Toscano said. “Now your gardening equipment is ready for storage. By taking care of your tools now, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running next spring.”