Caring for your garden tools is an essential part of maintaining your growing space, and getting the most from it. Without proper care, your garden tools quickly degrade, resulting in poor performance, less efficiency and productivity, and eventually forcing you to replace them prematurely. I’m not just talking about your tiller or your hedge cutter–although those obviously need maintenance and servicing. But it’s your everyday garden tools–the forks, spades, rakes, edgers, hoes, pruners, loppers, and so on—that need regular care and maintenance. None of us like to spend more than we have to, so it makes sense to take care of what you’ve already got. Caring for your garden tools includes sharpening, cleaning, sharpening, and providing proper storage.
Cleaning Garden Tools
It’s not just about knocking the mud off the fork tines, although that’s a great place to start. You should, in fact, get into the habit of wiping off the dirt every time you’re finished with a tool for the day. It only takes a minute, and it really extends the life of your tools. It also helps reduce the spread of weed seeds and some diseases.
Around once a month and at the end of the season, when you’re packing your tools away for the winter, there’s a certain amount of cleaning and maintenance you need to perform. Firstly, take a wire brush and some hot water and scrub the blades and tines of your garden tools, removing all traces of dirt and debris.
Now, this is a good start, but your tools aren’t quite sterile yet. For that, because we want to keep things as natural and chemical-free as possible, we suggest using plain white vinegar. It’s inexpensive and natural and does a great job of killing any bacteria that’s lurking on your tools. Dip the blades and tines of your tools into the vinegar and, if possible, leave to soak for 30 minutes, then remove them and give them a final scrub with the wire brush and leave to dry in a sunny spot.
Soaking in vinegar followed by a scrub with a stiff wire brush or wire wool is a great way to remove rust from your garden tools, too. Vinegar will also help to remove stubborn sap deposits if you forgot to clean the tool while the sap was fresh.
If your tools have wooden handles, first wipe them down with vinegar to clean and sterilize them, dry them completely, then rub them over with linseed oil. This conditions the wood, acting as a preservative and helping to prevent deterioration.
Sharpening Your Garden Tools
If it has a blade, it needs regular sharpening – once a year should be sufficient unless you’re really putting a tool through its paces. Scissors, shears, loppers, and knives are the most obvious, but don’t neglect hoes, shovels, spades, and edgers–all of these garden tools perform better when properly sharpened. A 10-inch flat mill file is usually sufficient for most bladed garden tools, although a whetstone will give you a finer edge. And, of course, you’ll need lubricant. Depending on the type of sharpening stone you’re using, you may be able to just use water as your lubricant. If not, you’ll need a lubricating oil. Again, we avoid chemical-laden products wherever possible, and this extends to sharpening stone/file lubricants. For fine sharpeners that require a “lighter” oil, you can use something as simple as baby oil, which is just light mineral oil. For regular lubrication, you can use olive oil, peanut oil, canola, corn, soya, or vegetable oil. Just avoid “drying” oils like linseed, safflower, sunflower, or walnut oil. For most tools, filing at an angle of 20 to 45 degrees is sufficient–or just following the original bevel.
Storing Your Garden Tools
Whatever you do, don’t leave your tools exposed, even just overnight. Exposed to the elements, your tools will degrade quickly, and repeated exposure shortens their lifespan even more, so get into the habit of putting them away every time you finish with them for the day. Remember, give them a quick wipe, at the very least, and keep them in a dry shed where their moisture exposure is limited. It’s also just good practice to keep your equipment organized. Give each tool a proper place – use a pegboard, for example, and hang tools by their handles. This way, you know where every tool lives, and you save lots of time and cursing while hunting for misplaced forks or axes.