Garden Gear - Garden Tools

Tuck in your gardening tools

Lee Oliver

Give your gear some TLC before putting it all to bed for the winter

The leaves are gone, shadows grow longer, snow threatens. But before you retire with kerchief or cap, it's a good idea to tuck in your hand tools for a long winter's nap. You could merely bid them adieu before bed, but a few simple steps beforehand—cleaning dirt or rust off a spade, oiling lopper joints—help keep hand tools in good working order. You can also sharpen your tools now, which means they will be ready when spring comes a-calling.

Thrusting shovels and secateurs in a bucket of sand and motor oil is sufficient to clean and lubricate them throughout the season, but the end-of-season session requires a couple of hours of concentrated work and a few specialized items.

To clean and preserve, you need the following items. All materials are readily available at hardware stores.

  • Paint thinner (also called mineral spirits)
  • A few rags
  • Fine steel wool (000)
  • A stiff wire brush
  • Three-in-One oil
  • Motor oil
  • 120-grit sandpaper
  • Boiled linseed oil—you buy it boiled. Repeat after me: boiled, boiled, boiled. (If you make the mistake of using raw linseed oil, you have to wait about nine months for the goop to dry.)
  • Latex gloves are a good idea, because paint thinner can damage skin.
  • To sharpen metal edges, you'll also need a sharpening stone, a flat file and a round file.

Cleaning secateurs, shears and loppers
Step 1: Start with your secateurs, shears and loppers. They require attention to detail, so do them while you're fresh and motivated. "The first step," says Ritch Ford, of Professional Landscape Services in Milton, Ontario, "is to disassemble the tool. This may sound complicated, but usually you only need to remove one screw."

Step 2: Once you have the tool apart, use steel wool and a cloth rag saturated with paint thinner to clean it, removing all traces of sap and plant debris. Use steel wool to buff away any rust.

Step 3: When blades are clean, use a sharpening stone to remove small nicks and restore a keen edge to them. Most sharpening stones have a coarse side and a fine side. You may have to wet the stone with oil or water first, depending on what type you have—check instructions. After wetting the coarse side, which you use first, set the stone on a flat surface, and run the length of the bevel—the part of the blade that angles toward the cutting edge—across the stone, away from you. Pretend you're trying to shave a thin peel off the stone.

For best results, sweep the entire blade across the stone in one smooth motion. Eight or nine complete passes across the coarse side should leave the bevel nicely sharpened. Add water or oil to the fine side, and finish the blade with five or six sweeps across it.


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