Cleveland, Ohio — My article a few weeks ago mentioned that it’s a good time of year to clean your gardening tools. You probably shrugged your shoulders and thought the winter weather would be here before I had a chance to check on you. But with November upon us and not a snowflake in sight, have you cleaned up your garden tools yet? Because there’s no excuse not to, and you’ll thank yourself (and maybe me) come spring.
If nothing else, take all your favorite garden tools – shovels, trowels, rakes, hand tools, wheelbarrow, etc. – lay them out in a warm, sunny spot like the driveway or patio, water them down and let them dry completely. before storing them. You can shorten the drying time by wiping them down with old towels or rags, but to prevent rust, tools should air dry completely before storing. Embedded mud may require a wire brush to remove. The best part? It’s pretty easy to get a child’s help when it comes to using a hose.
The next step is to deal with the blades of hand tools like pruners and loppers. I like to keep mine clean throughout the growing season by wiping them down with cleaning wipes and occasionally hosing them down, patting them dry with a rag, and pouring WD-40 over them. Even so, sap and grime can build up on the blades and should be removed now with steel wool, a cleaning agent like Brasso, or my dad’s favorite, Nevr Dull.
If you have a sharpening steel for your kitchen knives, you can gently run the same sharpening steel along both sides of the blade, which will help straighten the edge and remove small burrs and snags. Start at the inner part of the blade and sweep the steel outward several times on each side.
To actually sharpen the blade, a whetstone – again, the same one used for kitchen knives – can be used. Look closely at the blade and draw the beveled side of the blade along the stone at the same low angle as the blade. Have a twig or soft rod handy to test cutting power and repeat sharpening until cuts are clean and crisp. Wipe with a cloth when finished.
It is also helpful to examine your tools in the closed position and ensure there is no gap between the blade and the anvil side. If there are, adjust the bolts to realign the blade and restore your tool’s cutting power. Tool sharpening and sizing isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, and if you have better things to do, local nurseries and hardware stores can recommend professional sharpening services.
I get it, tips for garden tool maintenance can get confusing and overwhelming, but all things being equal, it’s better to keep your tools clean with water than to lubricate dirty tools. By keeping your tools clean with water, making sure they dry completely before storing them, and sharpening your blades once a season, the average home gardener can keep quality tools in good working order for long time.