Article from The Master Gardening Bench, Manatee County Master Gardener Newsletter
by John Dawson

Maintaining Your Garden Tools

"If you take care of your tools they'll take care of you," is an old and proven saying. The secret to having garden tools you can count on year after year is to buy the best quality tools you can afford and then maintain them. If you do those two things, your children and grandchildren will be using your garden tools long after you've stopped gardening.

The main enemies of all garden tools are moisture (causes rust), improper use, and poor or inadequate maintenance. To keep your gardening tools around for a long time:

Clean your tools after each use and put them away where they belong.
Store your tools off the ground in a dry place. Remove any rust that forms on a tool and coat with oil.
Keep wooden handles smooth by sanding and oiling them.
 Spray fiberglass handles with a clear enamel to prevent fraying.
Keep cutting edges sharp and moving points oiled.
 Use the right tool for the job. Use the tool as it was intended.
Replace/repair badly damaged tools.

All tools must be clean before sharpening. Knock off all dirt, wash, rinse, and wipe dry. Use steel wool, a wire brush/wheel, SOS soap pads, or light sandpaper to scour blades of rust. Scissors, snips, shears, mower blades, pruners, and loppers are all sharpened the same way. If possible, disassemble the blades and secure in a vise.

Once removed, the cutting blade edge can be sharpened using a flat bastard file, whetstone, or even a kitchen knife sharpener. Always file in one direction away from you. Adjust your angle as needed to file the entire edge evenly on the factory bevel; usually 10 strokes will expose clean metal over the entire edge.

Then do the same with the other blade, and never use small jerky strokes because it will cause you to lose the factory edge. The flat edge, where the blades come together, should be filed or sanded to remove any burs. Using 300 wet/dry sandpaper or a honing stone, keep the blade flat and file/sand in a circular motion and check for burrs. When burrs are smoothed out, lightly oil all surfaces of the blades, and reassemble the tool.

Proper Sharpening Technique
Fig. 1. Proper sharpening technique

When sharpening a shovel (yes, it is a cutting tool) you only need to sharpen the upper edge of the shovel. A straightforward way to do this is to fasten the shovel into a large vise with the head near the vise and facing up.

Start at one side of the shovel base and holding a bastard file at a 45‐degree angle to the edge of the shovel and pointing inwards towards the center, make four or five even strokes inward and upward. Step your file an inch or two towards the tip and repeat the motions until you get to the tip of the shovel. Repeat for the other side.
Sharpen hoes the same way. Hatchets and axes need to have both sides of the blade sharpened at a 45‐degree angle. Saws, chain saws, and powered hedge trimmer blades require special handling and different files to maintain a factory bevel and the technique is too complicated for this article.

 All metal tools should be cleaned and oiled before storage. I prefer to use WD‐40; not only does it penetrate and lubricate, it also displaces water. The WD actually stands for Water Displacement.

Proper Sharpening Technique
Fig. 2. Properly clean your tools after each use

The wooden handles of rakes, hoes, picks, axes, and shovels need maintenance as well. Over time, the wood will dry out and begin to splinter. Sand the handles with medium grade sandpaper (100‐180 grit) and then rub with linseed oil. The linseed oil keeps the handles from drying out and splintering. Replace any handles that are cracked or badly splintered.

 Fiberglass handles wear out as well. They fray and leave tiny glass splinters (another good reason to wear gloves).
 Lightly sand with a fine grade sandpaper (300 grit), wipe with a damp cloth, and then spray with a clear enamel. 

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Dawson, John. "Maintaining Your Garden Tools." The Manatee County Master Gardener Newsletter. Jan. 2016. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.


Fig. 1 Proper Sharpening Technique. N.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.
Fig. 2 Properly clean your tools after each use. N.d. University of Wisconsin-Extension. Cooperative Extension. Web. 9 Mar. 2017.

Published 9 Mar. 2017 LR
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