Take good care of hard-working garden tools

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Last Updated: 
February 19, 2003

CORVALLIS - Good garden tools are built to last. But if you store that spade caked with clay, or toss those shears into a damp shed for the winter, the life and effectiveness of your tools will be shortened.

Oregon State University Master Gardener Joyce Schillen offers some hints on how to care for your garden tools so they will continue to work for you.

"Give tools a good cleaning before storing them for the winter," Schillen said. Scrape off soil, using a stiff wire brush if necessary. Remove rust with sandpaper. After cleaning, give metal surfaces a protective coating such as WD-40 or clean lightweight motor oil.

Tools deteriorate from time and dampness combined with soil and rust. During the growing season, keep a bucket of sand nearby, lightly saturated with clean motor oil. When you finish for the day, plunge metal blades into the oily sand a few times. The sand scrapes off clinging soil, and a light film of oil on the blades will hinder rust. It also makes digging easier, since oiled blades slip more easily into the soil.

Keep tools sharp by using a hand file or belt sander to maintain good edges, advises Schillen. Knives, hoes, shovels, pruners - all of these work more safely and quickly when edges are sharp. Give all wooden handles a light sanding to remove splinters and rough edges, then treat them with a good preserving oil such as linseed.

"Hang tools out of the way when they're not in use," Shillen recommended. "A tool rack will help prevent mutinies in the garden shed. Once hung up, very few tools are able to escape."

Pre-built tool racks cost very little; or you can simply pound large nails into a board to hang tools, perhaps padded with cardboard, old carpeting, bubble wrap, or plastic bags wrapped around the nails.

"Next spring your tools will be hanging there, clean and shining and waiting for another year's work," said Schillen.

Author: Peg Herring
Source: Joyce Schillen