Spring Clean Includes Garden Tools

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Master Gardeners wore gloves to clean rusty tools in a plastic tub. After a vinegar spritz, scrub with steel wool and immediately rinse with water and dry with an old towel.

After getting washing off all the caked-on mud, rusty tools will benefit from a vinegar bath for a few hours then a scrub with steel wool or a steel scrubber. Do not let the vinegar dry on your tools which will create more rust. Scrub while still wet and then immediately rinse in water. Dry thoroughly with old rags but you’re not finished yet…

A generous wipe or spritz with a spray bottle of sterilizing alcohol will prevent the spread of plant diseases.

Your tool’s cutting edge has probably been dulled and nicked with use. Think stubborn roots and unexpected rocks that you’ve hit. Using a metal file and WD40 or mineral oil as lubricant, gently file with long strokes away from you, following the original beveled edge.

sharpening hand pruners

Use small circular strokes to sharpen the cutting blade of hand prunners.

After the metal file has smoothed the larger dinks and dents, follow with a whetstone or finer tool sharpener like Felco’s Sharpener tool. Using small circular motions follow the original bevel angle: if you create a steeper angle than the product’s design you risk having a weaker blade that can snap, not steep enough and the blade will be too dull for use.

Wooden handles need attention since they can become splinter factories. Lightly sand with a medium 120 or 150 grit and give your handle a rub of linseed oil.

Lastly and most importantly, rub mineral or linseed oil (not coking oil) on all metal parts with a clean rag to prevent rust while the tool isn’t being used. Tighten screws as needed and your tool is ready to be stored until the next use.

For ongoing maintenance keep a 5 gallon bucket in the shed, permanently filled with 50 pounds of play-sand mixed with 16 ounces of mineral oil (even baby oil will work). Plunge clean tools into the sand mix several times to get a light coating of oil, brush off the sand a store it or leave the tool stuck in there until you need it. Bonus: You will know right where you left it!

bucket of sand with spade standing up

This spade is plunged into a bucket of sand and mineral oil, waiting until its needed.

Some of us have a few tools that once belonged to our parents, maybe even grandparents. It is now on us to buy quality tools and care for them responsibly so that they outlive us. Maybe our grandchildren can use these same tools to care for their future landscapes and gardens.