Garden Tools

How can I clean up my garden tools for springtime? I have rust all over them. Thanks, Dixie

We have shrub trimmers, shovels, rakes, edgers, weed pullers, hoes, pruning shears, pitch forks, hole diggers, axes, and a hundred other tools. As different as all these tools are, they do have a few things in common. Most of these tools have wooden handles and an attached metal implement. Metal and wood can last generations if they are properly cared for. Mind you, it isn’t likely that you will be handing down your axe to your great grand children, but if you were able to keep your tools for a lifetime, wouldn’t you?
Most of this maintenance is typically done in the fall, before you store your tools at the end of the season. In the spring it can be a bit depressing to grind rust from a shovel, sand down the handle, and hone the cutting edge, only to thrust it into a pile of gooey mud.

For wooden handles, check for cracks and splinters. The handles can become rough over time, which is a precursor to splintering, and inevitable slivers. Sand with a fine 100 grit sandpaper, and treat with boiled linseed oil.

Some gardeners suggest painting the handles a bright color, so your tools are easily located in the garden. Use Marine Enamel paint, and try keeping the same color for all your tools, which make identification easier when you spot them in your neighbors yard. Bright, ugly colors are less likely to be stolen, and will add character to your garden shed.

For the metal implement, the best tip is to always keep them clean and dry. Hose them down and dry them after each use. For longer storage periods, spray the tool with WD-40, which will act as a vapor barrier, and protect it from rust. If you have a tool with rust, add a metal brush to your drill, and goggles to your face, and grind away. Most surface rust will come out very quickly. Always oil this surface, or protect it with paint (see above). Marine Enamel paint will also work well on the business end, however on shovels and hoes it will likely wear off within a season, rakes or less used tools might last a couple of years.

Most tools have a cutting edge of some kind. Even your hoe should be sharpened! Use an aluminum oxide disc on your drill to restore this edge. This is less accurate, but much faster than a file or a wet stone. Never grind for long periods, as the metal will lose its temper if it becomes too hot. If it is badly deteriorated, grind a bit, then let it cool for a few minutes before resuming.

Always wear safety glasses while working on cleaning and protecting your tools. Happy gardening!

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