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How To Care for Garden Tools

Efficient gardening isn't just about making the most out of your crops; it’s also about caring for your garden tools. If you’re not taking care of your gardening equipment and tools, it will shorten their life. And when that happens, you’re likely to spend more money on garden tools. Sticking to a regular maintenance routine lets you work more efficiently in the garden. That means less backaches and blisters for you!

Garden Tool Maintenance You Shouldn’t Skip

gardening tools

In this guide, we’re outlining ways to care for different garden tools, how to keep them sharp, and the importance of proper storage:

Clean the Tools After Every Use

Cleaning your garden tools after every use will extend their life while also helping the garden thrive. Make a point of cleaning your garden tools after every use to keep diseases, pests, weed seeds, and fungi from spreading in the garden and ruining your precious perennials.

Regular cleaning also keeps rust and corrosion from setting onto steel surfaces. Tools always in contact with the soil, like rakes, spades, and trowels, must be hosed off with water to wash away the mud. Scrubbing is needed for deep-seated, crusty dirt. Dry the tools completely before storing them to avoid rust.

Treat Steel Surfaces to Prevent Rust

Steel tools are prone to oxidation, especially if they’re not used often. You can prevent rust or corrosion from setting in by creating a barrier between the steel material and the air. Apart from investing in high-quality steel tools (because these resist rust better), you have to treat steel surfaces with oil. Oil protects the steel surfaces from oxygen exposure.

You can use motor oil or boiled linseed oil to treat your steel tools. Even if you’re diligently washing and drying your steel equipment, these still need a thin brush of oil to protect the material.

After cleaning and drying your steel equipment, mix a quart of non-detergent 30W motor oil with a pint of oil lamp or kerosene. With a clean cloth, wipe the oil mixture on the steel surface. You can also use boiled linseed oil instead of motor oil. Just apply a thin layer of oil to the steel surface, and you’re done. Be sure the tools are not dripping from the oil.

Remove Rust with a Steel Brush

used gardening tools

Rusting is sometimes inevitable for tools that have been stored for a long time. Thankfully, this can be removed by sanding. For a light coat of rust, get a piece of 80-grit sandpaper and lightly rub it against the rusted steel. The light coating of rust should scrub away.

You’ll need to use a wire brush to remove a thick coat of rust. A handheld wire brush should be enough to remove the thick coat of rust by rubbing it repeatedly over the rusted surface. For a heavy coat of rust, you’ll have to use a drill with a wire brush attachment. Don't forget to wear safety gear before using power tools. After removing the rust coating, treat with the oil mixture outlined above to prevent oxidation.

Sharpen Your Garden Tools

Hoes, shovels, pruning shears, garden knives, loppers, and hand pruners have to be sharpened regularly to work more efficiently. Sharpening tools on your own is easy; it’s all about the angle. Treat the steel surface with oil to lubricate the material against the sharpening tool. Keep your hands steady as you sharpen your tools in one direction across the beveled edge. Below are the most commonly used sharpening tools:

  • Mill file
  • Metal files
  • Sharpening stones.
  • Bonded abrasive whetstones
  • Carbide sharpeners
  • Diamond impregnated tapered rods
  • Paddle sharpeners

Some tools can be sharpened with an electric sharpening tool; others require more care, like a hand file. Everything depends on how dull the edge is, and for very dull blades, power tools and a high-speed grinding stone will be needed, If you don’t know how to sharpen the tools yourself, better get them sharpened professionally.

Use a Grinder for Heavily Used Tools

Axes, lawn mower blades, and machetes have to be sharpened using a grinder to keep their edges super sharp. You can use an electric bench grinder for these tools. When using an electric sharpening tool of any kind, be mindful of the steel material’s temperature.

If the temperature gets too high, the blades will lose their temper, making them susceptible to damage and leaving the tools unable to hold a sharpened edge for very long. When grinding, keep the steel surface cool enough to touch. Dip the sharpened area in water to cool it down in between sharpening. Also, wear the proper gear to protect yourself from injury.

Proper Storage

used gardening tools

You need to store them properly after cleaning, disinfecting, sharpening, and oiling your garden tools. Store each tool in its own space to prevent rust and keep the edges sharp. Store your weeding tools at a spot that’s nearest to the garden. Cutting and pruning tools must be stored near shrubberies and woods for easy access.

You can use wooden boxes to store your large tools or hang them by their handles to save more space. Small handheld tools with a sharp edge can be kept in a bucket filled with sand.

How To Clean Your Gardening Tools?

pruning shears and sun flower

Step 1: Hose the soil down

Caked up, dry soil is hard to remove, so using your garden hose, choose the setting with the highest pressure and blast the stuck soil and other debris. Bits of mud that won’t rinse can be scraped with a garden knife.

Step 2: Soak in soapy water

After hosing down your dirty garden tools, prepare a bucket of soapy water, adding about half a teaspoon of dishwashing liquid per gallon of water. Put your garden tools in the solution and let sit for 15 minutes. A wipe of turpentine, lighter fluid, or Goo Gone should be enough to remove the stickiness for tools covered in sap.

Step 3: Rinse and disinfect

After soaking the garden tools in soapy water, rinse very well with clean water, then disinfect. Make a bleach solution to disinfect your garden tools by mixing one part of 10% bleach with nine parts of water. Soak the garden tools again in 20 minutes or so, then rinse with water. Dry the garden tools with a clean microfiber cloth and leave them to air dry. Once completely dry, store your clean garden tools properly.

How To Sharpen Tools?

ecogardener hedge shears

Loppers, Pruning shears, and Hedge Shears: The blades of loppers, pruning shears, and hedge shears could dull after only a few seasons of work. Thankfully, these tools are the easiest to sharpen. Use a mill file to sharpen the blades. File in one direction across the beveled edge. Don’t forget to lubricate the blades with oil as you sharpen them to avoid damaging the material. Give your loppers, pruning shears, or hedge shears a close inspection every time you sharpen them and look for signs of rust. Remove the rust with a light scrubbing of high-grit sandpaper.

For pruning shears with a curved blade (bypass-style blades), use a sharpening stone with a contoured, concave edge. This type of stone makes it easier to sharpen the hard-to-reach areas of the blade. Just sharpen the cutting blade and never the blunt part. Keep the angle at 20 to 30 degrees. Do not take your shears and loppers apart for sharpening because they do not feel the same way after putting them back together.

Shovels and Hoes: Shovels, hoes, and other flat-edged garden tools do not require regular sharpening unless you use these tools for breaking ice and other tough materials. To maintain the edge of flat-edged tools, clean and sharpen the blade with light sanding and filing with a large mill file. For tools with serious nicks, you’ll need to use a grinder to restore the edges. When sharpening your shovels and hoes, use a light touch to avoid damaging the edge.

Saws: Saws are much trickier to sharpen just because the grooves of the tools are quite tiny. To sharpen, you have to separate the blade from the handle. Clean the handle well, then proceed to sharpen the saw. With a small file, file the groove in between the teeth gently. Once the grooves have been filed, clean the saw with water, dry with a dry cloth then add a thin layer of oil before storing.

Axes: Axes, hatchets, and other digging tools could get worn down, but since the edges are sizable, a small file won’t do. Use a grinder to keep the edges crisp and sharp. Most axes and hatchets have to be sharpened on both sides.

Grass-Cutting Tools: grass clippers, weeders, and other grass-cutting tools should be sharpened with a scissors-type sharpener. You have to disassemble the tool to separate the blades. Hold the blade against a woodblock, cutting edge up, then with a scissors sharpener, pull firmly from the base of the blade to the point. Be sure that the sharpening edge is in complete contact with the blade's bevel and file carefully.

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Garden Tools

ecogardener gardening tools

Taking care of your garden tools - cleaning, sharpening, and storing properly - will make them last for a long, long time! With these tips, you can clean and sharpen any garden tools on your own. Always remember, go slow and focus when you’re sharpening your tools to avoid damaging the blades. For high-quality garden tools, you can check out our online store!