Garden Variety: Repair broken garden tools, avoid costly replacement
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The crack of a shovel handle is a disheartening sound, usually heard when the digging is hard and a shovel is being used to pry rather than dig. As long as the damage is to the wooden handle rather than the blade of the shovel, that handle can generally be replaced for a fraction of the price of purchasing a whole new tool. The same goes for other tools. Handle replacement is also an option to get a longer or different type of handle on a preferred tool.
Replacement tool handles are generally sold in hardware stores and garden centers where garden tools are sold. To get the right one, measure the handle that is due for replacement and take note if it is curved where it connects to the blade. A picture might be helpful to take to the store as well. You will also need rivets or a bolt to insert through the handle once it is installed.
The first step to repairing the shovel or other tool is to remove the broken or worn handle. There will likely be rivets, a metal tube, a bolt or something similar running through the handle where it connects to the metal end of the tool. Remove whatever is there so that the wooden piece can be pulled. Use a hammer and punch, chisel or nail to pop the rivets, cut them with a hacksaw, grind them off or drill them out.
Next, insert the new handle into the sleeve where the old handle came out. You may need to pound it into the sleeve to get a good fit. Get as tight of a fit as possible to ensure stability of the tool.
Bolts or rivets should be installed next.
Bolts are easier if you can remember to tighten them occasionally. There are two options. The first option is to drill a shallow pilot hole in each side of the handle where the rivet/bolt holes are on the metal part, then drill a short self-tapping screw into each of the two holes. The second option is to drill a hole all the way through the wooden handle where the rivet/bolt holes are and insert a machine screw that is just a little longer than the diameter of the handle. Place a locking washer and nut on the end of the machine screw.
Rivets are harder to install but do a better job of holding the handle onto the business end of the tool. If you want to use rivets, drill a hole all the way through the handle. The hole should be the same diameter as the rivet. Insert the rivet, connect the cap or tail to the end of the tube, and use a ball-peen hammer to flatten the end and hold the rivet in place.
Your repaired tool is now ready for use!
The life of garden tools can be extended with regular maintenance of the metal and wooden parts. For all tools, remove soil every time the tool is used with a scraper or by rinsing the tools with water. Allow them to dry before putting them away. Sharpen shovel and hoe blades with a file or grinder. Spray metal parts with lubricant occasionally for added protection.
Wooden handles that are still functional but starting to look weathered can be easily refurbished. Sand the entire surface to start to break through any remaining varnish and rough up the surface. Wipe all dust away, then apply boiled linseed oil to the handle according to instructions on the product label. Let the handle dry completely before using.
Old shovels, rakes, hoes, sledgehammers, axes, hatchets and other tools can last a lifetime or more if cared for and kept out of the weather.
If you have an old tool and have trouble finding a handle for it, check out House Handle Company in Cassville, Missouri. It’s a third-generation family-owned business that makes all kinds of tool handles.
• Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.