Archive for Thursday, November 28, 2013


Garden Variety: Keep tools in working order

November 28, 2013


Winter is finally here and all the garden stuff is done. I only need to sit and dream of things to come. Sounds good, but a gardener’s job is never done

Successful gardens require planning and behind-the-scenes work. During the year we buy and use tools. These are left in the yard, hung on pegs, set in the corner, stuffed in our favorite cubby, or just hanging out in the barn. We find them, use them and don’t always put them back. When we bought these tools, they worked great — we used them, they worked, but incrementally, they were wearing out and no longer lessening our load as they could.

Garden tools

Common garden tools that need maintaining:

• Shovels

• Hoes

• Hand Trimmers

• Knives

• Rakes

• Wheelbarrows

• Garden Carts

• Scissors

• Loppers

• Saws

• Axes

The first thing to do is find the tools. This is best done before the snow and ice hinder you. Gather them into their preferred storage area, and let’s do some conditioning. Make yourself some room and gather some supplies: steel brush, putty knife, oil, sandpaper, metal file and a hammer.

Soil contact tools (shovels, hoes, rakes): These take a lot of abuse. The cutting edge dulls and oxidation (rust) depletes their ability to move through the soil. Handles weather and wear, making them harder to grip and still avoid splinters. Start by cleaning off all the accumulated dirt, soil and grime.

A strong putty knife and wire brush will usually work quite well. Some use water as an aid, but I find it too cold and messy for the results gained. Shovels and hoes don’t need to be knife-sharp, but the nicks or burrs must be removed. Once clean, wipe or spray a light coat of oil on all metal surfaces. This can be any oil, even vegetable oil.

Cutting tools (trimmers, pruners, loppers, axes, scissors): The same soil removal and cleaning applies. The key to cleaning these tools is the burr removal and sharpening. These tools cut by sliding one sharp flat surface over another with a shearing action. Use your file lightly and only on the beveled side of the blades. Many hardware stores offer this service at a reasonable cost. A sharp edge will reduce your work and produce significantly better results.

Hauling tools (wheelbarrow, garden cart): Clean them, but hold the oil. Instead, sand any exposed metal or rust and touch up bare areas with a rust-preventing, matching paint. The oxidation continues all year long with the surface clean or dirty. Check the wheels and tires. Oil the bearings and repair any leaks. Bring them back to the proper air pressure.

Handles: Wood swells, shrinks and cracks with the changing moisture and temperature. Continued use without remediation results in lost grip, splinters or breakage. If broken, most handles can just be replaced. Sand the solid wood and coat it with one or two coats of Linseed or Tung oil. Replace or even add non-slip tape if applicable. For fiberglass shafts, check carefully for any cracks, chips or nicks. Splinters from these can be really painful. Replace or tape over the damage.

Store the tools in a dry location organized for their debut in the spring. This attention will save us extra effort later on and may save us the cost of new tools. If they are irreparable, put them on your list for Santa.

— Stan Ring is the Horticulture Program Assistant for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Extension Master Gardeners can help with your gardening questions at 843-7058 or


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