If like us, you cast your dirty garden tools into the shed the moment winter started to bite, postponing allotment duties and turning instead to the heady pleasures of TV box sets and crisps, you may be in for a rude awakening. This kind of laissez-faire attitude inevitably leads to consternation and cursing come springtime. Blunt and crusty tools are no use to man nor beast so you need to get them into the best working order – here’s some tips on how to look after your garden tools.
Garden Forks and Spades
After a season spent prodding and poking the earth, your spade will most likely be tarnished and grubby, and your fork will have grime between its tines like unflossed, plaque-y teeth. Dunk their heads in a bucket of warm, soapy water to help dislodge any stubborn mud (clay soil can be particularly obstinate) then get busy with a brush. An old dish brush is perfect for the job – the stiffer and bristlier, the better. Wipe dry your newly cleaned tools thoroughly, and give them a squirt or two of WD40 to help prevent rusting.
Tools sporting wooden shafts and handles will benefit from being treated with a decent protecting oil. Tung oil – whilst providing a durable, long-lasting finish – is pretty pricey and takes an absolute age to dry. We use this type of oil on the wooden components of our cider press as it is food safe (you can use it on chopping boards, kitchenware etc, without fear of contamination) but for garden tools, boiled linseed oil is the one to reach for. Apply a generous amount of oil to a rag and work well into the wood, taking care to wipe off any excess. Before oiling, it also pays to give your tools the once over for any splits or splinters. Run over any offending areas with a medium grit sandpaper before finishing with extra fine grit for a smooth finish.
Pruning Shears and Secateurs
Tools designed for chopping back plants will inevitably come into contact with resin and sap, causing their shiny blades to gunk up and stain. Restore them to former glory by applying a dab or two of a cream-based oven cleaner and rubbing with a cloth. We’ve found that Bar Keepers Friend, the powdery, multi-purpose cleaning agent, works wonders on tarnished steel secateurs. Brasso is also a good shout if you want your tool blades buffed to a shine, but lacks the initial scouring power afforded by our aforementioned friend. For those looking for an all-in-one lubricating/cleaning combo, STIHL’s Superclean Resin Solvent is a great all-rounder. Spray and rub to remove stubborn stains, whilst a squirt or two after each use helps keep blades pristine and slick.
Keep your snippers well-oiled by applying a squirt or two of penetrating oil such as WD40 around the pivot joints, pumping the handles a few times to ensure the oil penetrates and lubricates. If you’ve got a tool that has completely seized up, it’s worth getting hold of a can of Kano Kroil, an eye-wateringly expensive but peerless penetrating oil. Apply it to the offending area and wait for a minute or two before attempting to free any stiff mechanisms. We recently set it to work on our chronically corroded, screw-thread cider press that had been languishing unloved at the back of our brew shed. A few squirts later (and after a bit of straining and swearing) we managed to free the mechanism and it now operates free-flowing and smooth (unlike the rough cider it tends to produce).
Rust Never Sleeps
Don’t be too eager to toss out any heavily corroded tools – rusty tools can be revived from the dead with a little patience. Air plus water plus iron equals rust – our leaky shed provides a particularly fertile environment for this pesky red menace, hence we’ve had plenty of practice in dealing with it. Specialist rust remover spray can be pricey, but you can achieve success with some common condiments found in your kitchen cupboard. Grab a bottle of vinegar and splash it over any offending areas and work it into the rusty metal with a cloth. Allow it to soak for a day or so, then get busy with some steel wool (one of our favourite cleaning aids). Start with a heavy gauge wool, then move down to something finer as you progress, repeating until shiny. Lemon juice has a similar, rust-busting effect.
Keep Garden Tools Sharp
Using blunt garden tools will increase the time and effort taken to complete your gardening tasks. Using blunt secateurs and shears on plants can also cause long-term damage, as a ragged, frayed cut can lead to disease. To keep your tools nice and sharp, you’ll want to invest in a whetstone. Typically, a whetstone will be double-sided – one side will be a coarse grain for initial sharpening and burr removal, whilst the reverse will be finer for achieving a smooth finish. To sharpen a blade with a whetstone, lubricate it with water or oil, then place the stone securely on a flat surface. Starting with the coarse side of the whetstone, work the tool blade over the surface of the stone in a steady fashion. Flip over the blade and repeat. STIHL also make a mean 3-in-1 sharpening tool, perfect for axes, secateurs, shears and the like. Just run it across the blade edge of the tool in question (its plastic handguard will help prevent injury should your hand suddenly slip) and your tool will be ready for slicing and dicing in no time at all.