In the Garden:
New England
October, 2005
Regional Report

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If you take your pruners apart, it's easier to lubricate and sharpen them.

Winterizing Gardening Tools

I know it's not time for New Year's resolutions, but I'm starting early. I have a gardening shed attached to my garage, with a potting bench and shelves and hangers on the wall for tools. But most of the summer it's a total mess, with tools, gloves, and plant tags dumped on the bench, and seed-starting equipment and partial bags of soil lying about. I could blame the resident chipmunk who sneaks in through the garage and nibbles holes in the leftover seed packets, but I have to take the blame; after the frenzy of spring planting, I inevitable take time off before cleaning up the mess.

Starting now, however, I'm turning over a new leaf. I just cleaned the whole shed, arranged the seed-starting supplies, stacked the pots, and made room for the perennials and shrubs that I overwinter inside. Now it's time to make amends with my tools so they'll be in good shape for spring.

My digging tools are dirty, one of my shovels has a nicked blade, and several pruners are, uh, a bit rusty. But I'm going to fix them up. I'll need steel wool, fine-grit sandpaper, medium and coarse flat files, a wire brush, medium and fine whetstones, some rags, spray lubricant, light machine oil, and linseed oil. Here's the plan:

Putting Digging Tools to Bed
I still have bulbs to plant and some compost to spread, so I'll need a shovel, spade, and trowel a bit longer. But when I'm done for the season, they will likely be coated with some damp soil and compost. That moisture will provide the perfect environment for rust. So, when I'm ready to hang them up for winter, I'll first remove any soil and plant matter with a rag or stiff brush. Next I'll wipe the metal parts with a rag moistened with machine oil.

I'll take the nick out of my shovel blade and sharpen the front of the blade with a coarse flat file. This is relatively easy to do by holding the front end of the file at one end of the blade and pushing the file forward as I move it along the width of the blade from one end to the other. Then with fine-grit sandpaper I'll remove any burrs on the back of the blade that sometimes show up after sharpening.

To protect the wooden handles from drying and cracking, I'll rub them with a rag dipped in boiled linseed oil.

Pampering the Pruners
I have several pruners, and sometimes I don't clean them off as well as I should after every use. This fall I'm going to thank them for their good service with an oily rag rubdown. Then I'm going to see if I can rejuvenate the lower-quality, dull pruners. After cleaning off rust and sap with steel wool (rubbing alcohol or paint thinner will remove stubborn sap), I'll sharpen them. It's easier to do this if I take them apart. Then with a medium whetstone moistened with vegetable oil, I'll try to follow the original bevel angle of the blade while moving it lightly against the whetstone from the pivot end of the blade to the tip. (You also could use a medium flat file for sharpening.)

On bypass pruners only one side of the blade has a bevel; on anvil pruners both sides of the blade need sharpening. A fine-grade whetstone will put the final touches on an edge. I'll be careful not to sharpen the edge thinner than 1 mm or it will easily nick.

Last but not least, before I put the pruners back together I'll oil the pivot areas and the springs with a spray lubricant. Whew, I feel better already.

As I prepare for this last gardening ritual of the season, I'm thinking of next year's gardens, the plants I want to remove and the new plants I want to try. For gardeners the new year begins before the old one ends. So I guess my New Year's resolution is timely after all.


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