In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
March, 2007
Regional Report

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Start your season off right with clean, sharp tools.

Tend To Your Gardening Tools

Are you getting cabin fever? How about catching up with indoor tasks too easily put off when spring's down-and-dirty garden work calls? At a recent Scott Arboretum Workshop in Swarthmore, PA, maintenance manager Dwight Darkow gave tips for tuning up garden tools -- AKA "Things I Should Have Done Last Winter."

In the arboretum's tidy tool shed, Darkow pointed out how their work tools were organized. "Store your tools," he urged. "Make the most of your space." Every tool, clean and in its place. Organize tools and hang them so you'll know if something's missing -- if a tool's left in the garden. Paint the ends of your tool handles orange -- to better spot them in the garden or on the ground.

Shovels, Rakes, and Hoes
Get into a twice-yearly tool care routine, he added. Preserve wooden tool handles -- shovels, spades, hoes, rakes -- by slathering the entire shaft with linseed oil. Let the oil soak in for half an hour, 45 minutes, then wipe off the excess. Use a plastic scraper or brass brush to remove dirt from shovel, spade, and hoe blades.

Darkow demonstrated sharpening a spade's edge (front only) with a succession of hefty metal files at a 30-degree angle -- starting with coarse groove, ending with a fine-grooved file. First he braced the blade securely in a bench vise. Actually sharpening with a file is far easier said than done, by this novice anyway.

Finding and filing the appropriate edge is the initial challenge for newbies. "Look at the tool when you buy it. File the edge that's already there," Darkow reminded.

"When you have something you really want to work on, make one complete stroke across the front of the blade edge," Darkow showed, guiding the file smoothly over the gouged edge. Repeat that sweeping stroke with increasingly finer files for five minutes or until the blade edge is smooth and sharp, he said. Don't make a lot of small strokes that nip at the edge. For the finishing touch, Darkow sprayed the blade with WD40 oil.

When shovels, spades, and hoes aren't hanging on the wall ready to use, he stores them in a bucket of sand mixed with a quart of car motor oil to keep blades sharp, clean, and rustfree.

Pruners and Loppers
There's everyday pruner and lopper care -- wiping blades and handles with alcohol and occasionally honing the blade's edge with a handy sharpening device. And there's serious pruner and lopper care that involves cleaning, disassembling, sharpening, then reassembling screws, nuts, blades, etc. in the correct "working again" order!

For pruner cleaning, Darkow likes a green scrubby pad and isopropyl alcohol or "Goop Off" to remove sap and sticky coatings. Working in a clear area, everyone disassembled pruners -- watching carefully to keep the pieces in order for reassembly.

With a pruner or lopper blade in the vise, Darkow showed the most difficult technique yet -- moving a sharpening stone dabbed with oil -- at a 15-degree -- in small, smooth curves refining the blade's outside edge. Smooth and deliberate, for a sharp, burrless edge.


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