Gardening Articles: Care :: Tools & Equipment

Maintaining Your Edge (page 3 of 3)

by Beth Marie Renaud

Finishing touches

Once your tools are clean and sharp, they're just about ready for storage. A few more steps at this stage can ensure that your tools will retain their sheen through the winter months.

Clean wood handles with a stiff-bristled brush, and smooth down nicks and splinters with medium-grit sandpaper. Coat wooden handles with boiled linseed oil to help preserve them and prevent splintering and breaking. Sand off the factory varnish and wipe on boiled linseed oil with a cloth; apply several light coats, letting the oil soak in after each application. Wipe off any excess with a dry cloth.

If the plastic handles on your tools are tearing or wearing thin, you can remove the coating with a craft knife and replace it with a liquid or spray plastic coating. It's sold at hardware stores under the name Plastidip. Dip or spray the handles and clamp a metal portion of the tool lightly into a vise and let dry.

Once the handles are in good shape, reassemble your tools. Oil the pivot bolts and adjust them so the blades are tight enough to provide a strong, clean cut. Lubricate all metal blades and the heads of shovels, hoes, and rakes with a light machine oil or a synthetic oil such as Break Free CLP.

Clean, sharp, and properly coated, your tools are now ready for storage. Store them in a dry place away from heat and moisture. Hanging tools is an effective way to keep moisture at bay. Small tools such as pruners will do fine either hung or stored in canvas gardening bags. When spring comes around, you will have a host of tools ready to serve you.

Sharp tips

* Clean all dirt, sap, and rust off your tools before sharpening them.

* Stabilize tools for sharpening by bracing them against a solid surface or clamping them in a vise.

* Sharpen only the beveled side of a blade.

* File the flat side of a blade only to remove burrs.

* Always file in strokes away from your body.

* Don't drag a mill bastard file backward over a

blade on the return stroke.

Advanced techniques

An electric bench grinder is the most efficient way to recover the cutting edges on shovels, spades, hoes, and lawn mower blades. A grinder has a tool-rest platform that enables you to position the tool to achieve a more exacting edge. However, grinders create intense heat, which can compromise the temper of steel, making it brittle. You can also take off too much steel--and fast--with a rapidly spinning grinder wheel. If you do use one, periodically immerse the tool you're sharpening in cold water to cool it down, and take off small amounts of metal at a time. A small grinding wheel attached to an electric hand drill can do the same job as a bench grinder. With either tool, always wear gloves and safety glasses.

1. The first step to reconditioning your pruners is disassembly. Remove the pivot bolt with a wrench and take out the spring--with a screwdriver, if necessary.

2. Clean all sap and dirt out of your pruners with a wire brush and a rag, and then buff

the blades with fine steel wool.

3. Unlike oil or water whetstones, a diamond whetstone does not need to be lubricated. Sharpen pruner blades by swiping them over the whetstone in a curved motion, trying to maintain their original bevel.

4. Coat clean, sharp blades with light machine oil to proetect them against rust.

Beth Marie Renaud is the executive editor at the National Gardening Association.

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