Help and Advice from the Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
Cleaning and Lubricating Tools for Use in an Organic Garden
I have a lot of tools to maintain this winter and would like to know if you have any information on how to sharpen tools: pruners, loppers, shovels, hoes, etc. Also, what kind of lubricating oil should I use -- these are tools used in an organic garden and I do not want to use motor oil as suggested by some other sites.
CCMG's Help Desk Response
Thank you for contacting the Master Gardener help desk with your questions about maintaining your gardening tools. You are to be commended for doing maintenance on your tools--too many people ignore this vital part of keeping equipment in good working order.
The first order of business is to clean the tools and remove any rust. I've found that scrubbing clippers with a bit of mild detergent and water will get most of the gunk off tools before sharpening. If you've kept them clean during the season, you're a step ahead. Shovels and hoes may require a little more muscle--a stiff bristle brush or wire brush can be used to remove dirt and rust.
For pruning shears and knives, it's possible to get good results with any of the diamond, ceramic, or high-carbon steel honing devices that are on the market. You can also use an oil stone. When sharpening a blade on a stone, simply slide the blade over the flat surface of the stone in one direction until you reach the desired sharpness. No matter which device you choose to sharpen your cutting blades, it should come with directions for use. A good guideline to use for all sharpening is to follow the bevel already on the tool's blade. Here is a link to a Fine Gardening magazine article about cleaning and sharpening tools (it includes diagrams illustrating sharpening angles for various types of tools): http://www.finegardening.com/clean-sharp-tools-work-better.
As far as a lubricating oil, vegetable oil spray can be used to protect tools such as shovels and hoes after cleaning. Non-petroleum lubricants such as Felco Lubricant Spray or food-grade silicone spray can be used on tools with moving parts such as pruners.
Happy gardening in the new year!
Contra Costa Master Gardeners' Help Desk
Note: The Contra Costa Master Gardener Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/