I have a shovel obtained from a friend who inherited it from his grandfather. Since the 1800's this shovel has been used in many gardens, and it still sees regular action around my house. It is proof of the longevity of a high-quality, well-cared-for tool.
I've not always been the best at keeping my tools in optimal shape. But in recent years, I've begun to understand that taking a little time to care for your tools actually saves work time in the garden. Dulled, dirty tools add time to tasks. Besides, good tools are not inexpensive. So I'm taking action these days to treat my tools as the friends they are.
Late fall and winter are quieter in the garden, allowing time to look over your garden tools and giving them a little TLC. Here are four steps to follow:
First, clean that dirt off your tools. Use a putty knife or steel wool to clean off clumps of dirt and mud. Then wash with a hose. Turpentine works well to remove sap. Light rust can be removed with a wire brush or steel wool. If the rust is extensive, try soaking the blades or tines in white vinegar for up to 24 hours. Rubbing with crumbled aluminum foil or a rough cloth should remove the rusted crust.
Next, oil any metal parts to protect them from moisture. Pivots on shears, loppers and scissors should be given a light spray of WD-40. Fill a large container, such as a five-gallon bucket, with sand. Soak the sand with oil. Many gardeners have used motor oil, but I prefer using vegetable oil so I won't pollute my soil.
Push the blade in and out of the sand a few times. If your bucket is large enough, you can leave the tool in the oiled sand until the next time you use it. Wipe the blade with a rough cloth, such as burlap, when you remove it.
Now inspect your tools' handles. Replace any that have become loose or cracked. There is not much you can do to repair a cracked handle. Smooth a rough wood handle with medium-grade sandpaper if needed. Then rub the handle with linseed oil. Let the oil soak in for an hour and them wipe off before storing the tool.
Finally, sharpen any blades that have become dull or nicked. Be sure to don safety glasses to protect your eyes. One metal filing in your eye can cause irreversible damage. Wear heavy leather or cloth gloves to protect your hands. Using a vise is not necessary but can make the task much easier.
From a hardware store, purchase a high-quality mill file that is about one inch wide by about ten inches long. A handle is not essential but a nice feature.
When restoring the bevel on a shovel or trowel, stroke away from your body at the same angle that the tool had originally. A sharper angle is not helpful because it will usually dull quickly and is more prone to nicks.
Clamp your shovel in a downward position and push the file away from your body on the scoop side moving from the center across to the side. Once the bevel has been restored on the scoop, flip the shovel in the vise and remove any burrs created on the other side of the blade by lightly filing towards the handle or using fine sandpaper. For a hoe, use the same technique but create your bevel moving from the outside edge.
Finally, store those tool friends properly. Keeping them dry is critical. Hang them on a pegboard wall or insert them in a bucket of oiled sand. A horse trough filled with oiled sand could be an attractive addition to a rain-protected storage area and would hold a large number of tools.
Now sit back, relax and look at all those tools ready for your next garden adventure. Pat yourself on the back and enjoy the warm glow of another gardening task well done.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.