by Melody Kendall
First, I do an inventory. What tools need maintenance and which tools just need a quiet trip to the garbage bin are assessed. During the year I have good intentions, but the shovels still have soil on their surfaces and the pruners have sticky sap on their blades. Even my gardening boots have crusted soil in their treads and my gloves are dirty and, quite frankly, stinky.
Setting the mood, I put in my earbuds and listen to a music selection while I set up my work station for maximum results. The workbench is lined with newspaper and my cleaning and sharpening implements are all laid out for easy access. I lay out some latex gloves, coarse sandpaper, or sanding block/sponge, some steel wool, a wire brush (plus a rotary wire brush for stubborn rust spots), a pumice stone, and a putty knife to scrape off any remaining dried soil. For lubrication, I have a spray can of WD-40, and one of vegetable oil.
Next, the tools need to be sharpened. A sharp tool requires less effort and is safer to use because you do not have to use as much force when welding them. Sharp tools make cleaner cuts that allow the plant a better chance to heal and expose a cleaner edge that will better resist diseases, insects, fungi and weather extremes.
I believe that tools should be sharpened regularly and preferably after each use. But, as mentioned above, there were times that I had just returned the tool to storage and walked away without doing that. Years ago I used a sharpening stone or whetstone but a few years ago I found this great handy dandy sharpening tool that fits perfectly in my pocket and is much easier to use. As I write this I'm truly embarrassed that I didn't use this ‘easier to use' tool more frequently. That being said, each cutting edge will require the use of a sharpening tool. I like to run my sharpener two or three times along the surface of the blade from the handle to the edge in a continuous swipe.
A bypass blade uses a scissors movement to pass next to, not on top of, the often non-moving lower surface. The edge to be sharpened is on the beveled surface or the outside of the moving blade. Sharpening the inside of the blade would eventually make the space between the blades grow larger due to the minute scraping off of the metal as you sharpen.
Anvil blade tools feature a double beveled edge or a two-sided blade that connects with a single flat surface/blade in a chopping motion, not a scissor bypass motion. Both sides of the moving blade will need sharpening. Hone both sides so they have equally beveled edges.
There is much controversy as to the preferred blade style. Personally, I prefer the bypass style.
The shovels, rakes and hoes really don't need much sharpening. The working surfaces of these tools will just need a visual check for any folded over metal surfaces. If that has occurred just use a flat-edged file or coarse sharpening stone to dress the edge back to true. I sometimes run the sharpening tool along the working edge (for example on a shovel the ‘working edge' is on the scoop side of the blade) to make sure that the surface doesn't have any pits or flat areas. I then spray each shovel and hoe blade with flat black spray paint. I like the way it makes all the tools look neat and it also protects the blade from rust. My dad taught me this step and I have good memories of doing it with him each year when he cleaned his tools. All that remains is to scrape and clean the soles of my work boots, oil my leather gloves and throw the fabric gloves into the washer.
Tools are your helpmates and represent a large cash outlay and deserve regular maintenance. It is a great way to ensure their usefulness and readiness for optimum performance. Rainy days are a good time for this tool maintenance chore. After your tools are lined up and gleaming you can be justifiably proud of a job well done.
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Photo credits: Melody Kendall
The Farmer Fred Rant Blog-Chuck Ingels http://farmerfredrant.blogspot.com/2009/08/anvil-versus-bypass-pruners-some.html
UCMG Santa Clara-Tool Care https://mgsantaclara.ucanr.edu/garden-help/tool-care-tips/
Cornell Cooperative Extension-Caring for your Tools https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/cwas/files/2013/01/Caring_for_Your_Tools.pdf