This is the third post of a series on gardening tools. If you have bought or own some of the tools mentioned in the 10 Most Useful Gardening Tools and 15 Special Tools That You Might Need posts in this series, how do you keep them in good working condition for many years?
If you just bought some shiny new tools and are eager to start using them in your garden, that is great – I know that feeling too. However once you start using them they will lose their shine, get dirty, lose their sharpness and possibly also need to be fixed.
To keep them from rusting away and deteriorating, it literally pays to keep the following maintenance tips in mind.
Storing your tools outside will cause them to deteriorate in most climates. So you will need some indoors storage for your tools. This could be your garage, carport, garden shed, greenhouse or even in your house (in a mud room or basement, not the living room or bedroom unless you live by yourself!).
You want the storage ideally to be close to where you need the tools but if you have a large yard you will anyways need to carry them around the yard. There are storage carts you can buy that allow you to easily wheel around your tools. Or just throw everything into your wheelbarrow to carry it to the job site.
Regardless of where your storage is, you need some way to keep the tools from banging into each other, especially tools with a sharp edge such as hoes, pruners, hedge and lawn shears, etc. Lots of options abound for hooks and such but my preference is for a pegboard and then a good supply of pegboard hooks. You may need to be creative with the hooks and use more than one for some of the more awkwardly shaped tools. Or drill a hole in the handle of a tool to hang it easily on a hook (you may have to loop a short piece of string through the drilled hole for even easier hanging.)
You should have a shelving unit or some other shelving for tools that just don’t hang well on hooks. The key is having a place for everything and avoid having to move something to get to a tool unless it is one that is seasonal or that you don’t use often.
If you have small children make sure to store any toxic products on high shelves or ideally in a locked cabinet. Same if you have pets – make sure they can’t get at products that could make them very ill or worse.
And finally protect your tool investment by locking the storage so that someone doesn’t help themselves to your tools.
This is probably the most important maintenance task, not only for the longevity of your tools but also for another reason I will mention at the end of this section.
While it is easy to skip these cleaning tasks, especially at the end of the day when you are dead tired from working in the garden all day, if you can make the time (factor that into when you stop working for the day) and the effort, you will save time and money later in not having to buy new tools.
Make it a habit every time you finish using a tool to give it a good cleaning before you hang it back in your storage area. Scrape off the worst of the dirt over one of your garden beds (no sense wasting good soil) and then wash the tool thoroughly.
It helps to have a sink (a plastic laundry sink with plumbed water in your garage, shed or greenhouse works well) where you can wash tools. And running hot water which I just had installed in the spring in my greenhouse – while a luxury – gives you less excuses to not clean your tools especially in winter or the cool days in spring and fall.
If you don’t have the luxury of having a sink with running water you can make do with just a garden hose. Just pick a spot where the excess water doesn’t cause any issues.
Have some brushes (a cheap dish brush works well) on-hand to loosen caked-on dirt and then rinse it off. If you have sap on the blades of pruning tools or have rust spots on anything, have either some steel wool, a sanding sponge or a pot scouring pad on-hand. Sand can also be used to scour tools in a pinch.
Some gardeners also use a bucket of sand that is saturated with horticultural oil to dip their tools into to avoid them rusting. Alternatively there are natural based lubricants that you can spray your tools with to protect them from rust and to lubricate any moving parts such as pruner blades.
An added bonus of keeping your tools clean is that it helps stop the spread of diseases through your garden. This is especially important for pruning tools if you use them on any diseased branches. In addition to cleaning after a day of pruning, a 5:1 solution of chlorine bleach and water can be prepared and the pruning tools dipped in before moving onto the next tree or bush.
Sharp tools always work better, saving you time but they also are safer as you will be less likely to have to force the tool to do it’s job.
Hoes and spades can be easily sharpened with a metal file – you are not trying to get a razor sharp edge, just sharp enough to slice through sod, soil and the thin stems of annual weeds. Unless you use these tools on pavement (such as scraping up moss or weeds growing in cracks) or hit a lot of rocks while digging, they will likely keep a sharp edge for quite awhile and you may only need to “dress” them once a year with your file.
Pruners can be sharpened with various sharpening devices. If neglected, a pruner blade will tear or crush rather than slice branches and stems of plants which may help invite disease. If you have a pruner with replaceable blades you may also want to consider simply replacing the blades if they get too dull or nicked (never use them to cut wire!).
Regardless of how careful you might be, tools do break. It’s easy to be over-enthusiastic trying to dig something out of the ground for instance and break a shovel or garden fork (the last one happened to me this spring.) If a tool breaks, especially if it was a relatively inexpensive one, you may at first think to just throw it away and buy a replacement. However it costs money and is wasteful. In most cases it is fixable.
Always be aware of what type of warranty you have on a tool. Make sure to keep track of when the warranty will expire. And don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer or the store you bought it from if there are issues with the tool. Most manufacturers will not replace/repair a tool that they think has been incorrectly used or mishandled. However that might be hard to prove and in some cases manufacturers just want to have happy customers. Happy customers might buy another product from them if they get good service. So call or email them, ensuring you have the serial number, model number and purchase date handy as they will likely ask for that info.
If the tool can be repaired, it may be as simple as replacing a handle (if it is a long handle you might be able to simply shorten the handle and reattach it), replacing the blade of a pruner as has already been mentioned, patching a hole or replacing a part. You can contact the manufacturer to find out if they can sell you the part as that is the easiest if perhaps not the cheapest option. Oftentimes if the part is “off-the-shelf” you may find it by simply searching on the web for the part number or description. Alternatively for difficult-to-find parts you could consider 3D printing it (but will need to either create the 3D model yourself or find someone that can do so).
Worst case if the tool can’t be repaired, it might be able to be used for some other purpose – you may need to put on your creative hat for that. If you do have to throw it away find out if you can recycle it rather than throwing it in your garbage bin that is going to the landfill. My old shredder died and by taking it apart, I managed to salvage a few parts from it for a future project I have planned.
Do you have any other maintenance tips or shortcuts that you use to keep your garden tools well maintained? Please share those tips or shortcuts in the comments below.
Be sure to also read the next and last post in this series What Tools to Use for Common Gardening Tasks