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Tools
by Des Kennedy
November 4, 2001

I’m feeling extremely pleased with myself just now, the reason being I have for once gotten our lawn mower properly attended to for winter. After the last cutting in October, I hauled the machine to someone in town who knows the subtleties of gasoline-fired equipment. He expertly sharpened the blade, cleaned the air filter and spark plug, flushed the oil and gas tank, and generally inspired in me a gratifying sense of well-being that I was at last doing right by the machine.
The proper care of garden tools and equipment is an art unto itself, founded on the critical trinity of cleaning, sharpening and storing. In the best of all possible worlds, these functions are sustained throughout the gardening year, and especially in autumn which is the perfect, if seldom practical, time for getting the toolshed in order. If, like me, you were pulled in too many directions by the contrary winds of fall, now’s a good time to set things right.
Thorough cleaning of tools is a sine qua non. Spades, forks, trowels and the like should be washed in warm soapy water. Any rust spots that have developed should be thoroughly scrubbed with steel wool. Wiped dry with an old towel, once the tools are completely dry, the metal parts should be polished with a rag soaked in motor oil to prevent further rusting. While you’re at it, the wooden handles can use a bit of oiling too, to discourage cracking.
Sharpening is equally important. There’s an old axiom that a sharp spade is half the work of digging, and the same holds true for secataurs, shears and other tools -- a modest investment of time spent sharpening soon pays huge dividends when it comes to getting work done quickly and efficiently.
It’s generally recommended that mower blades and shears be professionally sharpened, but other implements we can sharpen ourselves. The task is best tackled with a pair of thick gloves and a sturdy bench vice to hold potentially lethal weapons like sickles and machetes. A couple of files of different sizes are employed for sharpening spades, hoes and hand pruners, while a whetstone looks after putting an edge on other cutting tools.
Intelligent tool organization saves time and frustration in the long term too. Spades, forks, rakes and the like are best hung flat against a wall. Smaller tools can be hung on pegboards. If you’re short on wall space, a big old barrel or garbage can may be useful for holding long-handled implements in a way that allows you to easily spot the one you’re after.
Praiseworthy as it is in itself, the impulse to clean and tidy up tools can also run us into difficulty. Tidying the toolshed invariably brings on painful decisions about old treasures that have no practical value but are nonetheless gratifying to have at hand. Spade blades with broken handles, for example, are a favourite must-keep, as one foresees someday extricating the embedded handle stub and replacing it with a stout new handle. A rake that’s only a few tines short will surely come in handy somewhere down the road.
I have two ancient lawnmowers in the shed, neither of which will ever cut grass again, but both of which hold out faint hopes of one day becoming leaf shredders or even antique lawn ornaments. Laugh if you want, but not long ago I saw in a chichi gardening magazine a photograph of an old rotary mower like mine installed on a lawn with petunias growing from the hopper into which grass clippings were thrown in better days. Busted stepladders splashed with paint are also in vogue as pot stands. As a consequence, one hangs onto ancient manure forks and pole pruners and all sorts of other rubbish in the expectation that they’ll one day make fashionable garden art.
A clean sweep is far preferable, of course. Just as maintaining ones tools in a cleaned, oiled, sharpened and properly stored state is. So indeed is purchasing high-quality tools in the first place and looking after them diligently, as they’ll give far more years of service per dollar spent than you’d get with a succession of cheap alternatives, which one tends not to look after very well because they cost so little in the first place.
The well-tended toolshed, in short, is every bit as telling a precinct as the garden for which it exists. A new growing season launched from a tidy toolshed fairly trembles with great expectations and a certitude of their fulfillment as sure as the slice of a well-sharpened spade.

 

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