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Oil & Clean Garden Tools to Extend Life
by Joyce Schillen
November 8, 1999

“Get back! Get back!” I hollered while snapping a whip at the advancing pack of shovels and rakes and hoes. Huddled inside the entrance to our garden shed, they were awaiting their chance to escape after a long, hard season. Open the door just a crack, and out they tumbled, encrusted with mud, showing signs of hard labor.

Don’t get me wrong. I DO have sympathy for their plight. So I guess it’s time to do something about it: clean them up and put them snugly to bed for the winter. That should make them feel better.

After all, these tools do deserve some appreciation. A basic collection of good quality tools can make or break your gardening experience, not to mention your back.

It pays to invest in strong, well-made tools that are designed to make gardening easier and faster. I didn’t know that when I began gardening. I bought the cheap stuff at first, but after seeing how fast it broke down, I began buying sturdier replacements. They cost a little more but they last for years.

When buying tools, lift them up and put them through several motions to make sure they are suited to your height, strength, and hand size. Consider the balance and length of handles and choose ones that will work best for you.

Look for padded handles on small hand tools, a comfortable shape, and bright colors that stand out when you accidentally leave tools lying out in the garden. Hand tools designed to prevent repetitive stress injuries are now making their way onto the market.

Take good care of your garden tools. They are not generally thought as cutting tools, but indeed they are. Keep tools sharp by using a hand file or belt sander to maintain good edges. Knives, hoes, shovels, pruners — all of these work more safely and quickly when edges are sharp. A sharp hoe provides a relatively quick and painless death to weeds that trespass among the posies.

Tools deteriorate from time and dampness combined with soil and rust. Keep tools clean and oiled to make them last a lifetime. During the growing season, keep a bucket of sand nearby, lightly saturated with clean motor oil. When you finish for the day, plunge metal blades into the oily sand a few times. The sand scrapes off clinging soil, and the slight film of oil that remains hinders rust formation. It also makes digging easier, since oiled blades slip more easily into the soil.

Give tools a good cleaning before storing them for the winter. Scrape off soil, using a stiff wire brush if necessary. Remove rust with emery paper or, if necessary, a liquid rust remover. After cleaning, give metal surfaces a protective coating such as WD-40 or light-weight motor oil.

Replace broken handles with new handles from a hardware store. Take the broken tool with you to make sure you get a good fit. Give all wooden handles a light sanding to remove splinters and rough edges, then treat them with a good preserving oil such as linseed.

Last but not least, put up a rack so you can hang tools out of the way when they’re not in use. It will help prevent mutinies in the garden shed; once hung up, very few tools are able to escape.

Pre-built tool racks cost very little; or you can simply pound large nails into a board to hang tools, perhaps padded with cardboard, old carpeting, bubble wrap, or plastic bags wrapped around the nails.

Next spring your tools will be hanging there, clean and shining and waiting for another year’s work.

Basic Tools

Square garden spade; round-point shovel; hoe or weeder; cultivator; garden fork; stiff garden rake; leaf rake; trowels; small pruners; pruning saw; sturdy scissors; a good sharp knife.

Copyright 1997 Joyce Schillen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Joyce Schillen (So. Oregon, Zone 8) ~~~

Author of "The Growing Season" (ISBN 0-936738-12-x)

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