by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Like the hunter who uses his so-called season time, when game may not be pursued, to maintain his weapons and kit so the gardener must use his quiet season – mostly winter time – to maintain his equipment.
Regular cleaning and sharpening of any cutting tools, and that includes hoes and spades, should be routine anyway and tools should be cleaned – if possible – at the end of the “working day”. There is, however, some maintenance that will take longer and winter is the time for the gardener to do these jobs.
In order for your tools to be in top condition and to last for a very long time a little tender loving care, aka TLC, - or a bit more than just a little – will go an awful long way.
Power tools, whether lawnmower, brush cutter, grass trimmer or hedge cutter, should go to their annual service at this time, unless you are well capable of doing it yourself. And if you use a human-powered reel mower then that should also be serviced but most handy gardeners should be able to do (most of) that themselves. However, the cylinder may, depending on use, need a regrind and that can only be properly done on the right kind of work bench. The blades of a rotary mower, on the other hand, can easily be resharpened by anyone with the right knowledge and skills with only a good mill bastard file.
Hand pruning shears, aka secateurs, and loppers should be throughly cleaned and hand reground (Do not use a bench grinder or any other power grinder). With the right kind of tools this can even be done without the need of taking them apart, as long as no serious regrinding is required.
In the case of the latter it will mean taking the secateurs or loppers apart and regrinding the blade while clamping the blade down onto a workbench. The same as above goes for grass and hedge shears.
When sharpening complete and, if need, tools are reassembles – hopefully correctly – then all moving parts and springs need to be given a thorough coating with oil or even thin grease. Blades too should be coated in oil or thin grease and then the tools can be put away, ideally wrapped in greased Kraft paper (Oh dear, am I old-fashioned).
Digging and border spades and forks should be thoroughly cleaned and all rust – as far as possible – removed with a wire brush, wire wool and emery cloth. Spades should then be reground (by hand) using a file, the metal parts oiled and the wooden handles coated with vegetable oil. They should then be hung up in the shed. The same goes for your hoes, your edging iron/edging knife, etc.
Your most valuable hand tool, as you will already have discovered, for the garden is the humble garden trowel and for that very reason alone it should receive lots of TLC. Where would any gardener be without at least one good one?
Basically you treat your trowel (or trowels) (and other hand-held metal tools) in the same way as you do your spade, etc. in that you give it/them a thorough clean and them oil them in the same way. Also check the handles, if of wood, for any splinters and such and remove using glass paper. Afterwards apply vegetable oil and the wrap in Kraft paper and store indoors.
Wooden garden tools: There are few wooden tools in the garden – sadly – today. Almost everything has – nowadays – been replaced by and with plastic though we are beginning to see somewhat of resurgence in wooden tools for the garden and in the garden, such a dibbers, dibblets, trugs, baskets and a few others.
Not so long ago even wheelbarrows were made of wood, almost entirely even and they served us well. Yes, they were a great deal heavier than today's ones made of steel, aluminum and even plastic with their pneumatic tires but they had less of an impact on the environment in the making and were sturdier.
When it comes to the care of wooden tools first and foremost they should be cleaned well at the end of the working day and every now and then be treated with vegetable oil (or even a beeswax mix) to remain in good condition.
During the end of gardening year maintenance they should be thoroughly cleaned and rubbed down gently with fine wire wool after which they should be place in a “bath” of vegetable oil to refurbish them properly. They should then, after some hours, wiped down (without removing all oil) and placed, wrapped in oil cloth, in a dry place until they are required again.
If you look after your garden tools – and that goes for almost everything else – your garden tools will look after you in the garden and will last for a very long time (as long as they are well made).