Making your garden tools last longer

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

One of the best ways to live more sustainably is by keeping the things we have as long as possible. This means also to “look after” them to actually extend their very lives.

A "green" product is not just one that's made with the best materials or the best manufacturing practices or from recycled materials; it also should be something that is well-made, so it can last as long as you need it.

Garden tools are a perfect example of something where it really makes sense to choose based on quality and always try to buy the best that you can afford or even save up for the best ones.

Once you have chosen something well-made, be it garden tools or whatever else, it is, obviously, up to you to take good care of them.

Here are some tips for keeping your garden tools in perfect shape.

Wooden handles on garden tools need regular maintenance. Once a year or so, wipe the handle off and use fine sandpaper to gently smooth the wood. Clean off the dust, and rub in some “care” oil, letting it soak in.

Some people recommend linseed oil but not everyone likes working with it and it is also not necessary to use it; it is expensive after all. Cooking oil will do – I use it for the wooden handles on the knives that I make – and does as well as linseed oil.

Keep rubbing the oil in until the wood stops absorbing it. After about an hour, wipe off any remaining oil.

Metal parts of tools can be cleaned off with a wire brush once a year. The wire brush removes dirt and light rust; if there's more serious rust, try soaking the tool in vinegar or using steel wool. Cutting tools should be filed to keep them sharp.

Sharpening of cutting tools is a skill that is well worth learning properly and some tools, such as pruners, should be sharpened before every use (and may need to be during use, much like scythes do).

If your tools are stainless steel wash them after every use and wipe them dry with a cloth. Then store them safely in a dry place.

If they are not stainless steel clean after each use with water, fry well, and oil them.

To clean the blades of pruners and garden shears and remove any sap and other “debris” of the blades use a cloth soaked in oil and kerosene or, better still, use some baby wipes. Yyou do not have to use, for instance, the expensive “Sapex” or similar products.

The oils penetrate the sap and other cutting “debris” on the blades and thus remove those while at the same time oiling the blades.

Cutting blades of secateurs, pruners, and such should always be oiled before use as this will prevent things from sticking to the blade.

The larger tools such as spades, forks, rakes, and other such should always be hung up so that they do not come into contact with the ground and any moisture that might be there. Also, it stops us falling over them in the shed. Small tools should be on shelves or, if possible, fitted with lanyards, hung up too.

Fitting out a shed with the appropriate hanging facilities for the tools could be one of those jobs for the winter period when most of the activity in the garden has ceased.

Look after your tools and you will be enjoying them for years to come. Quality (garden) tools, well cared for, can and will last for generations and not just a few years.

© 2010