Keeping your (garden) tools clean & sharp

by Michael Smith (Veshengro

Keeping Tools Garden Clean & SharpWith the gardening season now in full swing it is important to remember that you must keep your tools clean and sharp in order to be efficient in your tasks. Also, it is good practice to clean any cutting tool between dealing with different plants as to not to spread diseases.

Here is a short guide as to how to keep your garden tools clean and sharp.

Cleaning your tools

Always immediately clean your tools after work in the garden. I know that this often is easier said than done and there are times when I too put tools away dirty.

But best practice is not to do that. This goes for all tools and not just cutting tools and it is more important if the blades, etc. are carbon steel and not stainless steel.

Remove any dirt with water – hot water, if you think necessary – and immediately after dry tool and apply oil to all metal parts.

Sharpening shovels, spades, edging knives and similar

Sharpen the metal edges on shovels, spades, edging knives, and similar tools using a mill file.

Follow the angle of the original bevel and move the file along the edge and away from your body in long even strokes (not short choppy ones) to achieve a smooth but sharp edge. Hint: Place the tool in a vise to add an extra pair of hands. This also keeps the tool much steadier than holding it with one hand.

Caring for and sharpening secateurs/pruning shears

Cleaning: The blades should be wiped after use in order to remove sap buildup as this can lead to the secateurs/pruning shears (loppers) to be damaged.

Often a product called “Sapex” is being recommended but that is (a) rather expensive and (b) unnecessary. Use cheap baby wipes or simply a rag with easing and lubricating oil such as WD40.

In fact wipe all (metal) parts of your pruning shears to clean them and to protect them.

Sharpening: Often people will tell you that you should use and oil stone or whetstone to sharpen your pruning shears. This is a load of baloney because it would require, in most cases, the disassembling of the shears. You also want to be able to resharpen “in the field”, so to speak.

Use a small mill bastard file for the purpose of sharpening your secateurs/pruning shears. File in the direction of the original bevel and towards the blade taking care not to cut yourself. Alternatively, take your pruning tools to be sharpened professionally.

A word about “oil stones”... this term is the most misleading thing as sharpening stones should never, ever, be used with oil, not even honing oil. It clogs up the stone's pores and thus makes it ineffective for sharpening.

India, Wichita, and carborundum stones all are best used with water only and I vouch for that for sharpening knives and other cutting tools was once my bread and butter.

Storing tools

When you have finished using your tools, at the end of the day, rinse and dry them and then wipe them down with oil (olive oil works fine) and store in a 5- gallon bucket of sand, or hand them up off the ground. Some gardeners add oil to the bucket of sand and use the coarseness of the grains to clean the metal.

As to the oil with which to wipe down your tools I have a little tip here: you do not have to use your olive oil directly from the kitchen. There is always some oil dregs left in a bottle of (olive) oil in your kitchen when it is considered empty. Drain that – it may take a couple of hours – into a glass jar and keep. Over time you add to this and you will end up with a nice collection of free oil with which to wipe down your tools.

Tools cleaned and maintained in this or similar manner will remain serviceable for many years, even decades and more. Look after your tools and your tools will look after you.

© 2012