-To promote good healing of plant tissue; sharp tools will make better and cleaner cuts on branches and the tissues will heal faster after sharp cuts.
-Purchasing high quality tools and caring for them gives you the joy of passing them on to future gardeners.
Always put on safety goggles to protect your eyes and gloves to protect your hands. Let’s get to work:
-Get out the manuals for your power tools and see what maintenance checks you can do now. What needs cleaning, tightening, or replacing?
-Take some muscle, a wire brush and a strong water spray to your hand tools, and scrub off the dirt; remove fine rust with steel wool or 80-grit sandpaper; wipe dry; spray with a light coating of oil. This is even a good practice to do throughout the growing season after using any tool (if we can remember and take the time to do it). A soap such as Murphy's Oil Soap, citrus oil, or mineral oil will remove plant sap from tools and is less toxic than turpentine.
-Some gardeners rinse off the heaviest dirt from their tools with a garden hose after every use. Then they push the tools a few times in and out of a five gallon bucket of sand mixed with a quart of motor oil. This scrapes off the last of the dirt and gives the tool a nice rust-preventing coating of oil.
-Disconnect the spark plug wire on your mower for safety. Then check the underside of the deck; scrape out and clean out all dead, moist grass to prevent rust. Change the sparkplug and have the blade sharpened. Rinse well with a hose, dry, and cover exposed metal with a petroleum-based lubricant and rust inhibitor such as WD-40.
-Hoes, shovels, and cutting tools need sharpening to work well. Larger tools can be sharpened with a 10 inch bastard file or a grinder. Finer tools like pruners, knives, and shears may need to be taken apart and sharpened with whetstones or sharpening stones available from most hardware stores. Secure the tool with a vise or strong clamp before filing. Follow the bevel already on the blade. If you are using a grinding wheel, remember it is very easy to overheat your tool, destroy the hardness or temper, and lose its ability to hold a sharp edge; cool the tool after each pass, in cold water. If you chose not to do it yourself, many hardware stores will sharpen your tools. While you are at it, lubricate all moving parts with an oil such as 3-in-1 oil.
-Clean off the wooden handles of your tools. Use a fine sandpaper to remove any splinters. Rub a fine coat of linseed oil onto the wood to preserve it. Remember that linseed oil is highly flammable and when exposed to oxygen, soiled rags will combust spontaneously and can cause a serious fire. Store the used rags under water in a tightly closed metal can, and check with your city for proper disposal.
-Wrapping the handles of your tools with brightly colored electrical tape makes them easy to find if you set them down in your garden or if they are in your neighbor’s garage.
-It is a good idea to water your trees, evergreens, shrubs, and perennials to prevent winter dehydration until the ground freezes. Then, the hoses deserve care. Disconnect and drain them on a warm day to prevent them from freezing solid. Check and repair broken couplings. Repair cuts in hoses.
-Empty and wash out sprayers, leaving them open to dry out to prevent parts from freezing.
-Store liquid chemicals where they won’t freeze, and out of the reach of children. Dispose of any that you can no longer use or that are outdated. Check with your city first about proper disposal.
-After you are done cleaning, sharpening, and oiling, organize your tools. Drill holes in wooden handles of smaller tools for ease in hanging. Hang up long tools to prevent contact with cement where they can rust. Make or buy a low cost storage system. Extra or unused tools are always welcome at community gardens.
A quick Google search will present you with many fine articles on proper sharpening techniques for all your blades and more hints on caring for your garden equipment.
Next year, those old tools you care for now will look almost new and you will jump, no leap, into a new year of gardening.
Happy Tool Cleaning, Maintaining, and Repairing, Joe Baltrukonis