Fall is the time for garden tool maintenance

Be sure to take care of your tools before putting them to rest for the winter, says WSU Master Gardener Bonnie Orr. Clean, dry and sharp are the three most important words when it comes to off-season tool care, she writes.

The leaves are off the trees, and most of them have been raked up into piles for kids to jump in or have been ground up by the lawnmower to mulch the vegetable garden and flowerbeds. It is time to get off the couch and do something besides binge-reading novels. So how about examining your garden hand tools? You need to take care of your tools; you know the old adage, “If you take care of your tools, they will take care of you.”

The three magic words are clean, dry and sharp.

Hand tools such as trowels, pruners, loppers and all types of shovels have metal blades. Use a bit of soapy water and a piece of 000 steel wool to clean all the metal parts of dirt and rust. Rinse with hot water so the hand tool dries quickly. Check for worn and broken parts. If a blade is chipped or badly dented or worn, consider replacement. Replacement parts are also available for many quality tools.

Trowels can be sharpened with a file or a stone to remove burrs and little nicks. Wipe them with an old towel and spray the metal parts with a little W-D-40 or light machine oil.

Clean and oil the hand saw’s teeth to remove pitch and sawdust. Saws stay sharper if they are stored hanging up and not piled in with other tools. I like the little folding saws for light pruning because the teeth are protected from bending and scraping, and my hands don’t get punctured.

Then clean all the handles. If they are wood, the wood needs to be conditioned to prevent splinters. I lightly sand the older handles, which are getting rough, to prevent the cracking that causes splinters. Taking care of the wood leaves a tool safe and comfortable, and it is so much more attractive than covering the split wood with duct-tape. Apply some type of protection such as linseed oil, or furniture or wood floor polish. Cutting the linseed oil or tung oil up to 50% with paint thinner will give better penetration and lasts longer. Over the winter, the product will have time to dry on the handles, and you will have a solid and not slippery finish.

Have you created a dry spot to store the tools to prevent more rust or wood damage? Five-gallon buckets with some rocks in the bottom will hold the tools upright and tidy. Put them in handle down. If necessary the bucket can be strapped to a wall. I prefer hanging brackets for the tools I use most often.

Garden stakes are another “tool.” What a mess they can become. Clean dirt from off all the stakes and oil the metal ones. Cleaning will remove mildew spores as well. Arrange stakes by height in 2- or 3-inch diameter PVC pipes cut into 2- or 3-foot lengths. Now, here is a use for duct-tape. Stand all the pipes upright and bind them together so all the stakes are organized by height in one place. This is so much better than trying to pull them out of a messy pile in the spring!

So, when all these tasks are done, you can read the next novel in the series. Your tools are ready to help you as soon as the spring urge to garden hits — or maybe on a sunny, dry winter day go out and weed!

A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Bonnie Orr is one of four columnists featured. To learn more, visit wwrld.us/cdmg or call 667-6540.

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