Keeping Your Tools Clean and Sharp

Keeping Your Tools Clean and Sharp

Clean tools work more effectively and they last longer.  Cleaning your garden tools regularly after each use is ideal, because doing so keeps diseases, fungi, insect eggs, and weed seeds from being unwittingly spread around the garden, but at the least they should be cleaned before putting them away for winter.  Tools should be sharpened as well, at least at the end of the season. Best is to sharpen them regularly as used during the season. 


Store your tools in a dry place to avoid corrosion for forming. Keep small tools in a bucket full of sand to avoid rust. When you're finished in the garden, place your tools in a bucket or bread pan full of sand to keep them clean, dry, and free of rust or other corrosion. The sand will wick away moisture and help keep your tools dry until the next use.     

For tools such as shovels, hoes and garden forks that are used in soil, wash them after use with a forceful stream of water from the hose.  For stubborn soils such as clay, use a wire-bristle brush if needed.   After washing, dry the tools with a rag.  For dull large tools such as shovels, axes, and spades, you can use a hand file available from hardware or home stores to sharpen the tool before storage.


When working on infected or sick plants it is essential to clean your tools in order to prevent the spreading of diseases.  When pruning diseased limbs from trees, keep a container of rubbing alcohol, bleach (one part to 9 parts water), or disinfectant (such as Lysol) handy to dip blades in between pruning each plant to avoid spreading the disease

If you’re dealing with saw blades and pruners covered in very sticky plant sap, such as from evergreens (pines, spruces and the like), you may use some paint thinner or WD40 to remove the sap before wiping the tool with a dry rag.    

In fact, as a general rule, the better the grade of steel used, the more vulnerable the tools will be to rusting. So, considering the high cost of quality gardening tools, it just makes sense to keep rusting to a minimum.

To prevent your tools from rusting after cleaning, wipe your or spray the tools with a very light coat of motor oil, vegetable oil (better for your plants) or WD40.  Keeping blades sharp improves cutting efficiency, resulting in cleaner cuts which improve the plant’s health. 

For sharpening finer tools such as pruners and loppers, an oil stone or honing stone is what many gardeners use.  I spend a bit more for a good quality handfile, such as with cut diamond or carbon surface, to make the job go much better and more quickly.    You can sharpen pruning blades and knives by sliding an oiled honing stone in one direction across the tool’s beveled edge.

Once tools are cleaned and sharpened, store them properly in a closet, garage, or shed out of weather conditions.  Keeping them off the floor helps prevent any moisture and rust, and dulling.  It’s always a good idea to hang tools by their handles. 


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