Tuesday’s Tips — Cleaning & Storing Tools

Yesterday I pulled out my pruners and though I’d sharpened and cleaned the gunk off them with a scrubby pad and some water before putting them away, I hadn’t oiled them (forgot to put the WD-40 back in my tool bag). I was at my client’s house so I thought I’d just make do. Five minutes of having to pop the blades back open after every cut made me humble enough to beg for a drop of oil. Olive oil was all she could rustle up, but it worked just fine.

Those painful few minutes made me really appreciate the benefits of well-cared for tools. Sharp tools can make your gardening experience a breeze or a real pain, literally. Tools that aren’t clean and sharp can cause all kinds of problems. First, they can hurt you — dull pruners or loppers mean you have to apply more force, more often and that can cause, at the least, sore hands and wrists.

Second, dull pruners and loppers (and other cutting tools) will hurt your plants, leaving ragged ends instead of nice clean cuts that heal quickly. Crushed stems and ragged cuts also leave plants vulnerable to disease. Dirty tools carry those diseases from plant to plant. So save yourself and those plants you work so hard to nurture by sharpening and cleaning your tools.

I use my tools all year round and don’t really have a season here in coastal So Cal when I store my tools. Even so, I should go through this routine once a year. Mary Beth is much better at this so I asked her to tell us what she does in the late fall when gardening season is over in the Durango area (and which, obviously, will apply to all colder climates).

Mary Beth: After I clean and sharpen my tools I spray them with WD-40 and rub them with fine steel wool to remove any rust. The I wipe them with a clean cloth leaving a thin layer of oil to prevent rusting over the winter. To store them I put them back in my clean tool bucket in a dry place.

Many gardeners prefer to clean and store shovels, etc. in a bucket of sand and oil mixed together. (Mix 3/4 quart motor oil or mineral oil into a 5-gallon bucket of sand which should be damp but not moist.) Store tools with their blades buried in the oiled sand, or, after plunging them into the oil/sand mixture, hang on pegs off the ground.

Here it is in a nice list:

  1. Go out into your garden and find all the tools you’ve left lying around. (I know there are at least a couple hiding there!)
  2. Clean off all the sap and dirt. You may need a solvent to remove the sap.
  3. Sharpen blades of pruners, loppers, shovels, hoes, weeders, saws, etc.
  4. Oil the blades, hinges and other metal, moving parts. Leave a thin coat of oil on metal to prevent rust.
  5. Tighten bolts and screws. Check handles on long tools to make sure they are securely fastened.
  6. Store in a dry area off concrete floor, hanging tools from pegs or leaving them in the oil/sand bucket.
  7. Don’t forget to wash your gloves. If they are leather, condition them before putting them away.


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