How to Maintain Gardening Tools

The Benefits

There are many benefits to keeping garden tools clean and sharp. Well maintained tools can prevent diseases from spreading. Sharp tools make quick, neat cuts that heal quickly and are less prone to infection. Gardening tool maintenance also makes digging and pruning easier on you by putting less strain on your hands and body. A clean, sharp shovel will slice through roots and soil with ease. Most importantly, properly maintained tools will last for many years, which will save you time and money!

List of things you’ll need:

  • Safety glasses
  • Heavy duty gloves
  • A dust mask
  • Detergent
  • A Garden hose
  • Rags
  • A wire brush
  • Fine Steel wool
  • Medium grit sandpaper or sanding sponge
  • A bastard metal file
  • A sharpening stone
  • Boiled linseed oil
  • Silicon based oil
  • And of course, dull and dirty garden tools

Cleaning Instructions

First, clean rust and dirt off all metal surfaces with a wire brush. For smaller tools, consider using some fine steel wool. On larger tools, use medium grit sandpaper. This will polish the metal slightly. Next, remove dirt from wooden handles, smoothing them with the steel wool and sandpaper. Then it’s time to hose the tools off. Scrub them down using detergent, dry them off, and set them aside to dry completely overnight.

Sharpening Pruners

If your pruners can be taken apart, go ahead and disassemble them. Put on your dust mask, safety glasses, and gloves and you’ll be ready to sharpen.

Bypass Pruners

On bypass pruners, sharpen the beveled edge of the top blade. The beveled edge has a narrow band that is angled at about 23 degrees, which you will want to maintain. Start by clamping the pruners in a bench vise, or holding them down on a table pointed away from you with the bevel up. Starting at the base of the blade near the hinge, lay the stone against the bevel. Following its angle, stroke the stone toward the edge while also moving it along the edge toward the tip. Make about 15 strokes, always in the same direction. Now turn the blade over. You will find a burr of metal shavings along the back side of the sharpened edge that needs to be removed. Hold the stone flat against the blade and remove the burr with one stroke.

Sharpening other cutting tools

Other cutting tools can be sharpened following the same instructions as above. For hedge clippers, sharpen the beveled cutting edges on both blades. Always remember to never sharpen serrated blades, as this will ruin them.

Sharpening digging tools

Digging tools often come from the factory dull. They will need to be sharpened before they are first used, before major digging projects, and before dividing perennials.

The best tool for sharpening digging tools is a bastard mill file. Begin by clamping the handle of the tool to a workbench so the head is facing up. Holding the file with both hands, set the file against the cutting edge of the shovel and angle it so that it will create a 45 degree bevel. Using medium pressure, push the file away from your body and across the working edge.

The Last Step : Lubrication

  • After any tool maintenance, it’s important to lubricate. Using a clean rag, apply oil to all metal surfaces and on wooden handles. Rub the oil into the surface, then wipe off any excess.
  • Make sure that you use a silicon based oil on metal surfaces to prevent rust, and use boiled linseed oil on wooden surfaces. After the wooden handles have dried, apply a second coat of oil to keep them from absorbing water, and to help prevent cracking and splintering.

Watch a Video.

For more information on how to clean and sharpen your gardening tools watch GrowOrganic Peaceful Valley’s video below.

Or watch UNL Extension Educator Sarah Browning’s demonstration here.