Garden Tool Tune-Up

Spend a little time getting your garden tools ready for prime time.

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There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of the arrival of your seeds or stopping by the local nursery to pick up a few tomato plants at the beginning of the growing season. Let’s press pause on that for just a second and turn a little attention to maintaining our gardening tools.  We’ve all heard that the most dangerous knife is a dull knife, and while that may be more or less true for your yard tools, a dull tool certainly takes some of the joy out of it. 

Freshly Cleaned and Sharpened Yard Tools

Freshly Cleaned and Sharpened Yard Tools

Photo by: Photo by Dan Lipe

Photo by Dan Lipe

I’m guilty of leaving my spade out in the rain, leaving clay on my mattock, and not sharpening my pruning shears quite often enough. The edges are dull, the steel shows signs of rust, the wood handles are weathered and my blades have a few nicks in them. Shameful, I know. I’d never let this happen to my woodworking planes. So let's give a little love to our hard-working yard friends.

If your tools look anything like mine, it's time for a tune-up!

 

Photo by: Photo by Dan Lipe

Photo by Dan Lipe

If your tools look anything like mine, it's time for a tune-up!

 

Some tools you might need for the job at hand: 

  • metal file (medium or fine) 
  • set of sharpening stones (coarse, med, fine) 
  • bench grinder for more serious work. 
  • sandpaper 
  • Danish oil for wood handles. 

Time - 1-4 hours 

A set of sharpening stones and a file will get you the edge on the hedge.

 

Photo by: Photo by Dan Lipe

Photo by Dan Lipe

A set of sharpening stones and a file will get you the edge on the hedge.

 

Start with a good cleaning and an inspection.

For your big tools - shovel, hoe, mattock, etc - use the hose and stiff brush, and give your soiled implements a good scrub so dirt is out of the way. Is rust an issue? No fear, but keep reading. 

Give each tool a solid inspection. What condition is the handle in? Does it need replacing or refinishing? How about the business end? Is it coated in rust? Does it need a light honing? 

Digging Tools

Eventhough there is good bit of rust, the edge has few nicks and can wait for a sharpening.

 

Photo by: Photo by Dan Lipe

Photo by Dan Lipe

Eventhough there is good bit of rust, the edge has few nicks and can wait for a sharpening.

 

My spade is in pretty good shape, save the clay still stuck to it. It doesn’t see a lot of action so there’s not a lot of work to be done. Next season, I’ll probably need to file the working edge to remove any nicks. When I do, the edge will be filed at about a 45° angle to the face. A sander can work for this task as well. The spade isn’t a knife, so there’s not really a need for it to be super sharp, but a good crisp edge will make digging that much easier.  

The Mattock

The marker line highlights just how bad this edge is and gives a guide for how much material to remove on the grinder.

 

Photo by: Photo by Dan Lipe

Photo by Dan Lipe

The marker line highlights just how bad this edge is and gives a guide for how much material to remove on the grinder.

 

This guy. It’s my go-to for tasks from mining clay to chopping through roots to removing unwanted brush. I should probably offer an apology to this one for the condition of the blade. When you have an edge in this poor condition there is only one route to go: start with the bench grinder. Don’t be too self conscious that the ground edge isn’t perfect. Starting with a marker line will help you get it mostly flat across. Mine has a little curve and that is OK. The grinding process will leave a burr on the back edge - that’s that little line of metal hanging on for dear life. You’ll want to remove that and a file will do the trick. See all those little lines in the exposed steel? Those can be removed using the sharpening stones. 

Now that the edge is dressed, go to work with your coarse stone and polish that edge. Working in a circular pattern from one side to the other and back (a few times) will get you good results. Follow the course with the medium and the fine. If you’re hard-core you can wipe a little machine oil or WD-40 on the metal to help prevent rust.  

Photo by: Photo by Dan Lipe

Photo by Dan Lipe

While you’re at it, hit that wood handle with some coarse (80) grit sandpaper. Get all that flaking varnish off. Not too smooth now, you don’t want it slipping out of your hands. When you’re done with the 80 grit, hit that wood with a coat or two of Danish oil. It will look great and help protect the wood from moisture. 

Cutting Tools

The cutting tools come in a couple basic categories - the clippers and the knives. Sharpening each is a similar process, except the knives only have one edge.

The nicks won't all get taken out, but the performance will improve once the burrs are removed.

 

Photo by: Photo by Dan Lipe

Photo by Dan Lipe

The nicks won't all get taken out, but the performance will improve once the burrs are removed.

 

Most clippers in my shed have been seen some abuse and show it. The nicks on the  edges will need to be removed and the cutting blade sharpened. 

Photo by: Photo by Dan Lipe

Photo by Dan Lipe

I like to take mine apart. This allows me to do a better job of sharpening and it allows me to clean and lubricate any parts that need it. This model has two different blades. One is sharpened to a fine edge and the other is squared. Both need attention. 

On the squared edge, use a file to remove any burrs. It may not be prefect, but don’t sweat it. The blade will get a little more attention. You want to address both sides. Starting with the angled side, work the blade in a circular motion starting with the coarse stone, then the medium and the fine. This process will work a small burr on the flat edge. Flip the blade over and work the back as well, removing the burr and creating a clean surface. The newly exposed metal doesn’t have to be honed to a mirror polish. 

Rust 

These hedge clippers have seen better days. The rust won't affect the performance once the blade has been sharpened.

 

Photo by: Photo by Dan Lipe

Photo by Dan Lipe

These hedge clippers have seen better days. The rust won't affect the performance once the blade has been sharpened.

 

If rust is an issue, there are a couple of routes. A brisk rubbing with sandpaper will remove any surface rust. Another option is to soak the tool in vinegar for several hours. Vinegar chemically reacts will steel and will remove a majority of the rust. The third option is to let it be. These hedge clippers have seen better days, and quite frankly will do their job - rust intact - with a good sharpening. 

When your tools are sharp, your tasks will be that much easier and you can spend a little extra time planting those seeds and new plants that you are eager to get growing. 

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