Supplies I use for tool maintenance, which should be done regularly to keep them in good shape. (Mary Lowther photo)

Supplies I use for tool maintenance, which should be done regularly to keep them in good shape. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Fall tool maintenance key to their longevity

I feel along all the wooden parts for cracks and nicks

By Mary Lowther

I usually look forward to cleaning and mending my gardening tools in autumn, but this year the tent housing them that had been just fine all summer decided to fall apart in our recent weather storm. My tools are soaking wet and need to be dried off and put somewhere to completely dry out before I tackle them. While they’re drying, I’ll assemble my tool maintenance equipment that I had the presence of mind not to store in the tent. I’ll need:

• rasp/file

• sandpaper

• rags

• WD40

• tung oil

• eye and ear protection and mask

• wire brush

• 3 in 1 oil

(I’ve used linseed oil in the past, but will follow garden centre manager in Georgia, Phil Colson’s advice: “The trouble with linseed oil is that it takes forever to dry and it’s always evaporating.” Tung oil penetrates the wood and seals out moisture.)

My handy multi-headed screwdriver had to be taken apart to thoroughly dry out, then I soaked the metal bits with WD40 to help remove the rust. When I wiped that off, they still needed sanding to remove more rust, but it was worth the effort because now my multi is back in action.

I’ll give the rest of my tools similar treatment so that come next spring I can pull them out with satisfaction, knowing that they’re in good shape. I like giving my tools a little TLC in the fall when it’s blustery outside and I’m cozily ensconced under cover. I feel along all the wooden parts for cracks and nicks, use a rasp or file to round off sharp edges and then use sandpaper on all of the wood until it feels smooth.

Because the metal parts on my tools have gotten rusty due to my inattention, I’m spraying them with WD40 too and then will wipe it off and use the rasp, wire brush and coarse grained sandpaper to remove as much rust as possible. I’ll use the rasp or file to sharpen all the blades, including the shovels and hoe, following the angles of the bevels, then I’ll sprinkle 3 in 1 oil onto the moving parts. I’ll dampen a clean rag with tung oil and wipe all the rest of the metal and wooden parts with the rag. Tung oil is safe to use on all the parts of garden tools because it is non toxic and protects the tools from humidity. WD40 is great for helping to unstick parts that have rusted together, but I learned (rather late in life) that it is not a lubricant and should be wiped off before lubricating oil like 3 in 1 is applied.

I haven’t painted my tool handles before, but I think I might put a splash on them this year because I tend to forget where I’ve left them in the garden and they’ll be easier to find if painted with a bright colour. I should paint my glasses too because one year I lost them in the garden and found them the following year, still perfectly fine. If tool handles make one’s hands cramp up and ache, Matthew Cheaver, a landscaper in Wisconsin, suggests taping a length of pipe foam insulation around the handle.

Once all the tools, including the wheelbarrow, have been repaired and oiled, I store them inside where they won’t get damp. When I bring them out next spring, I’ll make sure not to store them in a tent.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.