Tools ready for a little end of season TLC. (Mary Lowther photo)

Tools ready for a little end of season TLC. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Oiling, sharpening and cleaning keeps tools in tip-top shape

It’s amazing how quickly tools can wear out when they’re left outside over one winter

By Mary Lowther

Now that the garden’s all put away and the compost heap is tucked in for winter, it’s time to make sure all the tools and wheelbarrows get cleaned, repaired, oiled and sharpened and put under cover to keep dry.

It’s amazing how quickly tools can wear out when they’re left outside over one winter, although I once lost a pair of prescription glasses and found them the following spring when I dug up a garden bed. They were still in great shape but I doubt my tools would have fared as well.

It’s a good habit to bring your tools back under cover and clean them after every gardening workout. I learned this the hard way; when I gardened for an elderly couple, the second time I went there, the man took me to the tool shed where I had hung up the tools I had used the first time. He pulled down the shovel and confidentially whispered that “somebody” hadn’t cleaned the tools before she hung them up. Oops.

I’ve learned since that tools cleaned after every use last longer, sharp tools slice through weeds and soil more easily, and oiled tools don’t rust readily. When tools are maintained like this they could outlast us.

Nevertheless, tools need extra TLC at the end of the season. Here’s what I do. First I brush and wipe off all the dirt accumulation on the tools, run a wet rag over them all and let them dry overnight. Next day I check each tool for cracks and nicks and run sandpaper over each wooden shaft and handle, including the wheelbarrow’s. If parts are cracked or broken beyond my ken and if they’re worth fixing, I’ll get someone else to fix it. It’s a wise woman who knows her limitations and I’ve gotten wiser as I’ve gotten older.

Then I sand off any rust on the metal parts with a stiff wire brush, steel wool and sandpaper and either sharpen the shovel, hoe and pruning shears myself or get Neiser’s to sharpen them. I run a rasp along the central inside eight inches of the shovel, following the slope of the edge on top until it becomes sharp but not thin. The hoe and pruning shears need sharpening on the outside edges, also along the same slope.

I wipe all this down with a dry rag and then oil everything to protect them from moisture and cracking. I used to use tung oil but have since learned that boiled linseed oil works better for garden tools. I oil up a rag and wipe everything down and hang the tools back up under cover. I wear eye protection, a dust mask and gloves when doing this work, plus ear protection when sharpening the tools. Years ago when I had my hearing checked I learned that I had 15 per cent hearing loss in one ear, and I want to keep all the sound bytes I’ve got, so I wear ear protection a lot, even when I vacuum. Did you know that the average vacuum emits 85 decibels? That’s enough to cause permanent hearing loss over time.

I check all my inventory: tools, buckets, hoses etc. to see what’s missing so I can replace them over the winter when I have time to check out sales. I’ve found that our own local Home Hardware and Irly Bird sell quality goods at competitive prices.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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