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Mary Lowther column: Treat your tools like your best friends

Autumn is here now and it’s time to clean my tools especially well
My favourite copper shovel and a file ready to sharpen it. (Mary Lowther photo)

By Mary Lowther

While gardening for someone else I learned the hard way to brush off soil from tools when I was finished with them. To my employer’s credit, he allowed me to save face the following week when he walked me to the tool shed and confided that “someone” hadn’t cleaned off the tools before putting them away, explaining that damp soil left on tools can rust the metal and rot the wood. I agreed with him, sagely nodding while secretly vowing to read up on tool maintenance.

Some authors recommend having a bucket of sand dampened with oil to dip the shovel into after cleaning off accumulated soil, advice I followed faithfully, only to discover I would need two rags: one to clean off the soil before plunging the tool into the oily sand, and another to wipe the oily sand off afterward. This requires space to shake out both rags and store them separately to use the next time when one is in a hurry to get inside and put dinner on the table, and who has time for that? The best I can manage is to clean off the tool, put it away and oil it with the rest of the tools in the autumn, but I know I could do better.

Autumn is here now and it’s time to clean my tools especially well, wash them if need be and treat them as my best friends, assuming my friends like to be scrubbed and oiled. First I examine the wood for cracks and splinters by running my hand along the handle of each tool, then I sand them down till they’re smooth. If that doesn’t work I ask David to fix the cracks and remind him about it regularly until either he fixes them or gets me a new one. That’s not nagging, just good management. I check metal parts for rust, sand those down, then sharpen shovels, hoes, secateurs and anything else that needs sharpening.

Once the tools look healthy, I dampen a cloth with tung oil and go over the wood and metal parts to create a waterproof barrier to prevent rust and deterioration during winter storage. I spray moving parts with three in one oil, then store all the tools in a dry place out of the elements.

The wheelbarrow gets a bit of extra treatment because it does all the heavy lifting. The whole thing gets scrubbed, cleaned, sanded and oiled and taken to OK Tire to repair and refill the tire if need be.

Some gardeners recommend painting the handles of each tool a bright colour so they’re easier to find in the throes of gardening and I might just do that this year. Someone who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty recently lost his cherished homie while planting a pair of edible chestnut trees, so perhaps he should paint his as well. Mind you, if he’s buried it again that won’t help much.

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