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Extension: Stay sharp with garden tool maintenance
garden tools
Photo David Rangel, Unsplash

Often when the weather gets cold, people retreat into their warm living rooms for hot cocoa and holiday movies. While this is a wonderful way to spend the winter, it often results in a rough garden re-entry in spring. 

One of the best garden maintenance activities for winter is cleaning and repairing garden tools. 

This is important for preserving your favorite spade or pruning shears, so gather up tools, some sandpaper, WD-40, and a warm cup of coffee for a little workshop quiet-time. 

The very first thing you should do is remove any leftover dirt, sap, or plant residue. Sometimes, all this takes is a little elbow grease and a wire brush; sometimes soap and water are in order. 

If there is a buildup of sap on your tools you can use a solvent like alcohol or turpentine to remove the sap.  Once the tool is dry, you can inspect the metal for rust. If you find rust on your tools you can remove it with sandpaper or steel wool. 

Once the metal is clean and dry, use WD-40 or another light machine or engine oil to protect the metal through winter. Wipe away the excess with a dry rag. 

While going through this process, don’t neglect the wooden handles or you may end up with splinters next spring. Make sure the handles are clean, and then inspect them for rough spots or splinters. 

If you find splinters, you can trim them off and then sand away any leftover roughage. Once this process is complete, apply a light coat of linseed or mineral oil to preserve the wood, wiping away the excess. 

Pruners, shovels, hoes and chisels all have a cutting blade, so you may want to check these edges for damage. If the blades are chipped or dull, you can sharpen them using a file or whetstone. Make sure that you have eye protection and gloves before you start this process so that you are protected from stray shards of metal.

While working on blades of a tool, make sure that the blade is secured with a clamp or vice so the blade does not slip while you are working on it. Use long strokes in a single direction to sharpen the blade (especially if you are using a file) and try to maintain the original angle of the blade’s edge. 

For things like scissors and pruning shears, you may need to disassemble the tool to make sure that it is properly cleaned and sharpened. Clamp the tool to your work surface and expose the head of the bolt and nut. 

Use a machine or engine oil to lubricate the joint as you disassemble the pivot, and make sure to keep track of the order of the parts so you can easily reassemble the tool. 

As you disassemble the tool, you can clean, sharpen or replace parts. Some manufacturers have online resources that describe the best maintenance practices for the tool. 

As you work through your pile of hand tools, don’t forget about your power equipment. Lawn mowers, weed eaters, and similar equipment should be cleaned of grass clippings or debris. 

You should empty the fuel tanks or add a fuel stabilizer so that the fuel doesn’t degrade in the machinery. Last, check the spark plugs, change the oil and check the air filters. This quick maintenance list will ensure that power equipment will start when you pull them out in spring.

Make sure you exercise caution when working with equipment, especially when working with tools that have a bladed edge.  

Always use the appropriate protective equipment and a healthy dose of caution to prevent injury. 

If you have any questions, please reach out to Forsyth County Extension. Happy honing!  

Visit our website for more information and also you can visit our Facebook page for up to date announcements and information @UGAExtensionForsythCounty. Shannon Kennedy is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator.