Having finally finished my annual fall cleanup in the garden, I can now turn my attention to cleaning what helped me accomplish all that work: my tools.
Without good tools, gardening is a chore. My father always used to say, “The right tool for the job cuts the work in half.” Oddly enough, my father was neither handy nor owned a lot of tools — a topic that could fill another column.
Somehow, I focused less on Dad’s habits and capabilities and more on the intent of his numerous expressions. That may explain my extensive collection of garden tools.
Some of my tools have been around for longer than I have, and are as useful today as they were when they were made. I inherited some when I bought the house we live in; they were left in the barn after years of good service to generations of previous owners. Others I bought at yard sales or antique shops.
In general, I find that new tools are not as well made or well designed ergonomically as old tools were. As was the case with many products, once garden tools became mass-produced, factories paid more attention to designing stackable products in order to optimize the use of space in shipping containers and less attention to the form and function of the tool itself.
Here is my advice on tools, simply stated: Choose your tools care
fully when buying new ones. Buy the best you can afford. Care for them, and they will last for decades.
After use, wash all loose dirt, bark or sap from your tools with a blast from the hose — or, in the case of small hand tools, clean them under running water from the faucet. For tough-to-remove grime like sap, a piece of fine-grained sandpaper works wonders. During the summer, allow your washed tools to dry thoroughly before storing them. For those who, like me, use their tools all winter long, a quick wipe over metal surfaces with an oil soaked cloth will prevent surface rust from forming.
Hand tools such as pruners and loppers should be sharpened periodically to keep them working their best, so that the user will need to exert only the minimum amount of force to get the job done. Some of these tools have removable blades to make this job easier. When buying new hand tools, look for brands that have removable parts. Not only will sharpening be easier, but when the time comes, replacing the blade is a lot cheaper than replacing the whole tool.
For larger tools such as pointed shovels, grub hoes and certain garden hoes, lightly file the working edge every spring and as needed during the season to keep them working efficiently. Remember, the whole point of using a tool is to make a job easier.
One of the best ways to keep tools in good shape is to store them in a dry place. Damp sheds, garages or basements will promote rust on metal parts and mildew on wooden ones. If you do not have access to dry storage, wipe all metal surfaces with a liberal application of oil before storing for the winter.
In sum, take good care of your garden tools, and they will take care of you. With luck, those are words my kids will remember me by.