2011-01-20 / News

Winter maintenance for power tools

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

You probably have a lawn mower, maybe a hedge trimmer, possibly a leaf blower or a chainsaw and winter is the ideal time to take all these tools into your workshop and do some maintenance on them.

First, clean them. Wash the underside of the lawn mower with a high-pressure spray to get rid of stuck-on grass and anything else that you mowed last summer. Wipe your chainsaw down to get rid of all the oil and wood chips that it has stuck to it. Leaf blowers and hedge trimmers tend to pick up dust and dirt and should be blown clean with an air hose.

While you are cleaning your tools, check the model and serial number of each tool and write it down somewhere. This will help when you need to order new parts. For most power tools you will need a new spark plug, a new air filter, possibly new electronic parts such as ignition or coil, so having the model and serial number will help immensely.

Armed with your list of numbers, make sure you have new spark plugs and air filters for each tool. You should also check what type of oil each four-stroke engine uses. Two-stroke engines use a mixture of oil and gas and you might want to buy two-stroke oil by the six-pack or by the case to keep costs lower and to have some handy when you need it.

For your four-stroke engines, drain the engine oil at the end of the every year. In most cases this is easily done by undoing the oil drain plug and tipping the engine to let the oil out. Make sure you dispose of the oil in an environmentally friendly way. Ideally, you might flush the oil chamber with a flushing oil, but not many people actually do that. In most cases new oil is poured into the crankcase and the drain plug tightened down. Check the dipstick to ensure that you have added the right amount of oil.

Remove the air filter. In most cases, remove the oily sponge. Wash it thoroughly and add a teaspoon or two of oil. Squeeze the sponge to distribute oil throughout and remove any excess. Replace the sponge in the air filter after wiping away any dirt around the filter area.

Larger engines may have a cardboard or metal air filter and you will need to replace the entire filter unit. Make sure you have a replacement on hand before you start work. Also, remember to unscrew any parts that hold the filter in place before you toss the filter.

The spark plug is removed using a sparkplug wrench – not pliers – and a new spark plug installed. Make sure you tighten the plug down properly and don’t over or under tighten it.

Check all the control cables leading to and from the engine. Look for wear or signs of stiffness. In most cases, excess wear is found at sharp bends or at the ends of the cables. If in doubt, replace the entire cable. Doing it now will ensure that you have the tool for the summer and not have to take it to a shop for repair when you need it most.

On your lawn mower, you might want to remove and sharpen the blades, or tip the lawn mower on its side to sharpen the blade. A sharp blade cuts better with less strain on the mower and better results for your lawn. You might also take a file to the blades on your rototiller, and put a blunt edge on them.

If you have a rototiller or shredder or any powered tool that has belts, you should check the belts for wear and replace any that show signs of weakness. You might also order a spare belt in case one breaks. That will save time next season when you really need to use the tool.

Check all the grips on your tools and replace them if they are broken or damaged. It is much easier to use a tool with good handholds than one that you are constantly trying to adjust.

Chainsaw blades should be sharpened. If you do this yourself and know what you are doing, go ahead, but an expert will often do a far better job at a reasonable cost if you give them some time over the winter.

I also like to take a flat file to the blades on my hedge trimmer and touch them up during the winter. Sharp blades make it so much easier to cut the power cable to the electric trimmer.

Finally, check for rust on your power tools. If you find rust, you might want to touch up the paintwork to ensure that any rust cannot go any farther, or on non-painted parts apply a little oil or corrosion block. By keeping your power tools in tip-top shape can you expect to get good performance from them the rest of the year.

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