2011-01-27 / News

Even the small tools need some TLC

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

This is the time of year when your garden tools should be looked at. That leaf rake with all the broken teeth should be tossed. New ones are cheap enough, but if you are going to toss it out, save the handle. Somewhere along the way, you’ll break a handle and it’s always nice to have one ready to use instead of making a trip to the hardware store.

This year, give your tools a winter gift: sharpen them and give their wooden handles a coat of linseed oil. The linseed oil will help to stop the handles splitting when you inadvertently leave them out in the rain – I know, you never do that. It will also preserve your tool handles for a lot longer.

Smaller tools such as your hand pruners should be sharpened. Sharpening them is easy; just take them to Scott at Jamestown Hardware. If you are handy with a file you can easily do it yourself. Use a flat file and make a few swipes along the back edge of the cutting blade. On bypass pruners the flat edge – the one that crosses the anvil or other part of the pruner jaw – should not be touched. You will have to hold your file at between 20 and 30 degrees to the back edge to get a nice sharp surface. Try the pruners on a small branch or twig to make sure you’ve done the job right.

Anvil pruners – that is, the type where the cutting blade crunches down on the anvil (and does not pass it – can be sharpened on both sides.

Other small tools, such as hand hoes and trowels, can also be sharpened along the cutting edge. A good edge will help to make your work easier next year, until you hit a rock or two that is. When sharpening a hoe or a trowel, make sure you use the flat file at about a 45-degree angle. If you try to cut too fine an edge on it, it will soon get blunted.

Long-handled shovels and garden hoes can also be sharpened in this manner. A sharp edge will make your work less fatiguing next summer. When you have finished sharpening all your tools, clean them thoroughly and wipe them down with an oily rag or spray them with a rust preventative to help prevent rust until you need them again.

Check the handles of all of your tools. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve slid my hand down a long-handled tool and found a sharp splinter. If you find any splinters, use sandpaper and eliminate them. Then oil the handle again. Split handles should be replaced. Don’t think that you can go another season with it. Most likely it will split just as you are rushing to get a plant in the ground before a thunderstorm.

If you have to replace a hammer or axe handle make sure you insert the wedges in the hammerhead properly. Many hammerheads have flown off the handle because the wedges either came loose or were not put in properly. The first time I tried to replace a hammerhead – in all fairness, I was about 10 – the head flew through a window because I didn’t know how to insert the wedges properly. If in doubt look at an existing hammer. By keeping your tools in good order, you not only extend their life, but you make them your tools, the tools that you might pass along to your children and grandchildren, and these days that doesn’t happen very often.

Return to top