4 tips to select and care for your garden tools

June 19, 2015

You needn't drop a fortune filling your shed with every gardening doodad imaginable just to keep your garden looking good. A few basic, sturdy tools will do the trick. But if you're going to spend the money, why not also make them last? Here are four tips to help you select and care for quality garden tools.

4 tips to select and care for your garden tools

Folk wisdom contends that "you get what you pay for," and you will indeed pay a premium for high-quality gardening tools. But well-made, sturdy tools – a shovel, rake, watering can, garden hose, shears and trowel – will last a long time if cared for properly, so it's worth it in the long run.

1. Identify good quality

Although the initial price may be more for quality tools, the long-term rewards make it worthwhile.

  • Opt for spades and digging forks made from stainless or chrome-plated steel. They are expensive, but they're the most durable and don't rust.
  • Choose small garden tools in bright neon colours – they'll be easier to find in the grass or beneath weeds. The handles themselves can also be painted.
  • Avoid buying gardening tools from a catalogue or online; you have to know what they feel like in your hand and don't want them to be too heavy.
  • Where possible or appropriate, select tools that have extendable handles to make garden work much easier on the back.

2. Care extends service life

Dirty tools tend to rust and wear out faster.

  • Remove soil, grass cuttings or dirt immediately after using a gardening tool.
  • Clean stubborn dirt from the cutting edges of garden clippers with rubbing alcohol.
  • Prevent rust on metal surfaces by wiping them with an oil-moistened rag after use.
  • Wrap uncomfortable handles with a little foam material for extra cushioning.

No room in the toolshed for a wheelbarrow?

  • Stand it upright with the handles against a wall. That way it won't collect water or rust.

For your lawnmower, among the priciest items you're likely to buy for the garden, use a medium wire brush to remove encrusted grass clippings under the deck after each use.

  • Clumps of wet grass under the deck can cause it to rust prematurely.
  • To help prevent accidental startup, remember to disconnect the spark plug and allow the engine to cool before working near the blade of a gas-powered mower. On electric mowers, always ensure it's unplugged.

3. Prepare for winter storage

Preparing tools for storage will make it easier (and less work) when you pull them out again next spring. That means you should:

  • Sharpen the large blades of shears or saws with a whetstone, file or grinder. Smaller blades, such as those on secateurs, can be honed with a hand-held file.
  • At the same time, sharpen the edges of garden shovels, hoes or spades for more efficient digging. Just be careful when handling them afterwards!
  • Store all cutting-blade tools indoors, safe from rain or snow.
  • Oil wooden handles and shafts with linseed oil to keep them smooth and splinter-free.
  • Clean metal parts, such as on the head of a hoe, shovel or rake by first rinsing them with water to remove clumps of dirt, allowing the tools to thoroughly dry. Then, to remove a light coat of rust that may have formed, sand the metal surfaces with 80-grit sandpaper.
  • Store metal tools off the floor. Otherwise, you're giving them the kiss of death. To prevent tools from becoming damp and start rusting, place them on a raised shelf or hang from hooks screwed to the wall. Hanging could also help them escape a possible flood.
  • Place your lawn mower on a wooden plank. It prevents humidity in the floor from rising up and condensing on the underside of the mower's deck– possibly causing rust.
  • Do not leave any wood or metal tools in the yard over the winter months. Bring everything indoors for protection against the weather.

4. Keep your protective garden wear clean

Gloves and sensible footwear are crucial for working effectively and safely in the garden: thorns and jagged sticks can cut fingers, while using the lawnmower dictates wearing a sturdy (preferably steel-toed) shoe or boot to help protect toes.

  • For jobs that require kneeling, such as weeding or planting, knee protection is a good idea. Even a bag stuffed with rags or an old cushion will do the trick.
  • If using a power tool, such as a leaf blower, trimmer or lawn mower, safety glasses are always a must!

At the end of the gardening season, inspect your gloves, safety boots and protective eyewear for signs of cracks, rips, chips or holes.

  • Give your protective gardenwear a good cleaning before you put them away for the season. That means laundering gloves, cleaning the lenses of eyewear and wiping off accumulated mud from footwear and kneepads.

Gardener's helpful hint!
To keep your fingernails clean, scratch them over a bar of soap before heading out to the garden. By filling the space between your nails and your fingers with soap, you can keep dirt at bay.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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