The Dirt Diva

Tailoring your garden to your needs!

Tool Talk: How to Have the Sharpest Tools in the Shed


“Tools, like shoes are paradoxically expensive if they are cheap”, says John Seymour, author of The Self Sufficient Gardener. I have to agree. High quality tools are worth the initial investment, since they make the work of gardening easier and more efficient. Plus, the extra cost motivates me to maintain them properly, and I’m rewarded with many seasons of use. Before the spring garden rush hits, get your tools in shape. You’ll need:

some rags

stiff bristle brush or abrasive pads (like steel wool)

boiled linseed oil

vegetable oil or mineral oil

whetstone or dual grit sharpening stone

blade sharpener ( I like the Accu Sharp model)

optional: bright spray paint to make tools more visible

1. Since wooden handles tend to wear out faster than the tools themselves, you can extend their life by storing them indoors, or at least out of the rain and snow, and oiling them with boiled linseed oil once a year. Check your local hardware store for linseed oil, or you can find some online here.

2. Scrape off mud and rust from your shovels, hoes and metal rakes with a stiff brush, and then apply vegetable or mineral oil to the metal parts with a rag. Some people I know fill a 5- gallon bucket with equal parts sand and oil, and dunk the metal parts in to simultaneously remove rust and oil their tools, re-using the bucket year after year. If you have a garage or shed where you can make bit of a mess, great! Otherwise, I suggest the rag method to apply the oil after you’ve scraped and sanded what you can.

3. Cutting and digging tools can be a frustrating waste of time if they aren’t sharp. On your axes and hatchets, as well as shovels, hoes and spades, use a “whetsone” or  dual grit sharpening stone with a little mineral oil and some patience to restore their cutting edges. To sharpen hand pruners, loppers and harvest knives, before and during the season, I suggest using a small handheld sharpener, like the Accu Sharp model.

4. Some tools are hard to see when they’re leaning up against a tree or are laying on the ground. To make sure you don’t leave anything out in the garden (where they’ll definitely rust and rot), spray paint a colorful swatch onto part or all of the handle.

Finally, the most valuable tools are your hands and feet themselves, so be sure to give them some TLC too. Consider massage, warm compresses, a foot soak and a skin-healing salve part of your tool maintenance routine, and all will be in good order for the upcoming garden season.

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