Caring for Garden Tools part one, Hand Tools

Ever tried to prune a rose with blunt secateurs – unsuccessful? Take the hint and look to sharpening your tools now; a good way to get something done in the garden whilst being inside the potting shed next to the heater!

Cleaning/ sharpening equipment:

Firstly gather together tools and cleaning/ sharpening equipment. This could be a selection of cleanish rags, including cloth for wiping your hands; general purpose oil; boiled linseed oil; ‘drip tray’ (for when you’re getting oil onto rag); stiff brush; wire brush/ rust scraper; sharpening stone/ whetstone; soapy water; bucket or container for used rags/ rust/ dirt  to be dropped into; WD40 or similar may be useful too.
Most of the equipment you probably already have in your shed or can be obtained from your local hardware or diy store or garden centre.


Garden Hand Tools:

Take time to observe  your garden tools, some may need too much work. Most will probably just need cleaning, oiling, a bit of tlc.


 Secateurs, pruning loppers, garden shears:

Check the springs and screws are all present and still working. If stiff, they made need rust removing and some oil applying as with blade (below).

Look at the blade; badly damaged or worn blades should be replaced. All moving parts need to be checked for wear; for many tools there will be spares available, check with the manufacturer.

bypass secateurs ratchet

Blunt blades may be sharpened with a fine metal file. First remove any rust with a wire brush and wipe over with an oily rag; use general-purpose oil. Then, adding a few drops of general-purpose lubricating oil, push the sharpening stone forwards and to the side against the blade, exerting a little downward pressure. Depending on which tool you’re sharpening it may be easier to move the whetstone rather than the tool. On bypass secateurs only sharpen the outside blade. Finish off by wiping over the blade with an oily rag.

Clean the handle of dirt by wiping with soapy water and drying before storing. If your shears have a wooden handle, follow instructions below as for garden spades.


Garden spades, garden forks, garden hoes:

Check the hand grip and blade aren’t coming loose from the handle; and tighten if necessary.

Clean blade, handle and grip, with wire brush and rag dampened with soapy water. Wooden parts should not be over wet as this can cause swelling and then splitting when drying out; especially if the wood hasn’t been oiled on a regular basis.

Blunt blades and tines (or prongs of the fork) can be sharpened as described above; hoes should only have the top edge sharpened.

Although there are more spades with plastic or composite handles, most still have a wooden handle, even where the grip may be plastic. Wooden handles and grips, once cleaned and dried, benefit from the application of linseed oil to keep them from drying out and the wood from splitting. If it is sometime since they were last oiled two coats may be needed. Rub on linseed oil with a rag; allow it to be absorbed before applying a second coat.

Garden spade in soil

Hand push lawn mowers:

A brief mention, as these are slowly becoming popular as an alternative for house owners with small lawns.

As before, check that no parts are loose that shouldn’t be; tighten where necessary. Check that moving parts – ie blades do move as they should, if they’re sticking, see if cleaning away debris resolves the problem.

Clean with wire brush and scraper so no remnants of dead grass are present; wipe down with soapy water.

Using spray oil if it’s then easier to reach all the metal blades, lightly oil as above.

If your mower wasn’t cutting as well as it should, it may be blunt blades or it may be that the blades need to be adjusted to a different height. You should have had instructions for this with the machine.

Sharpening is usually best done by your local service people unless you’re confident enough to take things apart and put back together again. If you want to give it a go, sharpen with whetstone as above, on the bevelled edge of the blade, remembering to apply oil with rag.


For more advice, drop us an email. Caring for Power tools is another blog; watch this space…

Nathan Waterfield

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