Maintaining Garden Tools


Old sayings stay around because there's lots of truth in them. A perfect example is "if you take care of your tools they'll take care of you". The secret to having garden tools you can count on year after year is to buy good quality tools to start with, and then maintain them. If you do those two things, your children will still be using your garden tools long after you've stopped gardening. Taking care of your gardening tools isn't hard and it just takes a few minutes and some common household products.

Here's all you'll need to take care of your garden tools:

  • Work gloves and safety goggles
  • A bastard file(8 or 10 inches)
  • Wire brush
  • Cloths or rags
  • Linseed oil or water replacement lubricant
  • Drop cloths or newspapers

The main enemies of all garden tools are moisture (causes rust), and poor or inadequate maintenance that prevents them from doing their job properly or cause them to wear and break. So, the trick to maintaining your gardening tools is to prevent moisture and wear from attacking them. Here are some basic fundamentals for keeping your gardening tools around for a long time.

  • Clean your tools after each use
  • Store your tools off the ground and in a dry place
  • Remove any rust that forms on a tool
  • Keep wooden handles smooth by sanding and oiling them
  • Keep cutting edges sharp
  • Before putting them away for the winter clean them well and give them a coating of oil.

Sharpening Shovels and Hoes

In addition to removing any clumps of dirt and drying off the head, digging tools need to be kept sharp so they're easy to work with. Depending on how much digging you actually do, this can be a once a year job or once a month. If you need to dig through any roots it's nice to have a sharp shovel.

When sharpening a shovel you only need to sharpen the upper edge of the shovel. A straightforward way to do this is to fasten the shovel into a large vise with the head near the vise and facing up. Start at one side of the shovel and holding your file at a 45-degree angle to the edge of the shovel and pointing towards the middle make four or five strokes. Move your file in an inch or two towards the center and repeat the motions until you get to the middle of the shovel. Once you reach the center, move over to the other outside edge and once again work your way back into the middle of the shovel.

Once you've sharpened the shovel, spray it with oil or a lubricant and wipe all over the surface with a cloth. The oil will prevent the fresh edge from rusting.

Sharpen hoes in the same way. Use a file on one side only; work slowly from one edge to the other and finish by giving the head a quick run with oil to prevent rust.


There are two basic styles of pruners, bypass or anvil. While both have a single cutting surface, the cutting blade on bypass pruners slides past a blunt edge, while on anvil pruners the cutting blade butts into a flat solid surface. Anvil pruners are good for cutting branches or solid stalks while bypass pruners work better on thinner stalks and branches. On either design you only need to sharpen one cutting edge.

Good quality pruners are easy to take apart for cleaning or sharpening. They usually have a screw at the base of the jaws that can be removed. Once removed the cutting blade can be sharpened using a whetstone or even a kitchen knife sharpener. After you've sharpened the blade spread some oil on it to prevent rust before reassembling the pruners.

Long Wooden Handles

The wooden handles of rakes, hoes and shovels need maintenance as well. Over time, the wood will dry out and begin to splinter. You can ensure the wooden handles of your garden tools don't ever do this by sanding the handles with medium grade sandpaper (100 grit) and then rubbing the handle with linseed oil. You can do this anytime of the year, but it provides extra value when you are putting your tools away for the winter. Cold air tends to draw moisture out of the wood so the extra protection provided by the linseed oil keeps the handles from drying out and splintering.

Gardening books or magazines will give you lots of innovative ideas about things you can do to maintain your gardening tools. Things like putting your long handled tools into a capped plastic pipe filled with linseed oil or storing your digging tools head down in a bucket of sand that's had a quart of old motor oil poured in. Undoubtedly these ideas will work, but when you think about it, all you're trying to do is prevent the handles from drying out and the metal from rusting. You don't really need to go to those extremes, just follow the basic ideas we've talked about here, and you'll be working with your garden tools for years to come.