Getting Tools Ready for Spring

Getting Tools Ready for Spring

Part of Ep. 401 Waiting for the Snow to Melt

Meet with Horticulturist Dr. Astrid Newenhouse and learn about how to care for our garden tools with cleaning and sharpening. Find out why it's important to keep them in good shape.

Premiere date: Feb 29, 1996

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
With spring fast approaching it's time to get your tools in shape. I'm with horticulturist, Dr. Astrid Newenhouse to look at how easy it is to keep our tools well cared for. What are the benefits to keeping tools in shape?

Astrid:
There's lots of benefits. This is a spade that's over a hundred years old. And look at this-- the wood's in nice shape; the metal's in nice shape. It's beautiful.

Shelley:
So, they'll last longer. What else?

Astrid:
Another benefit is that you will last longer! Because if you use a sharp, clean tool the motion is more efficient.

Shelley:
Digging will be easier because I'm not "blunting" the dirt I'm digging it!

Astrid:
And a third benefit is to the plant. If you, for example, use a dull pruning shears on plant tissue, that tends to shred and rip the tissue and that open wound invites bacteria and fungi to come in.

Shelley:
So, sharp tools are better for us and the plants? Okay, I assume then, that all tools should be taken care of from big shovels to small hand tools?

Astrid:
Right, big ones to small ones, like these.

Shelley:
So, where do we start?

Astrid:
Start with cleaning. Let's use this hoe as an example. I've already cleaned the handle with steel wool-- got the dirt off. And now, I'm going to oil the handle; it's a wooden handle.

Shelley:
So, we wouldn't do this on a metal handle.

Astrid:
Using linseed oil-- get a lot of it on there. That keeps it from drying out.

Shelley:
And avoids splinters, too?

Astrid:
Right. So, now, let's move up to the metal part of it. Will you hold that?

Shelley:
You've got the dirt off, but it looks rusty.

Astrid:
Yeah, and to get rid of the rust, I'm going to use sandpaper. This is automotive or metal sandpaper, and steel wool. Notice, this comes in different grades. I'll start with the easiest one, which is the steel wool. Not much is coming off.

Astrid:
I see a little bit, yeah. Then, gradually, go to the next grade and the next grade. There, some is coming off.

Shelley:
But, you've got some really deep, in there, don't you?

Astrid:
And for really bad rust... There it goes. I can use this coarser grade.

Shelley:
You always go from gentle to worse?

Astrid:
Yeah, you don't want to take off too much metal.

Shelley:
What else would I do?

Astrid:
This is a cutting tool. A hoe cuts the root of the weed. So, you want that to be knife-edge sharp. Feel that.

Shelley:
It's real dull, right now.

Astrid:
Yep, time for sharpening. I'm using a mill file. This is a file that's specifically meant for sharpening metal. And see this edge, right here, that bevel? With the file, I'm going to maintain the angle of that bevel.

Shelley:
You're sharpening in one direction?

Astrid:
One direction. A file works only on the downward stroke.

Shelley:
You sharpen away from yourself?

Astrid:
Right, just like that.

Shelley:
So, after we have that nice and sharp are we pretty much done?

Astrid:
Yes, except you want to prevent this rust from happening again. So, in that case, use motor oil, any kind of oil.

Shelley:
This is just waste oil?

Astrid:
Yep. And rub it in to the tool, like that.

Shelley:
That looks nice. Okay, that'll keep it going for quite a while. What about some tools that are, well, badly damaged?

Astrid:
This is still salvageable. It's dirty! I would scrape the dirt off, maybe moisten it to make it easier. And something like this, I would not handle myself. I would bring this in to a shop.

Shelley:
And let a professional do it?

Astrid:
Yes.

Shelley:
Where do I find a sharpener?

Astrid:
In the yellow pages, under sharpening or ask at a hardware store.

Shelley:
Are there other things that a professional should handle?

Astrid:
I would send this in to a shop to sharpen.

Shelley:
What about pruning shears? I hear that if you sharpen them wrong, you can really wreck 'em.

Astrid:
That's right! A shears, like this, is just like a scissors, where there's a bevel on one side, and not on the other. So, what you want to do, is make sure that you sharpen it only on this side.

Shelley:
A beginner might not know how to do that.

Astrid:
You can damage a tool by improperly sharpening it.

Shelley:
You do this a lot. Show me how you do it.

Astrid:
I use a whetstone for the pruning shears. This already has oil on it. A whetstone, you need to use with oil. And I'm going to maintain that bevel, right there. I'm going to steady the tool. Some can be taken apart which makes it easier. And then, just go along the edge of that bevel.

Shelley:
Again, you're working away from yourself.

Astrid:
Yes, in one direction, only.

Shelley:
If I'm uncomfortable, let a professional do it!

Astrid:
Yep, send it in! That's not going to cost me much, is it? No.

Shelley:
Do I do anything else to take care of them?

Astrid:
There's a lot you can still do. This has sap on it.

Shelley:
Yeah, it has!

Astrid:
So, what you want to do, is use alcohol, like rubbing alcohol or wood alcohol and start removing that sap.

Shelley:
Just rubbing with the cloth. It doesn't look like anything's happening.

Astrid:
We also need to use steel wool on this one.

Shelley:
So, again, start out with the gentle and work towards tougher pieces of material until it works.

Astrid:
That'll come off.

Shelley:
A little elbow grease might work. Anything else, then?

Astrid:
This pruning shears has moving parts, so you need to lubricate those parts.

Shelley:
Now, you're not using waste oil this time?

Astrid:
No, this is a fine grade lubricating oil. Then, just work it back and forth.

Shelley:
That will make it easier to use, too. Now, I have another reason to use waste oil. I put it in a bucket of sand.

Astrid:
Oh, good idea!

Shelley:
I take my tool, and after I'm done, I go in and out and it scours the dirt off and oils it automatically. That's a very good habit. If I do that, I won't have as much work later on!

Astrid:
Mm-hmm.

Shelley:
Great. Thanks, Astrid. So, protect your investment. It will save you time and effort.

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