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Friday, November 23, 2012
Being an avid gardener, and also a junkie for nice tools, not just outside but in my kitchen where a rack of wonderful old knives turn food prep into pleasure, it surprises me what some garden folks do [or don’t do] with their implements of destruction: shovels, spades, loppers, nips, hoes, rakes….
Hand tools get the most mileage for the regular backyard gardener. I don’t have much space myself, and every inch of soil I can turn over, aerate, and crowd with plants is important, so my tools are important. Dull, dirty, bent or otherwise mangled tools make the job frustrating and the results sloppy, but it’s not very hard to maintain a tool. Here are some simple steps:
- Clean them up. Generally, water is bad for steel, but getting dirt or sap or general ick off just needs a rag, and a minute or two. For the little tools, like nips and trowels, a bit of machine oil applied after cleaning keeps the steel nice. If you really need to use water, dry the tool thoroughly before putting it away.
- Keep them safe. Don’t leave your tools out. This seems almost idiotic but I have so many times just laid my precious nips down on the deck, forgotten them, left them in the rain, and rusted them. Then out come oil and rags and screwdrivers and a lot of time on my part. [Perhaps some swearing.]
- Sharpen them. A dull shovel makes the job much harder. It’s more natural to think of tools with blades as needing sharpening, but the bottom of the shovel is a blade too. Machine oil and a sharpening stone [both at your local hardware store] are all you need. Practice on things like shovels first, until you get the hang of angle and such, before proceeding to precision tools like compound loppers. Shovels are very forgiving, and if you make them dull first you can always sharpen them again. They are peaceable souls.
- Tighten them up. Even a lowly leaf rake has a screw or two to attach the handle to the base, and things get loose with time. The tool suffers and finally breaks, which always seems to happen to me in the exact middle of a job. Grrrrr. Check out the sleeves on your trowels and shovels, and make sure they are still firmly imbedded. If a wooden handle comes loose from a steel base, there are marvelous glues like Gorilla Glue to re-secure them.
This might seem like a lot of work and sweat added onto your happy digging and planting, but a good tool gets better with time, becomes used to you, and grows into a lovely old friend. There’s nothing nicer than a well-worn handle in your hand.
photo: Debbie Schiel, www.debsch.com