It is best to clean your garden tools after each use, but they should at least be cleaned before you put them away for winter. Clean tools are more effective, last longer, and are easier to use.
Sharpening blades make cutting easier for both you and your plants.
Tools that are used in soil should be kept clean to prevent rust formation and remove disease-laden soil particles. To prevent the spread of disease, it is important to clean tools more frequently when you are working with infected plants. To prevent spreading disease, make sure you have a container of bleach, bleach (1 to 9 parts water), or disinfectant (such as Lysol) on hand when pruning diseased limbs.
Use a strong stream of water from a gardening hose to wash tools like garden forks, shovels, and hoes that are in the soil. If you have clay or other stubborn soils, you can use a wire-bristle brush to clean your implements. Dry the tools using a rag. Use paint thinner to get rid of sticky sap from pruners and blades of saws.
Even after cleaning, rust can form on worn metal, especially if it is made of higher-grade steel. Use a light coat of motor oil to prevent this from happening. You can dilute it with kerosene. Some people reuse old oil from their mowers. The oil can be wiped on with a paper towel or old rag, or sprayed on with a sprayer. You can also mix the soil and sand into a mixture to push tools into after each use. This is quick and easy. The sand provides some abrasion in order to get rid of soil. You shouldn’t experience any adverse soil effects because the oil is rapidly broken down in the soil.
Some people prefer to use strong black tea for hand tools.
Let the tea cool in a saucepan or kettle. After the tea has cooled, let the tools (or blades) soak for at least a few hours. You can wipe away dust with a damp cloth. A handful of wax paper balled and rubbed on surfaces to clean and protect tools if they aren’t too dirty or rusty may suffice.
You may need to use rough paper and a wire bristle toothbrush if your tools are very rusted. You may need a drill with a wire brush attachment for the most rusted. Safety glasses are recommended for the latter. Make sure to oil the surface after cleaning.
You should also sharpen your tools at the end of the season.
It is best to sharpen your tools as often as you use them during the season. If tools are rusty, this is even more important. A hand file can be used to dull large tools like spades, axes, and shovels. These files are available at hardware stores or home shops. You may need a drill attachment or high-speed grinding stone if your tools are very dull. If you are using a high-speed grinder, wear eye protection.
It is easy to get distracted when using a grinder designed for this purpose. The metal can lose its temper if it heats too fast, and it will not hold its edge well again. Keep the metal from heating up if you are grinding. It should be cool to the touch. Incorrectly sharpening mower blades can cause them to be out of balance. This can lead to damage to the mower motor, which turns at high speeds.
Many gardeners use an oil stone or a honing stone to make finer tools like pruners and plops. To make the job easier and faster, I pay a little more for a high-quality handfile such as one with cut diamond or carbon.
No matter what sharpener you choose, make sure to follow the instructions.
Use a stone to sharpen the blade. Slide the blade in one direction along with the stone. Repeat this process until it becomes more precise. A handle will make it easier to maneuver a file such as a “mill file” purchased from a hardware shop. The cutting teeth of your blade should be drawn along the edge of your tool in one direction. The file should be held at an angle relative to the edge of your tool surface.
How sharp can you be? Any tool will do. You don’t have to be as sharp as tools like shovels or hoes, but pruners should not be. The sharpness can be felt with your fingers. If you have sharp knives or pruners, please be careful. Or just observe the “bevel” and angle. The bevel is the sharpened edge. The angle is the distance between the edges or bevels. The bevel of duller tools is shorter and more angular, perhaps 30 degrees between each side or bevel. Sharper tools will have a longer bevel and a narrower angle between each side, perhaps 15 degrees.
Plastic handles are common in tools, but it is important to treat wooden handles for the best possible life expectancy. Use a rag to rub wooden handles, lightly moistened with oil (or other wood protection oil) and a little bit of linseed oil.
After tools have been cleaned and sharpened properly, you can store them in a shed, garage or closet out of the elements. They will not rust or become duller if they are kept off the ground. I prefer to hang mine by their handles. For straight handles, I hang mine upside down using ten-penny nails to hold it. If you are looking for new tools, stainless steel is a good choice. They are more durable and easier to clean.