Maintain Garden Tools

Maintain Garden Tools

Level: Experienced

The better a tool works, the less you have to. If you take the time to maintain your gardening tools at least once a year, like at the end of the season, you can have tools that will last for years, if not decades. These maintenance tasks are easy and help you save money over the long term, while making your gardening work go smoothly in the short term.

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  • Before You Begin

    Taking care of your tools all season will make end-of-the-season maintenance even easier. Protect your tools and make it a routine to clean your tools after each use with water, dry them thoroughly and apply a light coat of oil to all metal parts. Use a stiff-bristle brush to clean stubborn, hard-to-remove dirt. Be sure to store your tools off of the ground and somewhere indoors, away from the elements and excess moisture.

    You should have a space where you can inspect your tools and perform the necessary maintenance tasks, such as a worktable. Cover it with newspaper or plastic sheeting to protect the table and make it easier to clean up after you're done with the job.

    • Step 1: Check Blades
      wire brushwork gloves

      At least once a season, you'll want to replace or sharpen blades on any tools that cut or dig. Your tools' blades see a lot of wear. Use files to sharpen digging tools and to sharpen nicked or dull cutting tools.

      Sharpen very dull hedge trimmer blades by moving a file away from and diagonally across the sharp edge. You want to maintain the factory bevel. Then decrease the angle slightly and hone just the last 1/16" of the blade with a sharpening stone. If the trimmer has a serrated blade, do not attempt to sharpen it. That's a job for a professional.

      Most digging tools aren't sold sharpened, so you need to sharpen them from the get-go. As time goes on, the more you use your digging tools, the duller they get. File the working edge to a 45-degree bevel with a coarse file.

      For a bow saw, use a triangular file to sharpen both sides of each of the saw's teeth to a 45- to 60-degree bevel. To keep track of where you are, file every other tooth starting at one end of the blade, then file the remaining teeth the same way, working from the other end. File toward the sharp edge.

      Hone and maintain the sharp edge of all cutting tools with a medium-grit sharpening stone. For faster cutting, wet the stone with water or lubricate it with honing oil depending on the type of stone you have.

      Helpful Tips

      Clamp a pair of boards on the blade and lock it in a bench vise. This will keep you from having to keep changing the blade position in the vise.

      Before you store your tools for the off-season, use a wire brush to remove surface rust and dirt. Wipe down the metal with light oil to protect the metal from corrosion, especially if you store such tools in a damp garage or basement.

      Safety Alert!

      You should wear heavy gloves when cleaning or sharpening sharp cutting tools. Wear goggles when using a wire brush to remove rust and dirt.

    • Step 2: Check Handles
      gardening tools

      Check your tools' handles for splinters, breaks and cracks. Smooth weathered, rough wooden handles with a medium-grit emery cloth — it won't tear as easily as sandpaper. The handles should be smooth enough to slide your hand along. If the wood is very rough, first sand across the grain in a "shoe-shine" fashion. Finish by sanding with the grain.

      Helpful Tip

      Wipe a dry handle down with a heavy coat of linseed oil at the end of the season to rejuvenate and protect the wood.

      Sometimes repairing the wood is not a safe option. In these cases, it may be worthwhile to replace the entire handle of a favorite tool. For example, don't attempt to glue or tape a broken wooden handle. Use a ball-peen hammer or a block of wood with a nail hammer to knock the tool head out of the ferule on the handle.

      Helpful Tip

      Never strike a metal tool with a nail hammer. It may chip off a dangerous metal projectile. Always wear eye protection when using a hammer to make a repair.

      Good job! As long as you properly maintain your garden tools, they should last a long time.

  • Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.

    Before you begin, use the shopping list below to uncheck the tools you already have to complete this project.

    Then, print or save your updated list and bring it to your local True Value hardware store, where an expert Hardwarian will give you the remaining tools and expert advice you need to complete this project.

    You can also shop online for these project items at and receive FREE shipping to a participating store.

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