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Cleaning gardening tools

Many gardeners have done their fall cleaning by removing annual garden plants and dead foliage on perennials. However, a gardener's cleaning chores are not over until the tools are cleaned, sharpened and put away for winter so that they are ready the moment spring arrives. Fortunately, this last garden chore isn't weather dependent -- it can be done anytime indoors.

Garden tools will last for many seasons if they are maintained properly. Clean, sharp blades on spades, shovels, hoes, and shears will make garden work much easier. Although tools should be cleaned after every use, most gardeners are busy and usually just return them to the shed or garage. By the end of the season, tools don't work as well, which makes pruning and digging more difficult.

Fortunately, neglected tools can often be rejuvenated. The first step is to remove caked on soil from hoes, shovels and spades. It may be necessary to use a forceful spray of water, a stiff brush, and soapy water. When most of the residue is gone, go over the blade with steel wool to create a clean, smooth and shiny surface. Rub naval jelly on the metal surfaces to remove rust spots.

Sharpen the edges of garden tools, such as hoes, shovels, and spades, using a sharpening stone or a #10 mill file. Hold the file at a slight angle over the original beveled edge, which is the top or front side of shovels and spades. In a sweeping motion from one side to the other, push the file along the edge in a one-way stroke away from the blade. After the edge has been sharpened, turn the tool over and lightly file the back the blade to remove the thin "burr" that formed when the front side was filed.

After the blades have been cleaned and sharpened, wipe or spray them with a petroleum-based lubricant and rust-inhibitor, such as WD-40.

Wooden handles on tools also need attention to prevent them from drying out and cracking. Remove soils residue and wipe the handles with a soft cloth moistened with boiled linseed oil.

Soil and sap accumulated on pruning equipment along with frequent use results in dull blades on pruning equipment. Remove dried sap with turpentine and use a flexible, abrasive emery cloth to remove residue from tight places.

Many pruning tools are designed so they can be taken apart to sharpen the blades. Sharpen the cutting blades on shears with a ceramic stone held at a slight angle and pushed across the edge, away from the blade. Turn the blade over and gently file off the burr. After sharpening, reassemble the shears and coat the metal parts with an aerosol lubricant to reduce friction between moving parts and prevent rust.

Keeping garden tools clean and sharp extends their life span and improves their performance. Get your tools in shape so the next garden season doesn't "spring" up and catch you unprepared.

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