An old wheelbarrow can last a long time if you take care of it. (Citizen file)

An old wheelbarrow can last a long time if you take care of it. (Citizen file)

Column Dig In: Time to take care of your tools

If any are still outside — bring them undercover ASAP.

By Mary Lowther

Now that we can’t get into the garden and play we have time to look after the tools so they’ll last. Where will we store them so they won’t rust or get in the way during the winter?

If any are still outside — bring them undercover ASAP. Even in the summer overnight dew can deteriorate tools, so it’s good to bring them in after every session in the garden. They are easier to find when they’re all in the same place anyway. Three years ago I bought a 20-year-old wheelbarrow that looked as good as new because the guy kept it dry in the garage. Tools last much longer if they have the soil brushed off, they’re dried after every use, and are maintained regularly. I keep a towel handy specifically for my tools.

This is a good time to take stock. Gather all your tools together and see what needs fixing. Often it’s worth getting them fixed instead of buying new ones, particularly these days when many new items are made with inferior materials. That old wheelbarrow I bought is probably going to last me longer than a new one would have.

Check the handles for nicks, give them a light sanding if needed and then rub them with linseed oil to preserve the wood and help prevent cracks. If a tool is rusty, scrub it with steel wool and, if it’s a shovel or hoe, sharpen it with a metal file or take it to Neiser’s, who also repair tools. Small tools like a knife, secateurs or loppers require a finer sharpening tool like a thin whetstone that fits into a back pocket.

Sharp tools save back-breaking labour and turn a chore into a pleasure! When sharpening the hoe or shovel, press on the file when pushing, not pulling and aim toward the cutting edge, lining up the file at the same angle as the bevel on the edge of the metal. Only sharpen the central eight or so inches of the shovel. Saws can be sharpened at Adam’s in Duncan.

Once the metal parts look great, wipe them down with a non-polluting, biodegradable rust-stopper like Bull Frog Rust Blocker and spray moving parts with WD 40. Hang them up. I nailed short spikes into the tool shed wall to hold mine up, but they could be stored in a can undercover.

Tools with no cutting surface, like hammers, pliers and trowels, should be brought out, fixed and maintained like the larger tools. I store the medium sized of these in a bucket and smaller items like scissors and pliers flat in a box on a convenient shelf because I use them all the time. I have two pairs of scissors — a strong one for string and rough jobs and a fine one for delicate tasks like trimming seedlings and new growth on soft tissue. In this tool box I also keep a multi-driver, my lino knife and a soft cosmetic brush for pollinating early flowers when it’s too cold for bees to woman up and do the job.

Well-maintained tools can make the difference between looking at gardening as a chore or a delightful enterprise. My tools are as essential to gardening as anything else in my arsenal. When my ex and I broke up, he got the tools and I got the kids. I suppose I got the better of the deal but I sure missed that mattock.