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Clean and Store Your Gardening Tools Properly This Winter - Jan 7, 2013

by Adam Kutner, Tony's Tree Plantation, Oklahoma City, OK

Rusty toolsGood gardening tools are a pleasure to use - they often make your work both easier and of better quality. However, it is important to remember that if you want your tools to last, and you want them to function well while doing it, you must go through the proper steps of maintenance and storage.

The coming of winter is an excellent time to go through this process. As your garden rests, you can go over your tools and prepare them. Then, when spring arrives, you will be ready to go.

Five basic steps for maintenance and storage

Here are five simple steps you can take to keep your gardening tools in tip top shape for the next season, and many more after that. It is a good idea to set aside a specific area to perform this maintenance, as it can get quite messy. You might want to lay down some newspaper to make cleanup easier.

Remove dirt and rust

Tools get dirty and rusty. This is to be expected. Before you put your tools away, however, it is best to remove all debris and what rust you can. Use a stiff bristled brush for the dirt, and remember to wear eye protection while doing so.

For the rust, use a medium-grit emery cloth or a stiff wire brush. Emery works well for polishing off the rust, and it will be less likely to shred than if you used sandpaper.

Smooth out handles

Wooden handles frequently become cracked or splintered through normal use. If your handles have any rough spots or splinters, now is the time to smooth them out. Use another emery cloth here to buff out splinters and such. If it is very rough, start by buffing across the grain, then move to polishing with the grain as it becomes smooth.

When the rough spots are smooth, wipe the handles down with a heavy coat of linseed oil. This is excellent for reconditioning the wood and keeping it protected over the winter.

Take note: if a handle is badly cracked, it can be unsafe to use. Replacement is probably a better option if it is badly cracked.


Sharpen any blades that are dull using a medium-grit sharpening stone or a coarse file, depending on the tool. Most hand tools have a finer edge, which will require the sharpening stone. The file can be used on digging tools such as shovels and hoes.

Make sure to wear eye protection, and attempt to maintain the angle the tool was originally sharpened with.

Oil hinges, joints and surfaces

Any moving parts should be oiled, as well as all exposed metal. A spray oil can be used for joints to aid in application, but the surfaces of your tools should be oiled with linseed oil. Linseed oil is derived from the flax plant, and will not transfer anything nasty into your soil when you next use your tools.


Tool storageOiled Sand

One popular method of storing garden tools is the bucket filled with oiled sand. Combine enough linseed oil and sand in your container that the sand is damp, but not wet. Stab your tools in and leave them until spring.

Dry Storage

Try to store your tools in a dry area, such as a shed. This will help maintain all of the work you did in preparation.

Good habits

Most of these maintenance steps do not have to wait until winter. Develop the habit of cleaning and oiling your tools regularly, and they will last for years to come.


About the Author: Adam works with Tony’s Tree Plantation—Oklahoma City’s favorite garden center , nursery & landscaping contractor. Adam enjoys writing about outdoor design and gardening.



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