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Prepare Tools for Winter Break

It’s the time of year to check, clean, refurbish, sharpen and store those tools that helped you get through the garden season.

Equipment to have handy: safety glasses & gloves, a work bench with vise grip or C-clamp, metal file, wire brush, sandpaper, steel wool, rags, bleach or alcohol for disinfectant, boiled linseed oil, varnish, paint, or stain for wooden handles, spray lubricant or lubricating oil. Always use safety glasses and gloves. A metal sliver in the eye can ruin the day or your eye.

To work the nicks out of a shovel, hoe, or ax clamp it securely in the vise grip or C-clamp to leave both hands free for filing. Using the metal file, follow the edge in one direction away from your body using one smooth stroke across the entire edge following any existing angle. (An ax angle is usually 30° while a shovel or hoe can be 40°.) Lightly smooth the other side to remove any burrs. Repeat this process until the edge is smooth. A cracked wooden handle may be replaceable but any cracked head should be discarded.

To sharpen pruners or clippers you can clamp them down also. Some hedgers/clippers will need sharpening only on the edge with an angle. Some of these can be taken apart (make sure you keep all the pieces to put them back together again). Again follow the existing slant of the blade filing away from the body in one smooth stroke across the entire edge of the tool. Try highlighting the edge with a marker pen and file until the color is gone.

A five-gallon bucket partially filled with a mixture of course sand saturated with oil (clean motor oil or vegetable oil) can be used for tools that may have accumulated a little rust. Dip the head several times in the bucket of sand and oil; wipe off any excess. You can use this bucket all season for storage of hand tools.

If rust is stubbornly clinging to a tool, soak in white vinegar and scrub with wire brush or steel wool. Be sure to dry with a clean rag and wipe down the metal surfaces with oil to prevent rusting. To keep hinges operating smoothly oil or spray with lubricant.

Wooden handles can be washed with a wood soap. Treat them with penetrating oil such as boiled linseed oil. Wipe handle with oil, let set and wipe off excess with a clean rag. Consider painting the handles with a color that makes them easier to spot in the yard. Fiberglass parts can be washed with soap and water. When you are finished with the dipping, scrubbing and wiping be sure to properly dispose of any rags to avoid spontaneous combustion potentially caused by chemicals and heat.

Use a peg board with various size hooks to store tools. Outline each tool’s spot with that trusty marker pen so you’ll know each one is safely home for the winter (not waiting to be found come spring rusted under a tarp). Upright tool racks, available at the hardware store, hold a number of long handled tools. Or pour sand in the bottom of a large, wheeled garbage can, cut circular holes in the lid, and slide in long handled tools. This is convenient for moving your tools around the garage or into the yard.

Small hand tools can be stored in a belt such as a carpenter’s tool belt. Clip the belt around a lidded five-gallon bucket, putting gloves and miscellaneous items inside the bucket. You can use the bucket with lid as a stool or seat in the garden.

Label length and width of pieces of bird netting and shade covers; store them in storage boxes for future use. Wipe down & oil tomato cages. Store any stakes for climbing veggies with the long handled tools.

For gasoline engine equipment, pick up an engine conditioner and run it through the machine for about five minutes. By cleaning up now you’ll be ready to go next spring.

Pat Gogas is a new Tuolumne County Master Gardener, graduating from the University of California Cooperative Extension training class in April 2009. She adapted this article from The Tool Book by William Bryant Logan.