By: Curtis McCrury, Oakland CA
There are quite a number of different garden tools used in pruning. Each should be properly cared for. You won’t really appreciate how many are stored in your garden shed until you bring them out and clean them up. Each tool requires cleaning and sharpening or lubrication to keep it functional and in good condition.
Before you begin working on your tools, be sure you are wearing gloves to protect your hands and arms, and use safety goggles to protect your eyes. Your health is more important and more expensive to repair than the tools you are working on.
In general, keep the wooden handles of your tools in good shape by lightly sanding off any rough spots or nicks or splinters. A good oiled finish helps seal the wood and keep it from drying out. I prefer to use Tung oil or Danish oil, but if you would rather seal with a varnish, be sure it is a clear varnish.
For your “cutting” edges, you will need to have an assortment of rasps, files and sharpening stones on hand. A bench vise is also handy for positioning the edge of the tool being worked on.
For lubrication, I recommend using a light machine oil (such as 3-in-One oil or that used for sewing machines) and wiping off any excess so it doesn’t contaminate the cut surfaces of your rose canes.
To clean off stubborn dirt and debris, use soap and water and a nylon scrubbing pad. Be sure to rinse the tool off with clean water and wipe it dry. You can lightly rub it with machine oil if you want too, but don’t apply thick oils — these petroleum-based products will not help your roses if they smear into the cut surfaces of canes and leaves.
Digging tools are generally sharpened using an eight or ten-inch file. You want to stroke the upper (working side) edge of the blade at about a 60-degree angle. Never try to sharpen the back side of the cutting edge. To “finish” the edge, turn the tool over and very lightly stroke once across the dull edge of the blade. This will knock off any metal burrs left behind by your sharpening.
If you don’t have a bench vise for holding the blade, position the shoulders of the spade on a sawhorse or firm surface, put your leg over the handle to hold it firmly, and procede to sharpen. Lightly stroke in an outward direction, and don’t try to dig deeply into the metal. A general “touch up” along the edge will keep the blade in good condition.
After each use, rinse off the blade with water to remove dirt and organic grime, wipe it down and store in the garden shed. Do NOT set it against a wall on its edge! Hang it, or put it in a rack, or jab it into a large bucket of dry sand.
Sharpen hoes in the same manner as you would use on the shovel and spade. Remember that the working edge is the one you sharpen — not the back side. Clean the hoe after each use, wipe it down and hang it up.
With these tools, the narrow bevel of the blade is the one you sharpen. This is best accomplished with a small whetstone. If you know how to take the tool apart, it is easier to sharpen and clean the blade. If not, use the smallest stone you can manage so you can lightly stroke across the cutting edge in an outward motion. Try to maintain the angle that is already there.
Don’t try it unless you really know how. Pruning saws not only need to be sharp, they also require a “set” — the particular way the teeth are angled and edged. If you don’t have a setting tool, you’ll be trying this “by guess and by golly.” It is better to take the saw to a professional. After use, clean it of all sap and organic debris. Wipe it lightly with machine oil and then hang it up.
Mowers present their own set of problems. If all you want is a minor sharpening of the blades, then procede as with sharpening a hoe or spade, taking care to stroke lightly along the working edge of the blade. Otherwise, take the machine to a professional. For a rotary mower, the blade edges all have to have the same angle to the blade, and the blades have to be balanced. Otherwise, you risk damage to the machine. Buy good quality tools, take care of them, use them in a safe manner and they will last for many, many years.
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