This past spring, I was horrified to find that my father’s favorite shovel had accidentally been left outside all winter.
It definitely was going to require special care and effort to get it back into shape. Because time is always in short supply at the beginning of the growing season, I put it on the to-do list for this fall and winter.
Let me tell you more about this shovel. It is a small-bladed digging shovel that my father bought in his later years at a local hardware store. I knew it was his favorite, but neglected to ask him why he liked it. Now that I am older, I think I know the answer. This small shovel is easier for weaker or small-framed gardeners to use.
Did you know that there are different sizes of shovels? Big, sturdy gardeners can easily use a No. 2-sized digging shovel, with a blade that is about 9 inches wide and 12 inches tall. You can also find shovels with smaller blades, including No. 1 with a 8.5-by-11-inch blade, No. 0 with a 6-by-7.5-inch blade, and No. 00, with a 7-by-9-inch blade. My father’s shovel is a diminutive No. 0 with a straight wooden handle.
My father did not usually buy top-of-the-line garden tools because he was good about taking care of his tools. He never would have left his shovel out in the rain or over the entire winter. I learned from him that good tool care is important whether you buy an inexpensive shovel or one of the best quality.
Because the moisture over the winter raised the grain on the shovel handle and made it hard to use, I will start getting my father’s little shovel back in shape by first sanding the handle. I will begin with a medium sandpaper, such as 80 grit, to smooth off the roughest parts and then switch to a finer sandpaper, such as 120 grit, to smooth it further.
The next step will be to remove the rust on the blade using a wire brush. There is a fairly heavy layer, so it might be easier to use the rotary wire brush attachment on my hand drill and then switch to some medium 80 grit sandpaper. I might even start with a commercial rust removal product to make the job easier.
I do not have my father’s skill for using a flat file to sharpen tool blades. So if the little shovel’s blade seems dull, I will take it to a local shop for sharpening. A sharp digging blade without lots of nicks and burrs definitely makes the task easier.
The final step will be oiling the handle and the blade. I will paint the handle with a liberal coat of boiled linseed oil and then wipe off the excess after letting it soak in for an hour or two. I may repeat this treatment again before the beginning of the gardening season next year.
To help retard rust on tool blades, some gardeners use a light coating of clean motor oil, but instead I plan to apply a commercial aerosol lubricant recommended for rust protection.
Once I get my father’s little shovel back in shape, I am resolved to do a better job of caring for it and my other garden tools. They will be cleaned, dried and put away promptly after they are used.
Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.