My father did not enjoy garden work, but he did believe in caring for tools. He taught me to put garden tools away when finished. Dad also impressed upon me the importance of giving tools quality care. Before storing tools for the winter, here are some tips:
-- Shovels, spades, trowels: Wash soil from blades using soapy water and dry off with rags. Once dry, use a wire brush or steel wool to remove rust. Next, sharpen the blade with a sharpening stone, hand file or a belt sander. The blade should have about a 15- to 20-degree angle. Sharp, narrow edges will not last long, so avoid making the blade any sharper. Once finished with the top edge, check the bottom and smooth off burrs.
Pay attention to the handle. Check wooden handles for cracks, especially close to the shank, and replace if needed. If the handle is rough and splintery, smooth with sandpaper and wipe down with linseed or tung oil.
When finished, give the shovel blade a light coat of a petroleum oil, such as WD-40, or clean lightweight motor oil. Then store it properly, hanging it up so the blade isn't damaged.
-- Pruners, loppers, hedge shears: The first step is to remove dried plant sap and dirt from the blades and other metal parts. If you invested in pruners that can be taken apart, do that to clean the blades, hinges, nuts and bolts. Sometimes a simple household cleaner will do the job, but it may take turpentine to remove conifer pitch from pruners. If you have neglected your pruners, you may also need 400-600 grit emery cloth or steel wool to remove residue.
Next, sharpen the blades. If you do not know how to sharpen, take them to a professional. After cleaning and sharpening (and re-assembling if needed), treat the metal parts with an aerosol lubricant, like WD-40. Make sure the blades are adjusted properly and don't wobble.
-- Wheelbarrows and garden carts: Clean them to remove dirt and rust. Spray-paint bare metal areas to discourage rust. Oil and tighten nuts and screws. Lubricate squeaky wheels. Sand and treat wooden handles. If your wheelbarrow or cart doesn't fit in the garage or garden shed, store it upside down and under cover to limit exposure to rain and snow.
-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.