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There are many reasons people go into gardening:

  • It provides delicious, organic food.
  • It’s therapeutic for both the mind and the body.
  • It’s a reason to be outside.
  • It’s the epitome of local production.
  • It’s a real choice, something truly impactful, for those wishing to be environmentally friendly.

Whatever the reason is, the fact follows that in order to garden we need tools. We need a team of shovels, hoes, rakes, hoses, and trowels. With any piece of equipment, there inevitably comes breaks, there is maintenance involved, and ultimately there is a life after their usefulness. For gardeners wishing to be ecological (and economical), it makes no sense to buy new tools each time a handle snaps or a blade goes dull.

Instead, the craft of tool maintenance, like home gardening, needs a revival.

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Source: Spline Splinson/Flickr

Common Repairs

Broken handles are common with gardening tools, but there is no need to toss that rake or hoe. Instead, we can just replace the handle. New handles are available at any hardware or home improvement store, or for the more self-reliant, any walk in the woods reveals a number of sticks that might do the job well.

To replace a handle, just remove the old one, and slip the new one into the same spot. Then, use a fastener, like a metal strap clamp, to tighten the hasp around the new handle. What you don’t want to do is tape the broken handle back together, it’ll be more likely to break at an inopportune time and injure someone.

Leaky hoses are another seasonal discovery in the garden. The hosepipe inevitably develops a hole somewhere, or the ends get dented or begin leaking. These issues are fixable without buying a new hose.

For leaky sections in the hosepipe, just cut that length out of the house and use a connector to rejoin the line. It requires nothing more than a knife and a screwdriver. Replacing the male and female ends is just the same: Cut them off and put on a replacement.

Rusty blades, even for meticulous maintainers of tools, do happen. Things get put away for months at a time and develop a little rust. This doesn’t mean that the tool is no longer good. It’ll work rusty, or it’s easy enough to get rust off the blade.

This works best if you stabilize the rusty blades vertically in a bench vise. Rub the blades down in some white vinegar, or penetrating oil, to loosen up the rust. Then, use some steel wool or a wire brush to knock the rust off. Finally, wipe the tool down with some warm water and baking soda (to neutralize the vinegar).

Common Maintenance

Dulled edges on things like shovels and hoes makes working with them much more laborious, so the effort to sharpen them is worthwhile. What’s more is that it’s easy and makes the tool feel almost super-powered.

With the blade cleaned well, the sharpening can be done with a metal file or a grinder. The metal file is nice because it’s cheap and simple. Just hold the file at about 45 degrees and work it over the end of the blade to reform a sharp edge.

Rust prevention for metal tools is a good idea because, though we can repair rusty parts, it’s much better that we don’t have to do so. The first step to this is simply clean tools well after use, removing mud and dirt, then store them where they can dry well.

Essentially, if tools are going to be stowed away for a while, such as in the winter, it’s a good idea to clean them up, sand away any new rust, oil them— old cooking oil works fine— and coat them in some wax, such as carnauba or soy.

Winterizing hoses is an extra thing that can be done to avoid repairs. When winter is coming, take hoses off the faucet, stretch them out on a sloped area and completely drain them. Then, coil them up and store them inside, where temperatures are more constant and the wear-and-tear of weather won’t age them. They’ll last much longer this way.

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Source: Ruth Hartnup/Flickr

Repurposing Opportunities

Cool craft projects abound with old garden tools, particularly in the garden. Old shovel blades or trowel blades can be repurposed into windmills. Old hard rakes make great hangers. Long-handled tools can be converted into garden stakes or trellises. The ideas are seemingly endless.

Buying old tools is a great way to work the repurposing thought from a different angle. Thrift stores, flea markets and yard sales are excellent places to find quality, old tools that are but a few repairs away from being useful again. This is better for the world, and it’s less expensive.

Scrap metal yards, ultimately, are where rusty and really damaged tools might end up, and at least this way the material is recycled and becomes useful again. It’s better than mining more metal.

Garden tools are important parts of the gardener’s life, and they deserve to be valued and cared for. Hopefully, we are a little better equipped to do that now.

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