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Top tips for maintaining garden tools

Date posted: 20 January 2014

Many avid gardeners invest in a fairly extensive collection of garden tools, some of which demand more maintenance than others. Rather than throwing away money constantly replacing neglected tools, you can help them to last a lot longer by taking good care of them all year round.

The arrival of winter marks the main time for tool care. When spring comes around and it's time to get your tools out again to do some serious gardening, you will be grateful for the extra attention you gave them before the winter to ensure they were clean, properly sharpened and ready to use.

Taking care of power tools

Before you put away your power tools for the winter, there are a few key things you can do to keep them in good working order. Firstly, make sure that all plugs and flexes are in good order and safe to use when you next need them. Inspect the plugs for any damage, both inside and outside, and check the entire length of all flexes for any wear or cuts. If you find they are damaged, get them repaired by a professional. Using a general-purpose oil, lightly spray the metal surfaces of your tools to help prevent rusting – and don't neglect blades that are hard to reach (e.g. on hedge cutters). Switch on the tool briefly just to make sure the oil works its way into all parts of the power tool.

Maintaining your mower

When your lawn mower is not in use for any period of time, such as over the winter, always disconnect the spark plug lead and run down the fuel to empty (particularly if it uses unleaded petrol, which loses ignition quality over periods of time).

Using a stiff brush and a hose, clean the mower's rollers, blades and grass boxes to remove any old grass or soil. The height adjusters should be greased and turned slightly to prevent them from seizing up. Chipped or blunt rotary mower blades will need to be sharpened and balanced, while cylinder mower blades need to be sharpened professionally for the best results and badly worn blades will have to be replaced.

Next up, take out the air filters and clean them to remove any grass or dust to look after the engine.

Check that the throttle and clutch cables are in good order and are not worn, then pour a tiny amount of general-purpose oil along these cables to prevent them from sticking.

Change the machine's oil in preparation for springtime when you want to use it again. It is critical to keep the oil topped up or the mower's engine could burn out and cause irreparable damage. If you are unsure how to check all of these maintenance issues, it is worth investing in a full mower service for peace of mind.

Maintaining electric mowers

Unplug your mower and clean it using a stiff brush, removing any grass or soil from the underside. Use a bit of water if the earth is caked-on and difficult to brush off.

Keep a look out for any cracks or other damage on the mower's plastic casing. If the blades are blunt you may be able to sharpen them with a fine metal file, but if they are very worn or damaged you will need to replace them.

Sharpening tools before storage

Tools such as digging spades, forks and shears need to be cleaned and rubbed with a cloth coated with a bit of general purpose oil to prevent rusting while they are in storage. The blades of many gardening tools can be sharpened with a fine metal file. For knives and secateurs pick up a fine sharpening stone from your local garden centre or DIY shop. Prepare it with a couple of drops of general purpose oil before you start sharpening. Straight-bladed knives should be sharpened by pushing the stone forwards and to the side, exerting a small amount of downward pressure. Turn the knife over and hold the blade virtually flat against the stone before brushing it across the surface to smooth off rough edges. Sharpen secateurs and hoes in the same way but remember to only sharpen the outside blade on bypass secateurs, and the upper surface on hoes.

Finally, wipe the blade with an oily cloth before you put the tool into storage.

Maintaining wooden tool handles

Tools with bare wooden handles can dry out and split if they are not treated regularly. Clean the wooden handle with a stiff brush, avoiding using water if possible. If you must use water, use as little as possible. Treat the wood using boiled linseed oil rubbed in with a rag, and once the first coat has been absorbed apply a second coat.

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