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Maintain Garden Tools

Keeping garden tools clean, sharp and well-oiled makes gardening easier and prolongs the life of your tools.  Watch our video: How Do I Sharpen My Garden Tools?

Maintain garden tools.

Sharpening a Shovel or Spade

Dull tools make digging a real chore. Sharpening a shovel or hoe only takes a few minutes. You'll notice a big difference the next time you use the tool.

How often you need to sharpen a shovel depends on the consistency of your soil and the frequency of use. Sandy or rocky soil, for instance, is abrasive and rapidly pits and dulls most tools. If you use a tool often, sharpen it often.

Remove dirt after each use with a wire brush or a steel wool pad. You can also rub with a wadded piece of aluminum foil or spray with the garden hose, just be sure the tool is dry before storing. Make sure the handles are clean and dry, too.

Here is a tip to prolong the life of your digging tools:

  1. Fill a five-gallon bucket with sand.
  2. Mix in one quart of motor oil. (Use the oil that you've drained after an oil change.)
  3. After using your shovel or fork, stick the blade or tines into the sand a couple of times to remove dirt and oil the tool.
Good to Know

The slight angle on the edge of a cutting blade is the bevel. When sharpening a tool, try to keep that same angle on the new edge. Sharpen the beveled edge only.

Step 1

Put on your safety glasses and gloves.

Step 2

Attach the shovel securely in a vise or clamp the tool to a workbench. The top cutting edge must be facing up.

Step 3

Clean dirt off with a wire brush. Use penetrating oil and steel wool to remove rust.

Step 4

Using a flat mill file, file away from you with long strokes, down and to the side. Remember to retain the same angle as the original bevel. Use both hands when filing. Lift the file off of the tool on the return stroke. The blade develops a slight shine as the edge is improved.

Step 5

When the top is finished, flip the shovel over in the vise. Run the file (or use steel wool) over the bottom edge a couple of times to remove roughness. Apply light oil when finished. Leave the oil on if this is a post-season sharpening. If you're going back out to dig some more, wipe the oil off.


Using a grinder, drill attachment, or roto-tool is okay, but remember they remove metal much more quickly than a file, so know when to stop. Over-sharpening a tool makes the edge easier to damage when you use it again. Overheating the metal can change the temper (and the strength) of the tool.

Sharpening Pruners, Loppers and Shears

Pruners and shears are more difficult to sharpen. Often they need to be disassembled first. If sharpened improperly, they can be in worse condition than before. Use the same principle as with the shovel. Sharpen the cutting edge only and push the file away from you

Remember to lubricate tools with moving parts, such as pruning shears, periodically with light machine oil or penetrating oil. Doing so prevents rust and corrosion and maintains a smooth operating action. Do this before you put them away for the season.

Removing Old Tool Handles

Wooden handles need an occasional sanding to remove rough spots. After sanding, rub with boiled linseed oil to preserve the wood. Severely damaged handles should be replaced.  Replacing an old or damaged handle is a simple and inexpensive way to renew your trusted old shovel or hoe.

Step 1

File down the head of the rivet that holds the old handle in place.

Step 2

Remove the rivet with a hammer and punch.

Step 3

Remove the old handle.

Good to Know

Bring the old handle or tool head with you when shopping to make sure the new one matches.

Installing New Tool Handles

Step 1

If the replacement handle isn't a perfect fit in the ferrule, socket or shaft, shape it with sandpaper or a rasp.

Step 2

When the handle is set in its correct position (with no wobbling), tap the end of the handle on the floor to settle the tool head.

Step 3

Drill a hole through the ferrule and into the new handle.

Step 4

Drive in the new rivet.

Step 5

While on a sturdy surface, pound the rivet head with a metalworking hammer to secure the head and handle.

Step 6

If the head was originally attached by a bolt, re-use or replace it.