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Selection and Care of Garden tools


Look for those that have replaceable blades and are the bypass type. Best to stay away from those that have a bottoming anvil that the blade comes down against. (They tend to crush stems when even a little dull, and usually are a bit of a trick to sharpen, normally having to be disassembled). The large long-handled pruners often come with geared or levered pivots to increase the mechanical advantage. All of this is quite unnecessary if the tool is kept sharp.

There are several Chinese knock-offs of the $50 Swiss Felco bypass pruner. Some of these cost five to seven dollars. They have pot metal cast handles and lack the good bearing insert in the pivot, running just against the pot metal. For most people these are actually adequate for three or four seasons, whereas the Felco is a lifetime tool if kept oiled and put away inside. Proper sharpening requires dis-assembly, but this is easy with this design. Remember, you have to loosen and dis-engage the geared lever from the pivot nut before trying to take it apart. Grease the bearing area at re-assembly. Older design bypass pruners are often available at garage and estate sales cheap. Most of these are actually better than many of the newer eye-catching tools in the hardware store, and much easier to sharpen. Ugly is beautiful. Avoid serrated tools however.

Clean pruners with rubbing alcohol to remove the sap resins, and oil liberally. Just plain motor oil will work. Rust can be removed with Naval Jelly (available in the autoparts store). Of course this will not remove the pits left by severe rust. Just follow the directions on the container.


These grass or small hedge clipping tools with long blades are very handy and there are countless ideas on the market. It is best to avoid any fancy ones with curved or serrated blades. The serrations tend to cut into the opposite blade dulling it prematuraly. The curved blades serve no useful purpose to my observation, other than to get your money. Loppers come at a variety of sharpening angles. I usually prefer to set them at 25 degrees cutting angle, about the same as utility scissors.

Shovels and Hoes.

Most nowdays come from the factory entirely unsharpened and completely blunt. A properly sharpened shovel or hoe makes the job much easier. For gravelly or rocky soil, the sharpening angle should be much less than for sandy or clay soil. These are generally fabricated by punching out the steel on a punchpress, heat treating it more or less, and leaving it. Among older shovels at garage sales you can once in a long while find an old forged shovel. These will not have the folded over "foot rest" on the top, and the top will be thicker material than the bottom. These are inevitably much stronger, harder and more durable material. If you find one, buy it, even if it is in poor shape. Your sharpener can fix it. I find the smaller size forged spade (fire fighter's shovel) highly recommendable for ladies. Unfortunately I know of no supplier of these forged shovels currently, as new. Punchpress made shovels generally cost less than a good replacement handle alone!


Most garden tools have a way of being left outside to rust and the handles to weather and loosen. Proper care is to oil lightly and put away in the shed or back lean-to. Wooden handles must be protected from the weather or the repeated swelling and shrinking will loosen them and make the wood grain open up and become rough in the hands. The idea of sheltering tools seems to be a difficult one to get across to most people. An occasional light sharpening will greatly extend the life of the tool, as compared to letting them get thorougly dull and then grinding away on them to try to sharpen. When doing a heavy stock removal (taking off a lot of material), a grinder tends to heat the metal and may remove some of the tempered hardness on the cutting edge, making the tool dull much sooner next time. Your sharpener should re-adjust your hand tools at sharpening at no extra charge normally.


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Walt and Eileen Galer