Overhaul Your Pruning Tools in Winter
By Robin Haglund
Winter: when our gardens are carpeted in snow hiding our beds from view, when our soils are frozen and crunch under foot, when branches are sheathed in ice – brittle and easily damaged – this is the time to focus our fervent gardening energy on sprucing up our tools.
Although I encourage every gardener to keep their tools clean, sterile and sharp everyday, I also realize that we can get behind in our care practices during the busy gardening seasons. I may quickly sterilize and sharpen my Fiskars Professional Chrome Handshears each time I put them to use, but I still find my tools require an overhaul by the end of the year. Ground in grime builds up in mechanisms. Blades wear down and sometimes get nicked or bent. Over time, worn out tools become difficult to use properly.
Ideally, when we prune a branch we sever it without tearing. Cutting branches cleanly enables the plant to protect itself from the damage and from potential pests and disease that can enter into a wound. If we tear wood and bark, plants have a difficult time bouncing back. Using dull, gunky or nicked pruning tools increases the odds of making bad cuts. Too, using worn out tools increases the odds we’ll injure or fatigue our own fragile bodies.
Because I use my pruning tools less frequently during the dead of winter, that’s when I usually take them to a local small machine shop to have them overhauled. For about $8-$15 a piece, the shop will dismantle my tools, oil them, replace broken or damaged parts, and grind my blades to a fresh, razor-sharp edge. In less than a week, I’m able to pick them up good as new.
If I’m feeling ambitious, I may work over my gear on my own. I’m a big fan of tools with replaceable parts. Fiskars Professional line of hand shears and saws provides this kind of sustainable tool to fit my needs. If I nick a blade or bend a saw blade, I can order an inexpensive replacement part instead of replacing the entire tool. Still, regardless of what kind of hand shear or lopper I use, I can always clean and sharpen the parts. Here’s how:
First, I spread out protective newspaper or a recycled grocery bag on my work surface. Then, I gather together steel wool, an old rag, a pair of lightweight gloves, rubbing alcohol, a small tree branch, an old toothbrush, and Fiskars Tool Care kit oil and diamond-sharpening file.
Next, I put on the gloves (because I can’t stand the feel of steel wool) before applying a bit of cleaning oil to the shears or saw. If my device has rust spots, scrubbing with the steel wool should lift them right up. If I’ve got a lot of ground in dirt, I use an old toothbrush to work it out. If sap is caked on, rubbing alcohol on a rag can help lift it up.
Once my tools are clean, I move on to sharpening my shears. Using a bit of oil while sharpening tools is key. The oil helps ensure metal filings don’t stick to the blade as I work; tiny filings can create nicks as we sharpen blades. Plus, the oil will keep filings out of tool components and keep those gears working smoothly. Once the blade is oiled, I begin by tilting my shears away from me at a slight angle. If I have clamps handy, I may clamp my shears in place to hold them firmly while I work. Then, I slide the sharpening file firmly in one direction – away from myself – on one side of the blade bevel for about 20 strokes. Then, I may make a single, light stroke on the other side of the blade only to pick up filings.
The real sharpening should only be focused on one side to maintain a good bevel. Repeat filing until the blade is sharpened to your taste, which can be determined by making practice cuts on your branch.
If your saw becomes dull, or if like me, you manage to bend blades out of shape from time-to-time, simply order a new blade, unscrew the old and insert the new one. It’ll be good as new!
Remember: if your tools have become damaged beyond repair, Fiskars makes it easy for you to get a replacement pair! Just visit the warranty page of the website for details.