Preserving Garden Tools

Taking the right steps to protect your tools saves you lots of time and money. It enables you to spend less time caring for your tools and more time enjoying your garden.

Three-in-One Oil
Compared to some other aspects of tool maintenance, protecting your tools is less complex and easier than many. But it does require you to think a little and adopt a plan that fits your personal needs and works in your location.

Provide Protective Storage

How you keep your tools is a critical but often neglected aspect of tool care. It is not difficult to take a few steps to design your own plan to store your tools in a safe manner so be sure to do it.

Your main goal is to provide a dry environment in which your tools can be kept in a way they will not be damaged by other items nearby or by banging into each other. There are many ways to do this and if done intelligently it will have the additional benefit of making your tools easier to locate and access.

One way to keep them dry is to get them up off the floor. One of my favorite methods for storing larger tools is to hang them along a wall.

Tool hangers and clips
Clips and a variety of supports are readily available at a hardware or big box store. I have a wall of my garage, just inside the door, which I use in this way. These are the two types of clips/hooks I use, attached to an eight inch board about twelve feet long and running along approximately five feet above the floor.

Storing smaller tools is sometimes more difficult. Fortunately, most of these tools such as trowels do not require so much protection as long as we handle them decently. Choices for storage include hanging on a pegboard with hangers, lining up on a shelf, and many others. Do what you like as long as tools are not being damaged and they are kept dry.

Pruner holster

However, a few deserve some special consideration. Some are designed for self-protection which is helpful as long as we take advantage of them. For example, small hand pruning saws like the one I use recede into their handle. After cleaning up we simply need to be sure to close them.

Others, such as pruners, lock shut which provides protection to the cutting edge. Pruners are especially delicate compared to many other tools so for my better ones I like to use one of the leather belt holsters.

Tip: Save yourself some money!

The same holsters are available in different departments of stores at totally different prices.

You can pay $15-20.00 in the gardening or sports departments or just over $5.00 in the tool department for virtually the same product.

Apply a Protective Oil

Essentially all you need to do is apply the right type of protective oil over all metallic parts of your tool after it has been cleaned and all rust has been removed. Choosing the right product for this is important and requires some detail so I will reserve that for a separate section of this article.

The best way to apply the oil is with a rag. You can buy something especially for that use if you want, but I find using remnants of old tee shirts is perfect.

recycle sign

The easiest way to do this is to use oil in a spray form. Spray an area of your tool and then wipe it on with the rag. Spraying alone is not adequate because you will not get an even distribution of the oil and it will not make good contact with the entire surface.

By far the best time to clean and protect your tool with oil is when you are putting the tool away after using it. Never leave a tool wet and dirty. Clean it off, make sure it is entirely dry, and apply proper protection. If you do this you will avoid most rust.

What Oil is Best?

At different times you need different oils, depending on your planned use. For example, you may be thinking short term when you plan to use the tool soon or you may be cleaning up to put your tool away for the winter.

Penetrating Oil

My favorite oil for general use with my garden tools is WD40 for good reason. Not only is it convenient to use in the spray can with straw like nozzle attached, it has the right viscosity and other qualities for our most common use as well.
Essentially, it is a penetrating oil. That means it has excellent qualities for loosening most dirt and rust. Garden tools get dirty and wet often so need the cleaning and rust removal qualities found in this oil.

But gardening tools need protection, too. For common use WD40 has adequate protective use as well. Left indoors, an unused tool by actual test, remains protected for a year or more. With normal exposure outdoors, for 30-60 days.

Protective Oils

Even though WD40 has minimally adequate protective value even for overwinter use on your tools, there are much better oils available. These are oils with significantly higher viscosity. Where WD40 might test around 2.5 centistokes, T-9 would be 6.0.
Boshield T-9
That is one reason Boshield T-9 (developed by the Boeing company) is my favorite protective oil. This is a high quality protective oil widely used in salt water environments, on bicycle chains, and on woodworking tool surfaces.

Boshield T-9 displaces moisture, it leaves a waxy film when dry, waterproofs, and is hard to remove without a solvent. In addition to the oil content it also has a paraffin/wax base contributing to this capability.

Other Oils

There are other oils that you might prefer. I have identified what I use, and they are highly recommended, but others may be just as good or better.

Some oils are better for penetration and would work better for removing rust than WD40, but remember that for protection WD40 meets only our short term needs. Any oil with less viscosity would not be a good choice for a protective use.
canola oil
I prefer using one oil for regular cleaning/protection and using a protective one only occasionally. If you want to use two regularly you might choose a different penetrating oil but it would be hard to beat Boshield T-9 for protection.

Finally, some people do not like to use regular oils at all on their garden tools. WD40 is biodegradable and I do not feel the amount entering the soil from our garden tools could be toxic in any way, but some people do prefer to use an organic alternative such as vegetable oil (canola, coconut, or olive most often).

Final Steps for Perfect Protection

If your tools are clean, dry, oiled and well stored you are doing an excellent job of preserving your tools—except for one more thing. It does not usually take so much time but is involved enough that I will cover it in a separate article: caring for wooden handles.