Quality gardening tools are an investment and a treasure. Here are a few pointers on how to keep them in good shape. For information on tool selection, see Building your Toolbox.
CLEANING Clean tools function better and last longer. Plant diseases may also be spread from using dirty and contaminated pruning tools. At the end of a pruning session, take the time to clean and lubricate them.
The Teflon scrub pads available at most grocery or department stores are great for removing plant debris and sap from cutting surfaces. For hard to remove sap like pine or juniper, use pumice based soaps or hand cleaners. A stiff brush can get between saw teeth or into the narrow angles of pruner pivots. When all plant debris and stains are removed, rinse the tools and dry completely.
HYGIENE If you are pruning sick or diseased plants, you should also disinfect your tools after removing all debris and sap. Dip them in a 10% chlorine solution, or Tri-Sodium Phosphate cleaner. If a virus is suspected, an alcohol dip is also required. Disinfecting pruning tools is especially important when pruning plants in more than one location.
LUBRICATE Your clean and dry tools need to be lubricated and protected from oxidation. Camellia oil is an excellent protectant for any metal tools. It comes in applicator or spray bottles. Wick applicators are also available and work great in the tool bag as they don’t spill as readily as a bottle.
Coat all metal surfaces with the oil and let it soak in for several minutes. Make sure it gets between moving parts and inside springs. Wipe away any excess oil. Some pruners have grease wells around the pivot bolt between the two pruner blades. These types will need to be occasional disassembly to clean and replace the grease. Use lithium based grease or other waterproof type. Do not over pack the grease well.
THE EDGE Sharp pruning tools are a pleasure to work with. Pruning goes faster and cuts are less damaging to plant tissue as well. Although quality garden tools can hold an edge for a long time, sooner or later even the best will need reconditioning. Don’t wait until they are in bad shape to take action!
Look closely at your pruners while they are still new and note the condition of the edge, the angle of the bevel, the angle of the sharpening cut, and general shape of the blade. Also check the inside edge of the cut blade for the presence of a very tiny cutting bevel. You will want to match all these angles and shapes exactly when you sharpen.
GOT STONES? We recommend a natural water stone for sharpening and honing your tools. If you are careful with your pruners and don’t wait too long to correct edge problems, a combination stone like 800/1200 grit will suit most
needs. For bonsai shears or polished blades, you may want a 4000 stone as well. You will need separate surfaces for curved blade sharpening as these tend to hollow and furrow the surface. Soak the water stones in water for about 30 minutes before using.
Examine the plane where the hook blade meets the cutting blade. Do they meet completely with no gaps? If so, you will not have to resurface the hook blade or flat side of the cutting blade. Now, inspect the cutting edges of both blades for nicks. If the blades are in good shape here with only very tiny nicks, you may only need to hone the outside edge of the cutting blade on the fine 4000 stone.
NITTY GRITTY Get comfortable with your stone and pruners because this can take many repetitions. You will probably want to have a wooden holder to keep the stone steady, but any non-slip surface will work. An old mousepad works pretty well!
Loosen the pivot bolt and separate the two parts of the pruners. Keep the stone wet while you remove any serious nicks using the 800 stone. Follow the exact angle of the bevel! While following the cut bevel exactly and for its entire length, remove the nicks. Keep the cut bevel the same original width and make the passes with less and less pressure as the nicks disappear. Remember to pass the entire cut bevel on each repetition. Don’t neglect to keep the stone wet.
Now, use the 1200 surface of the stone to finish the cut edge, observing all the above rules. When the edge is finished, turn the blade over and create the same tiny bevel that was originally on that surface (if it originally had one). Because the blade is thin here, this may take only one light pass.
Clean and dry the tools very well and apply camellia oil. Reinstall the pivot bolt and adjust the pressure for a smooth, but tight pass of the blades. After adjusting the pressure and tightening the pivot nut, place the pruners on a metal surface and lightly ping the pivot bolt end with a hammer to secure the setting. Do not get carried away with this step or your pruners will not open!
Finally, clean and dry your stones and store them where they will dry completely without freezing.
Note: Although certain brand names may be mentioned, they are simply brands we have found to be of good quality and construction. No endorsement is implied or intended.
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