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How To Care For Your Tools During The Winter Months

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Business Advice

Tools are most susceptible to rust and grime during the long winter months. To extend their life and guarantee you’re getting the most out of your equipment, it’s best to clean, sterilize, sharpen and protect your tools before they are stored away. Fall is the perfect time for maintenance and establishing a proper storage system will keep your tools in top-notch condition for the following season.

Here’s how to care for your tools during the winter months:

Clean – it is important to consistently clean your tools, especially before the winter months. Clean tools prevent diseases, fungi, insects (and eggs), and weed seeds from spreading throughout your garden and causing damage. And because moisture-rich soil is a breeding ground for rust, you need to remove any soil, dirt and mud debris that may be lingering on your steel tools.

Any tools that come into contact with soil (shovels, rakes, hoes, spades) need to be rinsed off after use and then followed up with a steel wool scrub or a hard bristle brush. Properly dry your tools with a rag or towel.

For tools that do not come in contact with soil (pruning shears, knives, axes), it is essential to remove tree debris (sap, gums, bark, twigs) from the tools with a thick, heavy-duty cloth.

Sterilize – while cleaning is a routine task, sterilizing your tools before storing them away for the winter is important to prevent the spread of fungi, rotten foliage and disease in your storage room. Sterilizing your tools will also prevent the aforementioned matter from permanently sticking to your tools. It is important to use the right chemicals to treat your tools. Rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizing gel, and/or isopropyl would work, or you could try mixing a solution of 10 percent household bleach to hot water and use this solution to sterilize your tools. Wipe the tools down with whatever solution you decide to use and allow tools to air dry (no need to rinse off).

For pruning tools, like clippers and shears, open the blades wide and use the solution to cover the entire blade surface. Be sure to use the solution in every nook and cranny. 

Sharpen – different tools require different sharpening methods. Generally, shovels, axes and hoes are sharpened with a hand file. Other tools like grass clippers, pruning shears and hedge shears can be sharpened with a 10-inch mill file or a honing stone. When using a mill file, run the cutting teeth of the blade in one direction across the edge of the tool being sharpened. Be sure to hold the tool steady (in a clamp or other sturdy holding device) and angle the mill file away from the tool’s surface. If using a honing or sharpening stone, run the stone along the edge of the tool at a 20 degree angle.

Protect – when tools are exposed to oxygen, they are prone to rusting and, while cleaning and sterilizing does help, you need to lubricate your tools to protect them from further erosion. Putting oil on your tools will help to create a barrier between the air and the steel, preventing the steel from oxidizing. Use general purpose oil (even cooking oils would work) and thinly coat your tool blades and handles (to prevent the wood from drying out and splintering).

Store – after taking the time to clean, sterilize, sharpen and oil your tools, make sure you store them properly! No sense in undoing your hard work. Think about when and where you use your tools and store accordingly. If you find you need to have a shovel handy most of the time, hang it near the door for easy access. In the same respect, store weeding tools closest to the garden and pruning tools closest to your trees and shrubs. Label your shelves and cubbies with proper name tags. Hang tools by nails with blades/heads pointing down towards the ground as a safety precaution. Once you find a designated place for your tools, make sure you continue to return them to the same spot.

For landscape contractors:

Use the winter months to label specific storage locations for all tools.

This will lead to organized tool and equipment storage which has two benefits:

1.  Organized tools are more efficient – they take less time, and labeled locations mean that anyone – even the new guy –can put things back where they belong.

2. Less mistakes – Labeled tool and equipment locations not only make it obvious where things belong, they make it obvious when something has gone missing.  Reduce lost production time by ensuring everyone knows where the tools are and when they are missing.

There you have it, taking the time to care for and organize your tools is a great way to extend the life of your tools and get the most bang for your buck.

Landscape Management Network is a collection of systems, tools, and training to help great contractors build and manage great businesses. Visit the LMN website.

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