Give new life to your garden tools
Garden tool restoration is a pursuit that is both valuable and satisfying to those of us leaning toward DIY, slow-living or self-sufficiency philosophies. Most of the time, the steps involved in restoring basic hand tools are pretty simple, the supplies are relatively inexpensive, and the results are often better than brand new.
A good place to start with garden tool restoration is the wooden handle. Not only do wood handles readily show the results of neglect, but they also can be brought back from the brink…unlike fiberglass or even composite materials which have been abused. In the worst cases, wood handles can easily be replaced, but other materials can prove much more difficult to work with once they are beyond repair. I’ve posted previously about replacing handles, this time I wanted to discuss saving them.
My line of thought regarding the handles of tools is that they should primarily feel good in my hands while I’m working, everything else is secondary. I have learned to despise varnish and paint on handles, but there is seldom any other option either on a new tool or on a replacement handle. Varnish and paint make my hands stick just enough to cause some blisters on occasion. Oiled handles, however, move smoothly (but not greasily), causing no blisters. To accommodate this preference, garden tool restoration is in order.
For brand new tools with painted or varnished handles, or for an annual (or as often as needed) treatment for all wood handled tools, simply sand down the entire surface of the handle and oil it. Removing paint or varnish will require a coarse (100 grit) sandpaper. For regular maintenance use 120 grit. Wipe off the dust after sanding, then oil liberally. I use boiled linseed oil; other folks prefer tung oil. Give the oil a few minutes to an hour or so to penetrate the wood, then wipe off the excess oil.
FYI, there are differences between boiled linseed oil and tung oil.
I recently discovered a homemade hoe handle rub. It was easy to make and the stuff is fantastic for garden tool restoration! The value for taking this extra step seems to be highest for those tools that spend a good portion of their lives in the elements, like the hoe that never really leaves the garden, or for those that seem pretty far gone. The rub includes wax, oil, and turpentine to provide good penetration into really dry wood.
To make the handle rub
- A pint glass mason jar or tin can
- Old candles (paraffin or beeswax)
- Boiled Linseed Oil
- Slow cooker or candle warmer
To begin, I used an old candle I had laying around. The recipe is simple; it’s approximately equal parts of the wax, linseed oil, and turpentine. You should weigh the wax before you melt it to get an accurate measurement of the “equal parts”. Here’s an easier way and there are no scales involved.
- Chop up about 1/2 cup of wax (give or take)
- Add the chopped wax to the glass mason jar.
- Set the jar in a slow cooker and cover the top with a piece of foil
- Add enough water to surround the jar to almost halfway( not too much, or the jar will float!)
- Set the slow cook to low and let the wax melt
- Once the wax melts (I got about 3 ounces) remove the jar from the slow cooker.
- Add equal parts of boiled linseed oil and Turpentine (my total came to 9 ounces).
- Give it a gentle whirl to incorporate.
- Store in a cool, dry place until ready to use.
I poured it into some old spice tins before it cooled. You can leave it in the jar if you like, but I thought it would be hard to access. The mixture will solidify when it cools.
How to use the handle rub
Sand the handle to open the pores and remove splinters and dirt. This is the hardest part of the restoration. Make sure you sand the handle well so the rub can penetrate the wood.
Apply a generous amount of rub with an old t-shirt or towel and rub-rub-rub. Work the rub into the cracks and splits of the handle. Let the rub harden on the handle for a half an hour or so. Use a clean cloth to wipe it down. The handle should feel smooth to the touch. Most of the cracks should be filled, but you won’t be able to fill the really deep ones.
*Boiled linseed oil is know to spontaneously combust. When you are done using the rub soaked rags, lay them out to dry completely before you throw them away. Never stack them on top of each other.
These simple garden tool restoration treatments will bring your tools back to life in a hurry, making gardening even more of a pleasure. The rub will not fix the super deep cracks, but it will give the tool handles another season or two. The next step is to address rusty tool heads…but that is another post. Happy Gardening.