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TIME TO SHARPEN, CLEAN TOOLS BEFORE SNOW FLIES

SHARE TIME TO SHARPEN, CLEAN TOOLS BEFORE SNOW FLIES

Impending winter weather brings some urgency to the windup scenes in the garden. Like most gardeners, I have accumulated my share of gardening tools. Although it seems like my collection has one of everything I seem to add one or two more each year. In addition to many hand tools, power tools become more and more popular. Both gasoline and electric tools are great labor savers, but both need a little attention to keep them running smoothly, dependably and safely. Some preventative maintenance now will make an easier and less stressful gardening season next year.

The most dependable garden tools are the traditional favorites. These include spades, digging forks, hoes, rakes, trowels and cultivators. They have two basic parts to protect, the handles and the blades. Wooden handles are the most common and are usually made of ash or another hardwood. Wood handles are lightweight and comfortable to use. Protect them from the weather and they will give many years of dependable service.Before storing these tools, smooth any splinters or rough areas with a medium to fine sandpaper. Use linseed oil or another wood preservative to protect the wood from premature drying and cracking. These are easily applied with a rag or a brush. Discard or replace any broken handles for safety reasons. Unless they are damaged, fiberglass handles need little attention.

Sharpen the blades on any cutting tools. Hoes, spades, shovels and weeders all work much better when they are sharp. Use a file or grinder to make the rough angle and finish the edge with a whetstone. Many repair shops offer sharpening services if you are not comfortable doing your own.

Rust is the principal enemy of tool blades. Soil contact causes soil abrasion and leaves the steel susceptible to oxidation. Clean the metal and remove soil or other contaminants. Coat the metal by spraying with penetrating oil, or coat the metal by wiping it with an oily rag.

Pay special attention to pruning tools. Blades of loppers, clippers, saws and shears are often coated with pitch residue on the blades. Remove the residue with paint thinner and coat the blades with lubricating spray. Pay special attention to the moving parts of the pruners.

Gas-powered tools need similar attention. Before attempting any service remove the spark plug wire. Tools could accidentally start if the blades are moved, and this can produce serious consequences. Clean and protect the external moving parts and cuttings edges of these tools.

Start by examining the blade on your mower. It will likely need sharpening, so remove it from the mower. Balance the blade after grinding so it will not damage the engine with erratic vibrations. Replace badly damaged or worn blades.

Fuel is a problem if it stays in the tank too long. Gasoline starts to break down and leaves varnish and other deposits. These form inside the tank and in the internal working of the fuel lines and the carburetor. This makes it impossible for the engine to run correctly next spring.

The dilemma is how to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place. The best solution is to consult the manufacturer's instructions. Follow them for the correct storage instruction. Since many gardeners have no idea where the original instructions for most of their equipment could possibly be, the following generic instructions are applicable.

Polyethylene tanks store best without fuel. Run the motor until the tank is empty and spray WD-40 or a similar material into the tank. Crank the starter several times to coat the inside of the carburetor. Empty metal tanks also need coating with a protective spray.

Some recommendations call for the gas to be left in the tank. Add a gasoline stabilizer to the fuel. These compounds prevent the varnish deposit formations. Several brand names are readily available at small engine shops and auto part stores. Mix the recommended amount into the tank and then start the engine and allow it to run several minutes. This runs stabilized fuel into the other parts of the fuel system and prevents damaging varnish deposits from forming in vital components.

Change the engine oil before storing machines for the winter. Moisture collects in used oil and can cause internal engine components to rust. Changing the oil prevents corrosion and the machine will be ready next spring. Remove the spark plug and squirt several drops of oil into the cylinder. Crank the motor to coat the inside of the cylinder to prevent rust.

Spend a few minutes taking care of your tools this week. Simple maintenance will save time and money and prevent countless hours of frustration next spring. While you're at it, check out the snowblower so your not without it when you most need it.