Time to tune up your lawn and garden tools
by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Smart Midwesterners know not to wait until April, or worse, June, to take the steps necessary to keep their garden tools and equipment well maintained and safe.
Later in the season, mower repair shops will be overwhelmed with urgent work.
"Once the grass starts to grow, we get desperate calls from people who say they should've cut their grass two weeks ago, but their mower won't start," says Chris Arvin, owner of Mow Better, a mobile lawn mower maintenance and repair company that serves the Indianapolis area.
Gasoline-powered mowers need an annual tuneup, and the blade on it and most other mowers should be sharpened every eight to 10 mows, recommends Arvin, who founded his mobile business in 1996 after working in landscaping for eight years.
Mowing with a dull blade tears the grass rather than making a clean cut. Jagged tears invite insect and disease damage and give an unsightly appearance to the lawn.
"However, sharpening the mower blade once a year is better than most," he says with a laugh. Arvin's company also sharpens the blades on shovels, spades, pruners, clippers, chair saws and other garden hand tools.
For most homeowners, hiring a highly rated professional from Angie's List for lawn mower repair, blade sharpening and other landscape-related work is the way to go.
Many offer off-season rates. However, if you want to maintain your garden equipment yourself, there are a number of things to consider:
- Manuals provide illustrated instructions for motorized equipment tuneups. Otherwise, the maintenance is about the same, no matter what the tool.
- Clean the equipment. Use a whiskbroom or steel brush to remove mud, rust or plant debris from the wooden or metal parts of tools. Clean the underside of the mower.
- Wash the tools and wooden handles. Dry well.
- Lubricate the metal blades with an all-purpose product, such as WD-40 or 3-In-One oil.
- Wax cleaned wooden handles with a high-quality paste.
- Run a mill file, rasp or sharpening stone at about a 20-degree angle along both sides of the clean blade of shovel, spade, hoe or mower. The mill file or rasp is best for removing rough areas in the metal and the sharpening stone for smoothing and cleaning off spurs. A bench grinder also can be used to sharpen mower and other blades. Wipe the sharpened edges with an all-purpose lubricant.
- Digging tools are best stored hanging by their blades. That's so the weight of the tool won't break down the sharpened edge of the blade as it rests on the ground. They also can be stored blade-up in bins or specially made units that keep wooden handles off the floor.
There are many reasons to keep equipment in the best condition possible. First, use the right tool for the job. Well-maintained tools and sharpened blades are safer to use. Equipment that works well reduces a lot of the "chore" aspects of the task. Shovels and snips with sharp blades also reduce the effort required on your end.B
Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis and is part owner and editor of Indiana Living Green magazine. Her work has also appeared in many other publications, including The American Gardener, Garden Gate and Greenhouse Grower. Meyers Sharp also speaks about gardening and sustainable living throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.