Hand Tools Maintenance

Any pruning tool is going to collect sap from what it cuts. Pruning and cutting tools, like pruners, loppers, shears, and saws, are best cleaned after every use with a few sprays of alcohol-water from a hand sprayer with a drop or three of liquid dish soap in the spray bottle. The soap cuts through saps and keeps them from accumulating and gumming up the moving parts or teeth (and then collecting dirt and grime), and the alcohol disinfects! Just spray a few squirts across all working parts and surfaces, and give it a quick wipe with a rag or towel to remove excess alcohol-water - just to not make a mess. No need to rinse.

Dirt tools, shovels and the like, should get a good hosing-off after any job where they accumulate junk. If you have been working in questionable soil - as in having a soil born fungus problem - you can disinfect using the alcohol water

The best all-around lubricant for any pruning tool is cheap vegetable oil - the cheaper the better!


Keep your tools organized in a dry area. I like to hang tools whenever possible to keep floor space open. I also find this keeps the tools in a less dangerous way. You don't want to have to sort through tools to find the want you need. I have seen small tools stored in buckets - I keep my knee-knocker in its bucket, they go together - but I hate to see long handled tools standing out of a tall trash can. There is just no safe way to get them out one at a time!

Sharpening : Scissoring Tools | Saws | Shovels

Scissoring tools - pruners, loppers, shears:

These tools derive their effectiveness by "shearing" more than "cutting". That is to say that the blade passing cleanly across the anvil is the actual cutting force. Having a sharp edge on the blade is HELPFUL, but not the source of the actual cutting force. Shears typically DO NOT get sharpened. If you DO need to sharpen or hone an edge of a shearing blade, be sure to work only on the BEVEL side of the blade, and do everything possible to preserve the flatness of the "back" of the blade. If you sharpen both sides of a shearing blade, you will ruin the blade, and ever after that the blades will only spread away from each other whenever pressure is applied. You should only ever need to hone off the "burl" from the bevel side of a shearing blade - that is the slight rounding (usually to the bevel side) along the cutting edge. If this kind of blade develops chips, any protrusions to the "back" of the bade can be filed down so that the surface is "flush" again. A few little nicks along the edge are no big deal. It is up to you to decide when there are enough chips and nicks in your edge to warrant replacement.


Reciprocating saws use back-and-forth motion to cut. Folding pruning saws or the saw on the end of your pole pruner are the most common examples. These saws don't really get sharpened. Any reciprocating blade that sees enough action usually breaks or is lost long before it becomes dull enough to warrant replacement. Using a light vegetable oil as a lubricant during cutting reduces friction, making the work easier and reducing the possibility of snapping the blade.

Chain saws use a continuous chain of teeth to bite through material. The fastest way to dull a chain saw is to allow the teeth to run through dirt. The most common ways this happens are when there is dirt in the wood being cut, or when the wood is close enough to the ground that the end tip of the saw grazes the ground unnoticed...until you realize that you are no longer making any progress! The teeth on the chain can be sharpened, but take care to file down the depth teeth, too, or it won't matter HOW sharp your cutting teeth are. Chains are rated at how much bite the depth teeth should allow the cutting teeth (look on the back of the package the chain came in). If you don't file them down enough, the chain will act as though it is dull, taking very tiny bites. If the depth teeth are filed down too far, the biting teeth will take larger bites, cutting faster (maybe dangerously faster!) and creating more heat...which can lead to increased stretch of the chain...which is a danger for the chain flying out of its guide along the bar!


There are a variety of shovels, each designed with a specific use! Shovels with a serrated blade DO NOT get sharpened as that is counterproductive to having the serations!! Flat and otherwise smooth-edged shovels can be sharpened, but they don't need to be razor sharp. Furthermore, consider whether you want to create a bias in the direction the shovel cuts. Think of a shovel as a dirt chisel. Bevel the edge on the side you want it to cut away from...in other words, sharpen the face, not the back of the shovel blade.

Wooden Handles
Man has been sharpening wooden handle since the dawn of time. The time honored tool for sharpening a wooden handle is FIRE. You sit around a camp fire and use your wooden handle to poke and play with the embers, allowing the wood to heat up evenly. After about an hour or so, the wood will appear to catch fire. These are the impurities burning off. What you need to do is rub the wood against a hard surface - a rock or a brick - to extinguish the flame. Do this repeatedly for another hour or so, letting the wood catch flame from heat at the coals of the camp fire, and rubbing the flame out vigorously. Rotate the wood as you rub off the charcoaled impurities, and in "no time" you'll have a fairly sharp, fire hardened wooden handle!