Your first garden chore of the season: tool tune up

An adequate collection of good-quality gardening tools - in good repair - makes yard and garden upkeep efficient and even pleasurable. A good rule to remember about handy garden tools is, if one breaks or is damaged, repair or replace it before you try to use it again. If you continue to use a damaged tool, you may not be able to repair it at all. It could even be unsafe.

Repair most split wooden handles by pouring some waterproof glue into the split and wrapping outdoor plastic tape over, above, and below the split. Replacing a broken handle can be far less costly than buying a new tool. Make sure to get a replacement handle of the correct size; then pull or hammer out the old section and insert the new.

Nuts and bolts are ideal replacements for loose rivets.

Hammer bent edges of shovels, spades, and hoes back into usefulness. Use a hard surface. Sharpen the edges with a rough metal file, followed by a fine-toothed file.

To sharpen a tool, secure the shank in a vise with the cutting edge facing up. Use a flat single-cut file to sharpen the top cutting edges, filing only on the down stroke and into the blade. Follow with a fine file. Sharpen scissors and clippers only from the bevel side, with the file traveling from the heel to the point of the blade at each stroke.

A wire brush is perfect for removing rust and caked dirt from metal parts. Steel wool is good for polishing the metal. You may even want to use rust-inhibiting paint.

After using any gardening tool, wipe it dry. Then wipe oil on the metal to prevent rust. Always coat the metal parts with oil and keep tools in a dry place when storing them for a long time.

Lubricate any tool that has moving parts, such as pruning shears.

Buying lawn and garden tools in a hit-and-miss way gives you a hodgepodge assortment and maybe a storage problem. Make some of the following tools part of your efficient garden collection:

* Floral shovel. This small-size tool is excellent for digging planting holes or transplanting flowers in borders.

* Garden spade. This tool is best for spading garden beds, digging larger planting holes, and lifting out big plants with adequate soil.

* Hand trowel. Use it for setting out small plants, bulbs, and tubers. The medium-blade width covers a wide range of small digging chores.

* Spading fork. This tool avoids slicing roots when you want to lift plants bare-root, allows deep soil turning, and is useful for digging out bulbs and root crops.

* Garden rake. Used to break up clods and level soil for final seed or bulb beds. A general-purpose rake with curved extra-heavy outside teeth works well.

* Double-pronged rake. This tool has sharp teeth on one side to remove lawn thatch and lift crab grass stolons for mower cutting. Flanged teeth on the other side pulverize seedbed soil.

* Broom rake. Perfect for leaves, grass, and general cleanup of the grounds. The kind with looped spring braces between the handle and spacer bar is good for heavy-duty chores and is usually available with flat steel or wire teeth.

* Cultivator. Just the right tool for working hard or caked soil. You get better service when the head and shank form one piece.

* Garden hoe. Used for loosening soil crust and weeding. Width and depth of blade come in varieties, but the shallow depth is best for most jobs.

* Swan-neck hoe. Functions well for weeding and loosening soil around plants. The arched neck facilitates cultivating in hard-to-reach places behind plants.

* Warren hoe. The heart-shaped blade helps in making furrows. The wide-flared ears on top pull the soil over the seed when it is pulled along the garden row.

* Half-moon grass edge. Sharply curved cutting blade trims the sod and removes the soil from concrete edges. Useful for edging around flower borders, too.

* Grass hook. Used to cut tall grass and weeds under fences and shrubs. The scythe-shaped blade on a long handle gathers plants in for cutting.

* V-cut weeder. This tool with a long or short handle is handy for digging up dandelions and other taproot lawn weeds below the ground. Also good for cutting asparagus spears.

* Grass shears. Gets what the mower can't. One type depends on scissor action , the other on a vertical squeeze of the handles.

* Hedge shears. Cuts hedges, deciduous shrubs, and evergreens. A notch in the throat of the blade cuts woody branches up to an inch in diameter.

* Pruning shears. These come in two basic types: the hook and blade for extra-close trimming and the anvil. Since pruning shears will be in your hands for most of the growing and planting season, make sure you get a sturdy pair.

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