Looking after your Tools
A Guide to Tool Maintenance
Written by by Alec & Val Scaresbrook, regular contributors to hobby/specialist magazines for over twenty years.
Well maintained and sharpened tools are much easier to use, last much longer & produce much better results
Aren’t new tools a pleasure to use?
All because they’re in perfect condition. Carpentry tools cut effortlessly, pruners slice and snip their way through the toughest of stems, and digging tools make light of heavy soil.
But as they lose their cutting edge, they become more difficult to use. Dangerous too, when the extra effort that you put into using them results in an accidental slip. And it’s such a waste of time struggling with blunt tools that produce a poor finish or don’t function at all.
Fortunately it’s simple to keep tools in near perfect condition and as easy to use as the day that you bought them. So don’t waste your money throwing away your old favourites and buying new, but read on to find out how to look after them.
Follow this routine before you put your tools away and it will pay real dividends. You’ll always have tools in prime condition and ready to use. And you’ll save money on replacing tools that have become useless due to rust or blunt edges.
- Clean the tool as soon as possible before dirt hardens.
- For extra-quick cleaning of metal surfaces, especially if rusted, clamp the tool in a vice and use a rotary wire brush fitted to a power drill*.
- In the case of gardening equipment, clean soil or sap off the handles too.
- Wipe over metal surfaces with an oily rag to prevent rusting (for long-term storage, wrap metal parts in an oily rag and cover with plastic, or use the special greasy paper that the new tool was wrapped in).
- Fit protective guards to sharp edges to prevent injury to you and damage to the tool.
- Keep tools in a dry place
*wear safety goggles when using power tools
Shears, scissors, secateurs, loppers
You often need to tighten the pivot point on scissor-action tools. Check that the blades meet along their length as you close them. If they don’t, tighten the pivot point by a small amount and test the blades again. Avoid tightening so much that the blades become hard work to close - they will be very tiring to use this way. If tightening the pivot point has little effect, then insert a thin metal washer to take up the slack.
For precise cutting, each rotating blade on the cylinder should meet the edge of the fixed bottom blade. Check this (once you’ve ensured that the mower cannot be started accidentally) by inserting a sheet of writing paper between the bottom blade and the cylinder blade. Then slowly turn the cylinder by hand (wear gloves) and move the paper across the width of the bottom blade. If the blade slides past the paper, you need to close the gap. If the blade jams, you need to slacken off the adjustment. If you cannot adjust the blades so that every edge meets precisely, it’s time to even them up by sharpening.
Treat wooden handles with linseed oil (from DIY shops) to prevent drying, splitting and splintering. Secure loose handles, and if necessary, obtain replacements directly from the manufacturer.
Not all tools and equipment have to be razor sharp, but it's essential to keep cutting edges in good condition.
Make life easy by taking saw blades to a specialist, but don't be afraid of sharpening your other tools at home. Just remember to keep the original angle as set by the manufacturer.
If you have the confidence and skill, you can use a file for coarse edges (eg spades, hoes) or a sharpening stone for razor-sharp tools (eg plane blades). But if you're unsure of using these correctly, there's an easy alternative from Multi-Sharp, which has designed a range of simple but accurate sharpeners for use on many different tools.
Sharpening rotary mowers and other garden tools
For those of you without a power drill, use a flat file to take out the nicks and to sharpen up the straight edges on spades, hoes, half moon lawn edgers and rotary mower blades. Just firmly clamp the tool before filing across its edge. And before re-fitting a rotary mower blade, pivot it on a screwdriver to check that it's in balance.
If you have a power drill, you've the option of using a rotary sharpener, which quickly grinds new edges at exactly the right angle.
Sharpening cylinder mowers
You can't accurately sharpen cylinder mower blades with hand tools. This is a job for your service agent who has a special lathe for such work.
But you can avoid the time, trouble and expense of taking your cylinder mower for frequent sharpening sessions. Regular use of a specially designed abrasive on the bottom blade/plate (such as the Multi-Sharp Cylinder Mower Sharpener) enables you to keep the cylinder blades true and clean and extend the period between specialist sharpening sessions.
Chainsaw chains are usually sharpened by specialists but you can also use a chainsaw sharpening kit. This enables you to renew the cutting edge at the correct angle and set the depth of cut to maintain maximum cutting efficiency. Each time you sharpen the cutting blades, you should also use a depth gauge to check the height of the depth guides, and file them down if necessary to ensure the chain will cut. Beware of taking too much off the depth guides otherwise the chain will bite into the wood, snagging instead of cutting.
Ensure that you have the correct kit for the chain size (pitch). If you don’t know the pitch, find it by measuring the distance in inches between three consecutive rivets along the chain, and then dividing this length by two. eg distance is 3/4": pitch is 3/8"
Only work on an undamaged chain (a damaged chain needs a specialist’s attention). Use a suitable workbench that supports the chainsaw motor housing and also grips the cutter bar securely without damage (wooden or plastic jaws are the most appropriate). Don’t grip the cutter bar without also supporting the motor housing. Work in good light. As you file each blade (and depth guide, if necessary) mark them with a piece of chalk so that you know when you’ve completed the job.
Sharpening shears & scissors
Shears and scissors that no longer cut can be restored with a variety of hand-held sharpeners (taking care to keep the correct edge angle). Or you can push the blades through a special sharpening device for quick and accurate sharpening. Remember, some shears only need sharpening on one blade. Then check that the pivot nut or screw is just tight enough for the blades to close together properly. You may need to use penetrating oil to loosen a pivot screw before you can tighten it.
Sharpening serrated-edged blades
A hand-held sharpener with a half-round profile is best for this job.
DIY tools (bradawls and scribes) and sports equipment (darts and fish hooks) can be sharpened with Multi-Sharp’s Diamond Tool Sharpener, which incorporates a point sharpener.
Sharpening knives and pruning tools
For a razor-sharp edge at all times, you need to sharpen frequently using a whetstone (moistened with water or oil), a diamond-coated tool or a grindstone.
Rub any of these hand-held sharpeners diagonally along the cutting edges of knives and pruning tools, keeping the blade edge facing away from you. Take care to hold the sharpener at the correct angle and avoid cutting your fingers.
Sharpening woodworking and other precisely-edged tools
For wood chisels or planes, sharpen their cutting edges on a bench-based sharpener, preferably with a honing guide to maintain the correct blade angles. Use a to-and-fro movement to maintain the edge at the correct angle. Your fingers aren't at risk of being cut, but you'll need a steady hand and eye if you don't use a guide.
If you have a power drill, you can use this to drive Multi-Sharp's Wetstone, which is ideal for sharpening numerous items. Tool holders ensure that you keep to the exact angle, and water cooling gives the finest of edges. Use it to sharpen chisels and plane blades, in addition to knives (straight, serrated or scalloped), scissors and re-edging screwdrivers, cold chisels, bradawls, punches, scribes and other woodworking tools.
An alternative is to return some cutting tools to the manufacturer for precision sharpening.
For restoring others, use one of the many safe and accurate hand-held sharpeners that are now available.These include garden tool sharpeners with hand guards that are simply drawn along the blade to spruce up knives, parrot beaked loppers, scythes and grass hooks. And for accurate edges on curved or straight pruning tools, there are sharpeners that incorporate a grinding jig to obtain the correct angle on secateurs and loppers.
Sharpening drill bits and other tools
Drill bit sharpening is a skilled job that takes practice to master but is possible with a hand-held sharpener. Better, though, to use a special jig that holds the drill bit at the correct angle at all times. You will need a silicon carbide grinding wheel to sharpen masonry bits (which have tungsten carbide tips), and an aluminium oxide wheel for other bits.
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