If tools are rusty, remove the rust with a stiff-bristled wire brush or sandpaper. Rust can spread and can eat through some tools, making them weak. After cleaning and rust removal, all metal tools should be oiled to prevent rusting over the winter. A mineral oil or WD-40 works best, but vegetable oil also works.
You can combine the cleaning and oiling step for small hand tools by making a cleaning bucket. To do this, fill a 5-gallon bucket nearly full with play sand and pour about a half-gallon of mineral oil or vegetable oil over the sand. The oil will soak in, and all you have to do is poke your trowels and small shovels into the sand a few times to clean and oil them. Your bucket can last for several years.
If you have any tools with wooden handles, you'll want to oil those too. Here you'll want to use linseed oil. Linseed oil soaks into the wood and solidifies. It doesn't provide protection from water, but helps to keep the wood from drying out. This, in turn, keeps the handle from drying out and cracking when used.
You'll also want to think about sharpening the tools you use to cut through soil. You don't usually think about it, but shovels, hoes and metal trowels are blades. Take a close look at an edge and you will see that there is actually a bevel. To make the tool easier to use, you'll want to sharpen it. Simply use a hand file to file the edge, filing in one direction to create the desired beveled edge.
What about power tools?
You'll want to do some of the same things for those gas-powered and electric tools as well. Clean grass off of lawn mowers, soil from tillers and debris from trimmers, shears etc. You'll also want to take the added step of draining the gasoline from your gas-powered tools and performing routine maintenance on all the moving parts and filters, and make sure everything is oiled and ready for storage.
You'll also want to take a look at sharpening your lawn mower blades and tiller/cultivator tines. Sharpening lawn mower blades takes a little more precision, so you may want to take it to a service center or hardware store for that step. Also, don't forget to add a fuel stabilizer to gasoline you are storing in cans over winter.
John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. He may be reached at john.por...@mail.wvu.edu or at 304-720-9573. Twitter: @WVgardenguru.