Maintaining wooden gardening tools

Well cared for tools last longer and look better – Alan Titchmarsh shows you how.

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
To do
To do

Do To do in January

Do To do in February

Do To do in March

Do not To do in April

Do not To do in May

Do not To do in June

Do not To do in July

Do not To do in August

Do not To do in September

Do not To do in October

Do To do in November

Do To do in December

If well cared for, garden tools with wooden handles like trowels, hoes and spades will last years and stay looking good. Watch this video guide with Alan Titchmarsh, as he shows you some of the quick and easy things you can do to keep them in good condition.

Maintaining wooden gardening tools: transcript

When you’ve invested in quality garden tools, you want them to last. And that means a bit of maintenance to keep them in good order. Generally speaking, we do it at the end of the season when they’re hung up for the winter. A new spade doesn’t get much use between the months of December and February. So to suit you, do it when you think you’re not going to be using the implement much at all. The blades we’re quite good at keeping clean. We’ll brush off mud and scrape it off and then wipe them. People tend to forget about the handles, that
are generally speaking, made of wood. They need care and attention too. And it’s something you can do in the winter just to fill in the daylight hours, few as they are.

Take a stiff brush and get rid of any dried mud that’s on there, any that’s caked. Whizz over it and tap it off with the back of the brush if it’s really firmly adhering; and when you’ve done that, it’s then a matter of checking for any rough patches. Sometimes you’ve caught the shaft of the spade on something and you get a piece like
this bit here, which is quite rough on your fingers, in danger of splintering when you’re running your hand up and down the shaft. Sandpaper – just rub it down and wrap it around the shaft. Rub it up and down and before too long you will find that it’s much smoother, much easier to use, and there’s no danger of any splinters getting into your hand.

When you have rubbed it down all over, go over it with a cloth just to take off any of that dust, because then, now that you’ve got a smooth shaft, you want to make sure it doesn’t get brittle over the years. And the way to do that is with this, which is boiled linseed oil. You never thought you’d use boiling oil did you in gardening?
Boiled oil – boiled linseed oil. By dipping a brush into that, not too heavily, and then painting the shaft, not only does it bring the grain up beautifully, to make it look like a piece of antique furniture, it also soaks into that wood and gives it a kind of suppleness and stops it drying out. And that means it’s going to last far longer.

There you have it – a spade that looks almost brand new. You can do exactly the same thing on hand tools like this little hand fork. But let this soak in at least overnight and if you hang it up on a hook in your tool shed, there’s no need to worry about it. Just leave it as it is. And eventually that boiled oil will soak into the wood and help to improve its durability. And tools that are treated like this – clean blades and clean, oiled
handles – should last you a lifetime.