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Tool Time: How to Care for Your Most Important Yard Tools

Take care of your tools, and they’ll take care of you. That’s solid advice if you consider that well-maintained tools can make outdoor tasks easier (just try slicing through tough sod with a dull shovel). By extending their life of service, carefully preserved yard tools can save you money, too.

Here are some basic tool-care tips to help make the most of your lawn and garden essentials this season.

Lawn Mower. The workhorse of yard tools, a walk-behind lawn mower needs some primping to perform its best. If you haven’t already, take it to the shop for its annual tune-up. Or, do it yourself: This typically involves replacing the air filter and spark plug, changing the oil and checking the blade for wear and tear (it may require sharpening). Manufacturers also suggest checking the engine oil and grass bag before each use, and performing a quick rinse and wipe down of the mower immediately after. Briggs & Stratton recommends changing oil after every 25 hours of mowing, or more often if you’re working in hot, dusty conditions.

String Trimmer. Able to reach spots where lawn mowers can’t, string trimmers are the secret behind well-manicured landscapes. Electric versions need little care other than “periodic checks” to make sure  handles and bolts are secure, according to Consumer Reports. But gas models do require upkeep; the consumer information site suggests replacing the cutting line and putting in a new spark plug at the start of yard-care season. During the season, keep the oil fresh and full, the vents clear of obstructions and the air filters clean (replacing them as needed).

Shovels, Cutting and Digging Tools. The University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science says you can go a long way with cutting and digging tools just by keeping them clean (it can limit disease, prevent rust and keep cutting surfaces sharp). Hose down shovels, spades and other tools used in dirt after each use, scrubbing with a bristle brush if needed. Pruners and other tools that come in contact with sticky sap can be cleaned with paint thinner, the extension says. After each cleaning, wipe blades with motor oil to prevent rust, then periodically sharpen the tools with a hand file. Your sharpening frequency will depend on your use, but it may be as regular as monthly according to gardening guru Martha Stewart.

Garden Hose. Keeping kinks out of hoses can feel like a summer-time sport, but it may just be a sign that you’re in need of an upgrade. That’s because, according to This Old House, kinks tend to show up in lesser-quality hoses. The home improvement site says kinks can also happen in good hoses that are left sitting with excess water for too long in the sun. Draining and coiling your hose after each use can help prevent this. If you do get a kink, though, This Old House suggests untangling it right away, to avoid splitting the hose.

It may take some time before tool-care becomes routine. But if you start tending to your tools as carefully as you do your yard, you’re more likely to have them around for years to come.

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