Sunday, September 28, 2008

Take Care of Your Tool

Here's one that most people never think about. Shovel maintenance.

Yes, maintenance for your shovels.

As with other tools, if you take care of your tools they should last a lifetime. Unless you buy cheap crap, since you can't polish a turd. Well, you can, but a shiny turd isn't much better than a dull one.

Below is the blade on my garden spade/shovel. You can see the edge of the blade is bent backwards, which creates resistance when trying to plunge the blade into your own skull after watching your NFL team blow it in the last few minutes of the game.

After my headache was gone, I decided to do something about the blade. This bent-over edge was from the manufacturing process, and probably shouldn't have passed quality control. I noticed it after getting it home and using it, after it was too late to swap it out.

Yeah, it's dirty. I'm not big on cleaning tools at 10 PM after burying pet hamsters in the garden...

So as with sharpening the mower blades, out comes the Angle Grinder with a sanding flap disc installed. Some people might cringe at spending $15-20 for a power tool like this, figuring you get what you pay for. Well, normally you do, and I'm all for spending more for quality tools. When it counts, that is. These grinders from HF have proven themselves to me.

Realistically, how often will the average home-owner use an angle grinder, so why spend $75 for a good one? These cheap-o's from Harbor Freight are actually pretty decent quality. I currently own three of them, and have burned out at least 4 of them in the past 5 years doing some rather major metal fabrication.

But if I burned out 4 of them how can I say they're decent? Because the 4 I burned out combined cost as much as one decent grinder, and with the work I was doing I'd have worn out even a higher-end grinder. Plus, I use three different discs; a sanding flap disc, a cut-off disc, and a metal grinding disc, so having one grinder dedicated to each task saves time & effort.

About 1 minute later the rolled edge is gone and the edge is reasonably-sharp. You can get the same results with a hand file and a little effort. I've got plenty of metal-working tools, so I might as well use 'em.

The blade won't stay sharp for long, but when it comes to digging out plants a sharp blade will much more quickly cut through roots, making your work easier. The metal on this shovel is pretty thin so I just beveled from the back edge.

I gave the same treatment to another shovel, sharpening from the front and back since the metal on this blade is about 50% thicker than the other shovel.

After the edges were sharpened I took a wire brush and knocked the dirt off. A coat of oil then protects the bare metal from rust.

I used to keep a 5 gallon bucket filled with sand in the garage. I dumped about a quart of old motor oil into it to thoroughly coat the sand. When I was done with a shovel I'd just jam the blade into the oily sand a few times to clean off the dirt and give it a coat of oil in one step. I didn't have room in the moving truck when we moved so I gave it to my neighbor. Some day I'll replace it.