Let’s face it….it happens. Gardening season is here and you can’t wait to do some trimming. You hunt for your clippers, only to find rusty pruning shears that were put away without proper care. Ugh! Normally I take all the steps to care for my tools before putting them away for the winter. However, this time I neglected to care for one of my most valued gardening tools, leaving me with a bit of a chore before I can get out and use them.
If this has happened to your special snippers, fear not…..they can be rescued! The rusty pruning shears in the photos were actually found at a garage sale in worse condition than this. So I know they can be restored.
I’m going to give you a few tips on how to recover from your error and keep those clippers clean and ready to use. Sharpening is another part of tool maintenance and a lesson all on it’s own. So for now I’m going to just give you the cleaning basics.
4 steps to revive your rusty pruning shears
The first thing you want to do is scrub off the dirt and major rust. Every garden shear article I have read says to start with a wire brush. This is great and works well, but for some reason this year, my wire brush was not to be found. This ended up being a good thing, because I discovered that other things work well also. The thin green scrubbie that I use for dishes worked very well for removing a lot of the rust. Then I went to a piece of steel wool to really get everything smooth and clean. It was a lot of hard scrubbing but very satisfying in the end. Don’t worry if there are still dark spots, especially if they are seriously old clippers like mine are. If they are smooth and free of rust they will be fine.
After removing the dirt and rust, clean them with soap and water. Then a good drying is an absolute must. Leave them in the open position to air dry in the sun or a warm place until completely dry.
After they are dry rub the blades with a little rubbing alcohol disinfect. This is also a good thing to do between pruning different trees and shrubs in case there are any diseases. You don’t want to pass them from one plant to another! Use a cotton ball or a piece of cloth with a little rubbing alcohol and just wipe the blades clean.
Now comes the part that prevents this whole thing from happening again. Oiling. There are several oils to use, but I prefer the most natural for gardening. Boiled Linseed Oil is natural, but it often has solvent in it to keep it from getting hard. If you do use it be sure and let your tools sit over night so the solvent can evaporate. Linseed oil is also an excellent way to preserve the wooden handles of tools. Rapeseed Oil is another natural oil used in cooking and has been traditionally used for machinery. Use a bit of vegetable oil when you don’t have anything else. Sewing machine oil, A1 oil, motor oil and WD-40 can all be used, but they contain petrochemicals, which I prefer to avoid in the garden setting. Here is a quick article about keeping these chemicals out of the organic garden. A few drops of the right oil applied to the blades are all that is needed. Apply oil the with a soft cloth and rub it on all metal parts and be sure and drop some into the moving parts.
Your rusty pruning shears have been saved! Now you are ready for another gardening season. Keeping your shears nice does take a little effort but it’s worth it. Your tools will keep working for you for years to come if you take good care of them. Washing them in soapy water and drying completely after every use is a good idea. This removes sap, dirt and other impurities that can build up and cause problems. Oiling doesn’t have to happen every time you use them, but always do it before storing for the winter!
Learn more about caring for other beloved tools in my post Cutting Board Care + A Recipe for Cutting Board Cream.