Tool maintenance – The Spade

As winter sets in and the tools are put away for the season now’s the time to check for any wear or tear.

Spades with their large surface area often get the brunt of any nasties in the soil like big rocks or discarded bricks. A sharp nick free blade makes for effortless digging so it’s important to check and re-sharpen if necessary before it’s called into action next year.

Carbon steel due to its nature and high carbon content is easier to sharpen and will actually become sharper the more you use it. Stainless Steel in contrast, due to having Chromium in its make up is slightly softer and so requires more work to keep an edge.

Firstly, with a stiff brush remove any caked-on soil. With carbon steel, wire wool can be used to remove any loose material and remove any heavy rust. Carbon steel over the years will develop some patina (rust or signs of oxidation on its surface). This isn’t a bad thing, it’s like the tools equivalent of a suntan protecting it from nasty elements.

Next step would be to check the socket where the spade meets the handle and make sure it’s not loose or damaged in any way. If there’s signs of movement this may be remedied with the use of a hammer striking the rivet. This will vary from tool manufacture to tool manufacture. Greenman Garden Tools lipped socket has 3 separate rivets to ensure there’s no wiggle.

Now it’s time to give the blade edge a tickle! If you have a vice or clamp that will make things a lot easier. Failing that either a spare set of hands or sit on the spade handle with the head poking out between your legs.

Dished side up use a file at the same angle as the spade. The dished side is the only side of the spade that should have a bevel. Working along the blade keep an even pressure using forward strokes.

Once this is done turn the blade over and this time using the file flat to the spade with an car windscreen wiper action wipe the file a couple of times back and forth to remove any burs.

I keep a bucket of sand in my shed which has been mixed with some old linseed oil , this is perfect to dip my tools in after use, it removes any debris but also coats the surface of the blade in a protective layer of oil. If you have a similar bucket mix, now’s the time to dip it or failing that a wipe with some light oil of your choice.  The aforementioned bucket is also very handy at putting out welding fires I may or may not have had over the years!

Now to the handle. If it feels a bit rough in places a light once over with a fine sandpaper should help smooth things out. Then with a well oiled rag ( I like linseed) wipe the handle over. If it sucks it all in really quickly it will need a few more wipes or possibly a once over with a paint brush of linseed oil. If there’s any damage or it’s really rough in places it might be time to replace the handle.

The Spade should now look and feel as good as new, ready for action once the frosts have passed.

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