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Garden Tool Care and DIY Storage Bin

Cleaning and organizing the garden tools may not be the most glamorous job, but it certainly gets the gardening year off on the right flip flop. Plus, I discovered a handy new way to organize my small garden tools and that’s pretty darn exciting (if you disagree with me now, just wait until mid summer when you have a hundred things to prune and you can easily find clean, sharp snips in no time at all – yeah, that’s exciting).

I’ve read in a few places that a great way to store your tools is in a bin filled with sand and a little oil. Last summer I decided to give this a try. They ‘recipe’ recommend adding coarse sand to some sort of bucket and adding motor oil. I didn’t want to use motor oil as I was worried about the adverse affects on my organic garden, and I thought vegetable oil would go rancid, so I left out the oil and just oiled my tools regularly.

The benefit of this method is that your tools are easy to grab and easily kept organized. The drawback is that the sand really mucks up your tools, particularly the pruners. It gets into all the crevices and it just doesn’t work for me. I do not recommend storing your tools in sand but if you have a way that it works for you, please let me know.

Since I liked the organization I got with my small tools, I decided to replace the sand with river stones. This works beautifully! Fill up 1/3 of a shallow but wide bin with round river stones and insert tools. It holds them in place so you can find them easily, it takes up very little room, and it’s simple to maintain.

It’s also a good idea to wash and sharpen your tools regularly. Many gardeners will wash, oil, and sharpen pruners before each gardening day. Others may do it more often (i.e.: between plants which is always a good idea if there are disease issues that can be spread), and some do it less often (one a week, a month, never.)  Keeping tools clean and sharp will ensure they perform as you wish, last a long time, and don’t spread disease.

I try to keep my tools clean and sharp but it’s not a perfect system. I work best with scheduled activities so in both the spring and fall I like to follow this hand tool maintenance program:

1. Collect all tools from wherever they have migrated to and lay them out grouped by type. Cull any duplicates or unused tools, replace or repair broken tools, and buy new tools if some have gone missing.

2. Fill up a basin with soapy water and wash all tools.

3. Take apart and sharpen pruners. Only do one pair at a time so you don’t mix up parts. Wash all the bits, scour with steel wool, and sharpen with a diamond blade. When you have the pruners put back together, oil them with some olive oil.

4. When all tools are clean and ready to get back to work, store them in the handy, dandy bin of stones for easy access.


  1. Catherine, follow the instructions in this post for cleaning and sharpening. Use the steel wool and hopefully they will recover. If not, then make sure you store your new pair where it is dry in the future :)

  2. If you are still looking for an oil, try mineral oil. it is recommended for wooden cutting boards because it is food grade but does not go rancid. and wow – I have only 3 had tools – guess I don’t garden much!

  3. Pingback: Winter Garden Prep: Tool Care - Empress of Dirt

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