I’m a pragmatic person, more likely to reuse something than to replace it. I simply don’t see the point in ousting something that works perfectly fine.
The same mentality applies to my garden tools. The most used tool in my arsenal is a faithful pair of handheld pruners — Corona Classic Cut bypass pruners with a coil spring. I’ve used and abused this pair, for many, many years, and have never considered replacing them with something better. But everything changed on Christmas day.
Much to my delight, a brand new pair of Swiss-made Felco 2 pruners were given to me over the holiday, and they have made me want to dig a hole and bury my Corona pruners. My new Felcos are sharp, shiny, and have no worn handles or rusty edges. They cut on command and aren’t begging for a sharpening every time I use them. I’m in love.
Since receiving my fancy new Felcos, I’ve made a promise to care for them properly, respect their quality construction, and maintain their integrity. A well-made tool can last a lifetime, as long as you use it properly and care for the moving parts on a regular basis.
January provides much needed down time for gardeners, allowing planning and maintenance to take precedence. This is also a great time to give your pruners a thorough checkup and get them ready for a new season of work.
To sustain the longevity of your handheld pruners, you should devote time to three things — cleaning, sharpening, and oiling.
Sap, dirt and plant material can build up on our pruners overtime, and such build-up can limit the usefulness of the blade. A simple scrub of warm water and dish soap can remove all the grime. A rough sponge or scouring pad is perfect for taking all the gunk off pruner blades.
Disassembling your pruners is helpful, as you’re able to get all parts thoroughly clean. Felcos are easy to disassemble, but keep in mind that not all brands of pruners are designed to be taken apart. Just make sure you are capable of putting them back together after you’re done. Thoroughly dry all parts before reassembling.
Sharpening the pruner blade is the next step. Larry McFadden, the owner of Chef Sharp Mobile Sharpening in Winston-Salem, has years of experience sharpening kitchen knives and gardening tools. His services are available at Cobblestone Farmers Market and other locations throughout the Triad. Other than pruners, McFadden sharpens shovels, hoes, hedge trimmers, axes and hatchets.
“Maintaining a sharp blade protects your investment,” McFadden said. “A sharp blade requires less pressure to cut through, provides a cleaner cut minimizing wear on the tool and less healing time for the plant.”
For the average gardener, McFadden recommends sharpening pruners once each season.
“Anyone can sharpen their pruners with a little practice,” McFadden said. “It’s important to realize that ninety five percent of garden tools are single beveled, meaning they are sharpened on one side only. The bevel will always be on the outer edge.”
“Using a file or diamond hone, stroke into the cutting edge from the heel of the blade to the tip in one smooth stroke. This method ensures you will match the original bevel angle. As far as commercial hand held sharpeners, follow the instructions and apply light pressure to avoid gouging the blade.”
Sharpening your pruners can be very intimidating, as there are many ways to do it wrong. There are numerous online videos and step-by-step tutorials that make the process much more approachable, though. McFadden is also available to teach techniques and help people learn to sharpen their own tools. He is available Saturdays at Cobblestone’s winter market at Wiseman Brewery from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. He can also be reached at 336-245-4939.
Once sharpened, oil your blade and any other moving parts of your pruners. I use whatever I have within closest reach — it could be vegetable oil from the kitchen or a mechanical lubricant such as WD-40. The oil helps to keep rust at bay and keeps everything moving smoothly.
Even though meticulous pruner maintenance happens only once or twice a year, keep in mind the importance of regular sanitizing and proper use. Don’t cut anything you shouldn’t- like wire, metal, or large caliper limbs. This can chip the blade or put stress on the hardware.
Wipe down your blades with rubbing alcohol or spray with Lysol between pruning jobs. Tools and pruners can pick up a lot of hitchhikers, including pests, disease and fungal spores. To prevent spreading bad things around, be sure to sanitize your pruners often. This is as easy as keeping a bottle of sanitizer wherever you store your pruners.
Regardless whether your pruners are fancy and new or old and rusty, take pride in the job they’re meant to do. Spend an hour this winter giving them the attention and maintenance they deserve. After all, a good pair of pruners are a gardener’s best friend.