greenthumbpete.com


   Mar 23

The Tool Bag

An Ounce of Prevention Within all living organisms there is a molecule, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). It is responsible for delivering energy released during respiration to wherever it is needed in a plant or body. In an oxygen rich (aerobic) environment this energy is distributed to allow plants, and us, to go about our normal daily life.

In an oxygen poor (anaerobic) environment we die, but some plants make adjustments; trying to survive the life threatening situation. In the case of crocuses, they convert the energy to heat; allowing them to grow through the frozen soil, melt the snow around them; exposing them to the fresh air.

This whole subject of ATP and the beautiful images of crocuses growing through the snow could be interesting and would fill this week’s column, if nature cooperated and put some snow on the ground. It is pretty clear though that the growing season will begin early this year.

I usually sow my pea’s mid-month. One year I was not able to sow them until March 30th, last year I sowed them the first weekend, two weeks ahead of schedule. So we need to focus beyond starting seeds and start preparing for outdoor activities. To me, that means dumping out the contents of the tool bag onto the potting table.

I need to inventory the mess, clean and sharpen the tools, evaluate their usability and taking note of those that need to be replaced; for example, the bypass pruner. This is arguably the second most abused garden tool in the bag, the first being the trowel.

The most popular size bypass pruner is designed to cut live woody branches up to one-half of an inch in diameter. In reality it is used as a hammer, a trenching tool, a wire cutter and a root (rock) cutter. It is used to cut dead wood, and if you rotate it back and forth, remove it and re-insert it; you can cut a live one-and-a-half inch branch. Admit it; you have done that and a lot more. The tool is abused.

The bypass pruner is designed to slice through the wood like a pair of scissors. As you cut, a sharp curved blade passes by a thick unsharpened crescent shaped bottom blade. The crescent is designed to prevent the branch from sliding out as you cut it.

Anything beyond cutting live wood is the job of a different tool. Kitchen shears clip coupons, snips cut wire and pruners cut wood. Every time a piece of dead or oversized wood gets caught between the blades it bends them out of alignment. Eventually you lose the ability to make clean cuts and have to replace the pruner.

Exercise your ATP. If the tool comes apart, take it apart; clean it, oil it, sharpen it and put it back together. If the tool has a point or cutting edge, sharpen them. If it has wooden handles, sand and oil them. If the pruning saw is dull, replace it; along with any other cutting tool blades. If you cannot make the tool serviceable, replace it.

Bringing Old Things Back to Life: Some of the best gardening hand tools were manufactured after the turn of the last century. All metal, some with wooden handles. They were easily dis-assembled for repair and maintenance and nearly indestructible.

Here is a pair of shears picked up out of a junk pile full of rust. I took it apart and sanded out the rust; replaced the spring and painted the handle. I’ve been using them now for five years. The image is recent, following re-painting the handles and sharpening the blades.

Seymour Smith & Son Shears

I found these hedge shears in a barrel at an antique shop.

Shears fresh from the barrel

They are WISS Professional Pattern from the mid-1960′s. Suggested retail price from the company catalog, $6.95. I paid $4 and invested a couple of hours to bring them back to life. This is what it looks like now.

After Sanding and Painting

 This rubber bumper was an innovation to reduce muscle fatigue.

Neoprene shock absorber

 I shaped a rubber bottle stopper on the band saw to replace the broken shock absorber.

New shock absorber

Within all living organisms there is a molecule, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). It is responsible for delivering energy released during respiration to wherever it is needed in a plant or body. In an oxygen rich (aerobic) environment this energy is distributed to allow plants, and us, to go about our normal daily life.

In an oxygen poor (anaerobic) environment we die, but some plants make adjustments; trying to survive the life threatening situation. In the case of crocuses, they convert the energy to heat; allowing them to grow through the frozen soil, melt the snow around them; exposing them to the fresh air.

This whole subject of ATP and the beautiful images of crocuses growing through the snow could be interesting and would be a great subject this time of year, if nature cooperated and put some snow on the ground. It is pretty clear though that the growing season will begin early this year.

I usually sow my pea’s mid-month. Last year I was not able to sow them until March 30th, now I might sow them this weekend, two weeks ahead of schedule. So we need to focus beyond starting seeds and start preparing for outdoor activities. To me, that means dumping out the contents of the tool bag onto the potting table.

I am not a hoarder, but there are a few items that I do not throw in the recycle bin. All of my hand tools, used and abused, are on display reminding me of the tasks they were not designed for; and it only took thirty years to figure it out.

Already having a collection makes it easy to justify adding to it. I focused on antique castoffs; going back to a time when horsepower was determined by counting the number of animals pulling the combine. I am amazed not just by their quality and ability to take abuse, but also by how much more efficient and easy they are to use. I was able to take a few completely apart, sharpen the blades, paint and oil them up, and had them working like new. Something else you can’t do with newer ergonomic plastic versions.

I need to inventory the mess, clean and sharpen the tools, evaluate their usability and take note of those that need to be replaced; for example, the bypass pruner. This is arguably the second most abused garden tool in the bag, the first being the trowel.

When I first started gardening, I had three tools in my bag; a trowel, cultivator and bypass pruner. Once I was on my knees I wasn’t getting back up; so I used the cultivator to loosen the soil, the trowel to dig holes, edge grass, pry out rocks and chop roots; the pruner took care of the roots and unseen rocks that I could not chop.

By the end of the weekend I had blisters on both hands; and by seasons end I needed a new trowel and pruner. It took me a long time to figure out that the tools were designed for specific uses and when used properly lasted forever. Now that I understand that concept, my bag has a lot more tools; and I don’t need a few of the noisy power tools anymore. At a minimum, your bag needs six tools.

Pruners; two bypass pruners for live wood cuts, one for branches up to one-quarter inch and one for up to three-quarters of an inch; one anvil pruner for cutting off dead branches; the difference between the two types will be apparent with the first cut.

The most popular size bypass pruner is designed to cut live woody branches up to one-half of an inch in diameter. In reality it is used as a hammer, a trenching tool, a wire cutter and a root (rock) cutter. It is used to cut dead wood, and if you rotate it back and forth, remove it and re-insert it; you can cut a live one-and-a-half inch branch. Admit it; you have done that and a lot more. The tool is abused.

The bypass pruner is designed to slice through the wood like a pair of scissors. As you cut, a sharp curved blade passes by a thick unsharpened crescent shaped bottom blade. The crescent is designed to prevent the branch from sliding out as you cut it.

Anything beyond cutting live wood is the job of a different tool. Kitchen shears clip coupons, snips cut wire and pruners cut wood. Every time a piece of dead or oversized wood gets caught between the blades it bends them out of alignment. Eventually you lose the ability to make clean cuts and have to replace the pruner.

Pruning saw; an eight-inch folding pruner to allow cuts that cannot be made with a bow saw. If the bow is banging against the bark while you are trying to make a cut then you should not be using it.

Trowel; since we do abuse this tool we might as well purchase one that is up for the task; a stainless steel blade with a ruler on the face, saw tooth on one side knife edge on the other, forged or riveted tang. Press formed aluminum or chrome plated metal blades will not make it through the season.

Cultivator; this is used to break up the soil crust to facilitate watering, and cut weed seedlings before they have a chance to take hold. If you use it to pull out shrub roots, the only thing you will pull is your lower back.

Exercise your ATP. If the tool comes apart, take it apart; clean it, oil it, sharpen it and put it back together. If the tool has a point or cutting edge, sharpen them. If it has wooden handles, sand and oil them. If the pruning saw is dull, replace it; along with any other cutting tool blades. If you cannot make the tool serviceable, replace it.

Throw in heavy duty shears, a folding knife, small sharpening stone, ball of cotton string, markers and you have something that will make your activities a lot more fun.

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