JoAnne Skelly: Tucking tools away for winter

I am ready for a winter respite from gardening chores. The leaves have been raked. I cut back the lavender and other woody perennials. I fertilized the lawns. Now I need to winterize my tools. Are your tools cleaned and stored for winter yet?

Hand tools such as pruners and loppers need a good cleaning and perhaps a sanding, followed by an oiling. Use fine sandpaper to remove rust and to smooth wooden handles. Sharpen the blades and then wipe them down with WD-40 or lightweight oil. Clean and sharpen shovels and hand trowels too so future digging will be easier.

I’m lucky my mechanic husband takes care of all the power tools. I asked him what he does. He empties the mower of gas and runs it until it is dry. Or you can avoid draining a gas tank by putting in a gas stabilizer available from any auto parts store.

He also drains the engine oil using the drain plug in the bottom of the crankcase catching the oil in a drain pan to dispose of at a recycling center.

With some mowers, you drain the oil out of the filler tube by turning the mower over (after removing the gas). After the fluids have been drained, he tips the mower on its side and uses a wide blade putty knife to clean under the deck, scraping off the built-up grass and dirt and taking care near the blades. He sprays a biodegradable all-purpose cleaner under the deck and allows that to sit for five minutes. Then he hoses it off. After drying the area, he sprays it with a lubricant like WD-40.

With the mower upright again, he refills it with fresh oil. Or you can leave it empty if you put a note on it that there is no oil, so in the spring you don’t start it without oil.

He then cleans the top surfaces of the mower. He checks the air cleaner. If it is clogged with dirt, he blows it out with compressed air or replaces it. He takes the spark plug out, puts a little engine oil in the spark plug hole and pulls the start cord a couple times to lubricate the cylinder to prevent rust in the engine. Finally, he replaces the spark plug. Since sharpening a lawnmower’s blades requires that they be balanced carefully, have them done professionally.

Your tools will be ready to go when spring arrives.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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