Caring for Wooden Tool Handles

Richard L. Parish  |  2/16/2007 2:10:34 AM

Wooden handle on shovel.

Wooden handle on pitchfork.

Wooden handle on spading fork. This handle is over 30 years old and still in good shape.

Many hand garden tools have wooden handles. Although some newer tools have fiberglass or metal handles, wood is still a very common handle material. With just a little care, your wooden handles can last a lifetime.

Causes of Handle Failure: The two most common causes of damage to or failure of wooden handles are exposure to weather and misuse. Wood will deteriorate if left outside, exposed to sunlight and rain. This deterioration can be in the form of cracking and splitting, warping or rotting.

Use the Tool in the Intended Manner: Misuse of long-handled garden tools often results in broken handles. Most long-handled garden tools are not intended for prying (on rocks, roots, stumps, etc.). Even shovels will not hold up to extensive prying. Shovels are designed to pry loose a shovelful of soil, not to pry up solid obstacles. Handles on rakes and hoes are even less able to take prying or severe impact use (e.g. vigorous chopping with a hoe). If you use the tool in the intended manner and do not pry or pound with it, a quality tool handle will last many years.

Store the Tool Inside: One of the most important things you can do to protect your tool handles is to store the tools inside – away from both sun and rain. We have all seen tool handles that are gray and weathered, and the wood grain has opened up, leaving a rough surface. Tool handles can also warp if left out in the weather. If continually moist, tool handles can mildew or rot. If you expect your tools to last more than a year or two, it is imperative that you always store them inside. Hanging the tool on the wall of the garage or toolshed will help, too. Tools should not be left on the ground – even inside.

Tool Care: There are a few other things you can do to preserve your tool handles and prolong their life. If they become rough, sanding will smooth them. A light application of linseed oil occasionally will help preserve the tool handles, but tools that are stored inside really won’t need this.

When a Wooden Handle Does Fail: Most wooden tool handles are relatively easy to replace if necessary. Replacement handles are available at many hardware stores, garden centers and feed stores. Be sure to get the right size and type of handle for your tool. Once you replace a damaged handle, treat it right and it should last the rest of your life.

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