The garden is put to bed for the coming winter. Now it's time to give your garden tools a little TLC before you store them away. If the handles of your tools have seen better days, no need to worry. Donít toss them or donate them just yet. For many of these tools, you can replace or restore the handles.
We live in a throw-away culture. Many companies make products cheaply with the expectation that we will buy yearly replacements. For this very reason, I am picky about my garden tool selection. I tend to buy wood handle tools over their plastic counterparts because at least with most wood handles, they can be replaced or restored when damaged. I also prefer the feel of a well-worn wood handle in my hands. In my opinion, wood handles are more comfortable.

How to restore wooden tool handles

First, let's assess the tool handle. Does the handle have large cracks or splits? Is it rough to the touch? For most wood handles, they can be easily restored with boiled linseed oil. If the handles were new at the beginning of the garden season and the varnished finish is starting to wear down, then itís time to refurbish the handle.

For Basic Wood Tool Handle Maintenance

You will need:

  • Boiled linseed oil
  • Sandpaper and/or sander (100 grit)
  • An old t-shirt
To begin, make sure in you are in a well-ventilated area. Using the sander, sand down the entire surface of the tool handle. The goal is to remove any traces of varnish or paint. Once the varnish or paint is removed, wipe the dust off the handle. Apply boiled linseed oil generously to the sanded handle. Let the oiled wood handle dry for an hour. Wipe off any excess oil on the handle. Make sure the wood is thoroughly dry before storage.
*Special note about boiled linseed oil
Boiled linseed oil is known to spontaneously combust. The correct and safe way to dispose of oiled soaked rags is to allow the cloth to dry COMPLETELY, lying or hanging flat in a well-ventilated area. Once the rag is dry, then you can dispose of it in the trash.
Now, if your tool handle is a bit beyond the normal wear and tear of a season, fear not. I have tools that I have left out in the garden for the entire spring and summer. Neglecting my trusty garden companions left me with tool handles with large splits and cracks. These were not yet beyond repair, they just needed a little more than linseed oil.

For Major Wood Tool Handle Restoration

You will need:
  • Boiled linseed oil
  • Turpentine
  • An old jar
  • Paraffin or beeswax
  • Sandpaper and/or sander (100 grit)
  • Double boiler or slow cooker
  • An old t-shirt
I prefer to use a slow cooker to make the tool handle paste. I do not like the thought of having flammable liquids near a flame. Add the boiled linseed oil, turpentine and paraffin in equal amounts to the glass jar. Add the jar to the slow cooker and fill the basin with enough water to come half way up the jar. Turn the slow cooker on low and heat the jar until the wax melts. Once melted, remove from the slow cooker and also the mixture to cool and solidify.
Meanwhile, sand the rough tool handles. Get the wood handles as smooth as possible. Once the wax mixture has cooled into a paste, scoop some out with your t-shirt rag and rub it on your tool handles. The wax will fill in the splits and cracks. The let handles dry and wipe off any excess wax. *Properly dispose of the rags. Store the wax at room temperature.

To Replace Wood Tool Handles

Sometimes you have no choice but to completely replace tool handles. If the handle is broken or cracked beyond repair, hang on to it. You can still fix it cheaper than buying a new tool. For many common garden tools like shovels, rakes and hoes, replacement handles are readily available at your local hardware and big box home improvement center. And, if you happen upon broken garden tools at a garage sale or thrift store, buy them! The handles are easy to replace.
You will need:
  • Drill and or hammer (depends on what you are replacing)
  • A new tool handle
Replacing tool handles is a straightforward process. You remove the old tool head from the broken handle and put it on the new tool handle. There are some instances were a little more elbow grease and effort is needed. A shovel is a great example of this. Some garden shovels need to have the original rivets sawed off in order to remove the old handle. They may also have a curve in the wood that is covered with the metal tool head, making it more difficult to remove. Keep that in mind when you weigh the pros and cons of replacing the tool handle versus buying a replacement tool.
For the most part, wood tool handles are easy to restore and replace. If you keep up a regular maintenance schedule with your garden tools, they will last for years. To help keep wood tools in the best shape possible, hang them in a dry area when not in use. For the busy gardener, this is easier said than done. No worries if you forget on occasion, now you know how to restore and replace your tool handles.