Tools of the Trade – Caring for your garden tools with Fanno Saw Works

With the season of pruning, planting and gifts in mind, it seems a perfect moment to repeat the In a North State Garden interview with Robert Fanno of Fanno Saw Works in Chico.


If you are like me, you love your tools. If you don’t love your tools – you should. Every gardener needs tools that they love – that help them to accomplish their many gardening tasks with relative ease and the least amount of discomfort. They should have a handful of tools that are well-made, good quality and worth taking care of for long-life.

Choosing the gardening tools that will be your helpmates throughout the gardening seasons is not unlike choosing your close friends: choose wisely and take care and your choice will last – and suit you – for a lifetime. If you happen to have chosen poorly, my advice is go back and try again. You should love your tools. Photo: My grandfather collected old tools and cared meticulously for his workaday ones as well. He emblazoned his initials – PJ for Pliny Jewell – into all of his wooden handled ones, including this hammer which continues to work hard for me.

I have a small arsenal of tools that I love and each one of them has been in my possession for many years now. While I am not as dedicated as I might be about taking care of these tools (I sometimes let mud dry and stay caked on the handles and blades – New Year’s Resolution: Don’t do this!!), I am fairly religious about my January cleaning and caring session with my tools. No matter your climate, the winter months are months where a lot of gardening tasks can and should be taking place as weather permits: pruning, cleaning and planting of trees and shrubs, including the many bare root selections that are or are soon-to-be available at your local independent nursery. Caring for your tools is the perfect task for a bad-weather day during this same season.

Robert Fanno – the third generation of the Fanno family to run Fanno Saw Works, a tool manufacturing company in Chico, California for 90 years talks to us this week about the care of your non-motorized garden tools. In four words he sums up his recommendations: Clean, Sharpen, Protect. Regularly.

Fanno Saw Works was established by Robert’s grandfather in 1920 and the logo – developed by Robert’s father through doodles in his high school algebra notebook – is a registered trademark. The company currently has two lines of tools – the Original Fanno line that is manufactured entirely in the US primarily at the Chico facility, and the Fanno-International line of tools, portions of which are collaborated on and produced in part with Fanno partners in Japan. Fanno has about nine employees at the Chico site and not only do they manufacture tools, but they also do a lively business of sharpening and cleaning gardening and agricultural tools of all shapes, sizes and age. “Last year, a man brought in a pair of hand clippers that had been buried in the dirt for close to six years. We were able to loosen the mechanism and clean and sharpen them back to life,” Robert told me wryly. “The tools we see come with all kinds of stories.” (It was not me that had the hand clippers that were buried, by the way.)

Of the company’s history, Robert writes on the Fanno website: My grandfather, A. A. Fanno, was a man of tremendous common sense and possessed the talent of a craftsman. His early years were spent learning his trade of a boat builder and carpenter in the northwest. Later his skills moved him to California to work on the river barges. Around the turn of the century he settled in the Chico area and became the owner/operator of a local retail housewares business. His interests later moved to the area of agriculture when he bought an almond orchard. Around the time he purchased the orchard, he developed his first pole saw to remove limbs high in the trees from the ground. From these first pole saws, many designs later emerged. The development of the “Fanno” tooth design takes us back to our company’s beginnings. The key feature of the design is the strength of the cutting edge. Also, the heel of the tooth forms an open mouth, referred to as the “gullet”. These features give the saw a faster cut that doesn’t bind in green wood and allows it to stay sharp longer in hardwoods. The tooth design was not the only innovation. The blade’s curved edge enabled the cutting teeth to work at their optimum. The blade’s curve allows the user to maximize the cutting effectiveness of the downward stroke, or pull, of the tool. Our first tool, the pole saw, was a product of this design. The early saws were hand-cut out of broken band saw blades that were obtained from lumber mills in the area. The teeth were punched out by a hand tool and then “hand-filed”. The first marketing of the “Fanno” saws consisting of my grandfather and father putting saws in the trunk of the car and calling on growers and retailers in Northern California, Oregon and Washington. “Word-of-mouth” was the bulk of the advertising effort for Fanno Saws. The innovative design and dependability of the tool became common knowledge along the west coast. Eventually, the popularity of the tools spread to government agencies. Right-of-way maintenance, parks and recreation, and utility companies grabbed these tools up. In the 1940’s, we were requested to develop a saw that could be carried like a pocket knife. Six models of folding saws were designed that found instant acceptance in orchards, vineyards, nurseries, campsites, backyards, and parks.”

Fanno has many specialty long, pole and folding saws as well as high-quality clippers and loppers. They offer some good gift sets including a set of Rose Care tools (because you’re pruning all of your roses in the coming weeks, as I am sure you know), as well as a more general Pruning Pal gift set. They also have some nice belt-carrying cases for your tools (so that you don’t leave them buried in the dirt).

Of tool care, Robert walked me through his recommendations, starting with Cleaning. “When you are done with your tools for the time being or for the season, put them away clean. If you were working with possibly diseased materials make sure to sanitize as well with a mild alcohol or bleach solution. If you can just dry-clean your tools with a good stiff brush or cloth, fine. If you need to use a mild soap and water combination to get them clean – also fine – but make sure they are dried or allowed to dry completely.” At Fanno Saw Works, Robert walked me through the cleaning and sharpening of a pair of clippers. Before cleaning, Robert took the entire moving mechanism apart and cleaned each screw, nut and gear. He used a mechanical steel brush to vigorously clean the blades. If a moving part on a tool is paralyzed with oxidization, Fanno will soak them in a mild solution of distilates to loosen them up.

Once cleaned, Fanno recommends sharpening your blades one at a time on a sharpening stone. This can be done by hand at home, making sure to work with the angle of the blade’s edge. At Fanno, many tools will be professionally machine sharpened as well. While you can clean a toothed saw at home easily enough, sharpening the teeth is perhaps best left to the experts with proper machinery and eye and ear protection.

Once cleaned and sharpened, tools are put back together if necessary and then lightly oiled to protect them before being stored or used again. Robert uses a light-weight 3 in 1 oil, which he sprays on and then wipes down to spread evenly and remove any excess. While I have used a light weight food grade oil such as cottonseed oil, Robert does not recommend this as vegetable based oils are less stable and can go rancid, causing possible corrosion of your tools or their parts. Duly noted. The oil also removes any remaining dirt or dust from sharpening. Robert further does not recommend oiling pre-finished wooden handles of your tools as the oil will work over time to strip a lacquer finish. If necessary, he recommends re-applying a light lacquer.

Fanno Saw Works cleans and sharpens a standard pair of hand pruners in one to two business days for around $4. They can be reached at: info@fannosaw.com, 530-895-1762. Fanno Saw Works is located at 224 w. 8th Street in Chico, California.

Follow Jewellgarden.com/In a North State Garden on Facebook – become a fan today! Photo: Fanno can emblazon your name or company logo onto a line of tools. I think I might need one of these with my name on it.

To submit plant/gardening related events/classes to the Jewellgarden.com on-line Calendar of Regional Gardening Events, send the pertinent information to me at: Jennifer@jewellgarden.com

Did you know I send out a weekly email with information about upcoming topics and gardening related events? If you would like to be added to the mailing list, send an email to Jennifer@jewellgarden.com.

In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time.

Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
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