Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Building a better shovel, part 2: The slick shovel test

The much-vaunted Blizzard of 2015 turned out to be a bit of a tempest in a teapot. Rather than a record-breaking storm that left everyone snowed in for days, it was just a garden-variety winter storm that left behind about six inches of snow, tops. However, we still had to clear it all off our walks and driveway, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to test a tip I'd seen in several places around the Web: spraying your snow shovel with cooking spray.

I'd already learned, a few years ago, that you could buy that Teflon or silicone sprays to help the snow slide off your shovel blade more easily. However, sites such as TipHero and Dollar Stretcher kept reporting that you could get similar results with regular cooking spray. We just happened to have a can of canola-oil cooking spray we'd picked up at Aldi and then hadn't used, because I found that the propellant in the can gave the oil a funny taste. So I figured I might as well put it to good use by trying it out on my shovel to see if it helped. I sprayed the oil all over the blade of the shovel, getting it into all the nooks and crannies as best I could, and then went out to scoop snow with it.

At first, it actually looked like the spray might be helping. My first shovelful of snow seemed to slide out of the scoop more easily than usual, leaving only a little bit clinging to the blade. However, with my second shovelful, the snow started sticking again with a vengeance. It was hard to tell for sure, since it was a new shovel that I hadn't used before, but it almost seemed as if the oil was somehow made the shovel retain more snow than usual. I certainly ended up with quite a lot of it stuck to the blade, even though it was a fairly light and powdery snow.

Wondering if I'd done something wrong, I tried looking at the comments on one of the articles that recommended cooking spray to see whether it had worked better for other people. I didn't find many comments talking about the cooking spray itself, but several people said they'd had success with other coatings, including WD-40, silicone spray, furniture wax, car wax, graphite spray, petroleum jelly, and even "an old candle" rubbed onto the shovel. I did a little scouting to see which of these we had on hand and unearthed a small container of petroleum jelly, as well as several candles. So I figured I'd try the petroleum jelly first, and if that didn't work, I'd go for the wax.

So the next time I went out to shovel, I smeared a thick coating of Vaseline on the shovel blade first. The initial results were disappointing: it didn't actually appear to be making the snow stick any more than before, but it didn't seem to make it stick any less, either. However, when we went out later in the day to clean up the last of the snowfall, I wiped the blade down first, and suddenly, I found that it seemed to be noticeably less sticky. Snow came off it more easily as I shoveled along, and when I brought it in at the end, it had quite a bit less show sticking to it than the shovel Brian had been using.

So, based on the tests I've done so far, it looks like a thin, even coating of lubricant may be the key here. Both the the cooking oil (which went on in a heavy spray of droplets) and my initial thick coating of Vaseline seemed to be so heavy that the snow just clung to the goop instead of sliding off it. But the thin sheen of petroleum jelly that was left clinging to the shovel after my wipe-down was apparently just enough to make it slick without making it damp and clingy. This gives me hope that I may actually be able to put that cooking spray to a useful purpose after all; if I simply wipe it over the shovel after spraying it on, it may give me a thin enough coating to do some good. More snow is expected this weekend (sigh), so I shouldn't have to wait long before putting it to the test.

Now if I could just come up with some equally easy DIY method for getting rid of all the obstructions in our yard, this winter chore might not be too burdensome.
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