How To Select, Use & Maintain Garden Loppers, Pruners, Saws & Shears

pruner use selecting

One thing is certain when you have a yard, eventually you will need a pruner of some sort to clear away overgrown and/or damaged branches. Without the right kind of equipment, this becomes an extremely arduous or even impossible task.

In this article, we will discuss the various types of trimming, cutting and pruning implements you’ll need to care of your yard and garden. We will also provide some sound advice on purchasing, caring for and maintaining your pruning and lopping tools. Read on to learn more.

Bypass Pruners

If you buy only one pruning and lopping tool, make it a pair of bypass pruners. This tool serves a multitude of purposes, and it’s smart to invest in a high quality tool. Expect to spend about $50 on a well-made and long-lasting set of bypass pruners. We think the Felco #2 is the Best Hand Pruner is our favorite. Check out our review of the Felco #2 hand pruners here.

This type of pruner features “bypass blades”. These blades are similar to the blades of scissors in that they bypass one another. For this reason, they are excellent for cutting clean through live wood.

Although bypass pruners and loppers are a good multipurpose tool, you should know that is best to use this type of tool on living branches. While it’s possible to cut dead, dry branches you run the risk of damaging your tool. The blades may jam and even bend if overused on dead wood.

Choose The Right Size & Design

For best results, use long handled bypass loppers to cut back healthy, overgrown shrubs. The fact that they have longer handles gives you a greater amount of leverage. This enables you to cut through larger stems (up to 1.5 inches) easily.

For thinner stems, use bypass pruners. For example, you may wish to use these pruners to cut fresh herbs and/or flowers, prune your roses or keep your raspberry bushes tidy. Be sure to keep your bypass pruner’s blades very sharp so that you can make clean cuts, which is important to maintaining good plant health.

Pay Close Attention To Maintenance

Even when you are very careful, your bypass tools may sometimes jam and catch. When you use these tools a great deal, the jaws can become loose. To correct this problem, use a tool vise to hold your tool steady. Tighten the blade nut to adjust the blades’ passing clearance. To do this, you will need to use two wrenches – one on each side of the nut.

While adjusting, check to see if your blades are bent. If so, you may be able to correct them by tapping them gently with a hammer to straighten them or replacing the blade.

My personal experience with pruners: A good pair of hand pruning shears (I like Felco pruners) is one garden tool many plant owners should purchase early. They are one of those indispensable hand garden tools.

A quality pair of bypass pruning shears can last 10-15 years. I own a pair of Felco hand pruners in use to this day that are over 35 years old and still going strong. I’ve replaced blades and springs but the old Felco workhorse still gets the job done.

You’ll find many models of pruning shears… as varied as any garden equipment. Between the light pruning shears for roses and the heavy duty “loppers” there seems no end of models.

Most shears made today carry a downside. Although made well the materials used are not of the highest quality – blades and springs rust easily. That’s why I prefer the Felco pruners. They cost more but the materials used make them very durable shears to carry everyday.

Select a model or pruning shears best suited to the person and the work. It’s also recommended to sanitize your pruners as you prune. More on sanitizing pruners here.


Anvil Lopper & Anvil Pruner

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This tool is made specifically for chopping up dead branches, using a design with a blade that strikes against a soft plate. You can expect to spend about $30 on a high quality anvil lopper and/or pruner.

Use anvil loppers for removing very thick (two-inch) dead branches. Generally speaking this type of tool doesn’t work as well on live branches as it crushes them. However, you can use an anvil lopper to get started on a big lopping and pruning job and then finish up with a bypass lopper for clean cuts on trees or shrubs.

Anvil pruners are good for clipping away smaller dead branches and twigs (one-half-inch). You won’t be able to get close-in with this tool, but you can prune away large amounts of deadwood without jamming the blades with wood shards.

Practice Safe & Effective Lopping

Whether you are lopping with a bypass lopper or an anvil lopper, be sure you always position the blades so that the limb you are lopping is as deep in the jaws as possible. If you attempt to lop using the tip of the blades, you are likely to bend them.

Once your blades are in position, close the handles firmly and steadily. Careful use of your tools will help extend their useful life.

Folding Saw

When you need to slice through very thick branches, you’re sure to need a folding saw. This is ideal for cutting living or dead branches greater than two inches in diameter that you simply cannot get around with loppers or pruners.

Things To Keep In Mind When Selecting Your Tools

When looking for tools, it is important to be practical while keeping your own personal traits and preferences in mind.

For example, you may find some very attractive and ornate gardening tools that appeal to your aesthetic sense, but make sure to try them out for heft, weight, sharpness and effectiveness before purchasing. Look for smooth action, good blade tension (adjustable is best) and shock absorber pads on some tools to help absorb the jolt of the closing blades.

Quality

It is important that you can hold the tools comfortably without becoming weary or creating blisters. Take care not to select tools that are too small, too large, too heavy or too weak. Look for high quality, cushioned hand grips.

Keep your own gardening habits in mind when selecting tools. While you should keep close track of your tools and put them back as soon as you finish using them, this doesn’t always happen.

For this reason, look for tools with brightly colored handles that will make finding them in the grass or under the bushes easier.

Ergonomics

If you have problems with your hands, wrists or shoulders look for ergonomically designed tools. For example, you may prefer ratchet pruners to bypass pruners. Ratchet style pruners work through the use of a mechanism somewhat like that of a carjack.

A ratchet mechanism helps multiply hand strength to make pruning easier. If you experience carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis or some other condition that weakens your hand strength, get anvil pruners or bypass pruners of the ratchet variety.

There are a variety of adaptations you can add to most tools to make them easier to grip and to hold. For example, you can build up the handles on any kind of tool with a specialty “dip-and-grip” rubberized coating liquid available online and from most medical supply stores.

If you have problems keeping a good grip on tools, you can wear no-slip gloves to help prevent having your tools slip from your fingers.

Additionally, purchase tools with a wrist loop in place, or you can add a wrist loop so if you do happen to drop your tool it will not fall all the way to the ground. This can be very handy if you are working on a ladder or if you are working from a wheelchair.

Always Go For High-Quality

In addition to choosing easy to see handle coverings, also look durable and unlikely to crack or wear easily handle covers.

When selecting a gardening tool, be sure to examine the springs carefully. They should be sturdy and resilient. Shock absorbing bumpers are always a valuable bonus to help make your work easier and more pleasant.

Blades should be of the highest quality carbon steel. This type of metal holds its sharpness very well and requires less maintenance.

What About Specialty Tools?

If you engage in a gardening specialty such as growing roses or cultivating bonsai, you may very well need some specialty tools created just for the purpose of rose pruning or bonsai shearing.

Even so, it’s a good idea to invest in high quality multiuse equipment. In this way, you will have greater flexibility and be prepared for any task that arises.

It’s a good idea to begin with high quality general use types of tools that can be adjusted, sharpened, dismantled to clean and otherwise easily and effectively maintained.

The best quality tools usually come with the opportunity to purchase replacement parts and blades. This type of investment saves you money in the long run because you will not need to replace these tools over and over again.

The more experienced you become as a gardener, the more you will understand the need for specific tools to carry out specific jobs.

When you find your high-quality general-purpose tools lacking, you should be able to develop a good idea of exactly what is needed so that you can invest in precise tools for precise purposes.

Before long, you will amass a well-chosen collection of tools such as telescoping pole pruners, long handled loppers, electric shears and trimmers and more to suit your specific gardening needs.

Safe Use Of Your Pruners & Loppers

As with any other type of work, good technique is important. Be sure that you stand comfortably and safely and don’t overreach when pruning and lopping your bushes and shrubs.

Be careful not to work on branches that are directly over your head. While it may seem obvious, many people fail to realize that this is a good way to get hit on the head with a branch.

Preserve your wrist health by being sure to keep your wrists straight. Wearing a brace is a good idea, and always be sure to wear safety goggles to protect your eyes and gloves to prevent cuts, bruises and blisters on your hands.

Keep All Of Your Equipment Clean & Sharp

Develop good working habits by sharpening your loppers and pruners before you begin working each time. Secure your tool in a tool vise like this and use a fine file or sharpening stone to remove burrs, sharpen the edge and restore the tools original angle and shape.

If you work with your tool all day long, be sure to sharpen it again when you take a break for lunch. Note that you should not try to sharpen saw blades. Instead, replace them.

Never put your tools away dirty. Clean them at the end of each workday by wiping off loose materials with a clean, dry cloth. If sap on the blades, be sure to scrub it off with soap and water and/or fine steel wool.

Dry the blades thoroughly. Follow this up by spraying with WD-40 or some other high quality commercial solvent. This helps to remove any rust that may be present and prevents the development of new rust. It’s also a good idea to oil the springs.

Be sure to keep blade tension properly adjusted. When your blades are too loose, your pruner will get stuck when you attempt to cut larger branches.

If they are too tight, you will have to work harder to cut branches. To make an adjustment, turn the center bolt or screw to align the blades so that they rub just slightly along two thirds of their complete length.

Conclusion

Even with the right tools, pruning can be very difficult. If you have the wrong tools, it can be darn near impossible. To help make your task go by more quickly and efficiently, be sure to follow the advice presented here and invest in sturdy, high quality tools. Take good care of them for a lifetime of efficient service.

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