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Effective and comfortable ... here is how to choose pruning shears.

Just as the comfort of a new chair takes time to assess, the comfort of well-designed pruning shears may not be apparent at first. But after you've pruned for a couple of hours, small design advantages loom larger and larger. We went into an orchard with several ergonomically designed pruning shears and tested them for long-term comfort and effectiveness. Here is our report.

General rules

Buy heavier-duty pruners than you think you'll need. Most pruners meet their end when gardeners try them on unreasonably large branches. To force the cut, gardeners twist and squeeze, bending the blades out of alignment.

If you can't make a cut by firmly squeezing your shears with one hand, use a heavier tool, such as a saw or two-handed loppers. In any case, don't try to cut any branch bigger around than your thumb (the original rule of thumb).

Some pruners have blades with a nonstick coating, said to make cutting easier. We couldn't feel any advantage. If you use a coated blade much, the coating wears off anyway, so its chief effect is probably to keep the blade from rusting.

Finally, buy shears that fit; the handles shouldn't open wider than your hand can stretch.

Bypass pruners

Hook-bladed, scissor-style pruners (including most of those shown here) are called bypass pruners. You can buy ones with several design innovations that are intended to make your job easier.

Angled jaws. If you extend your hand (as for a handshake) holding traditional pruning shears, the open jaws point up. Some newer designs have front-facing jaws. In fruit trees, where it's easier to stretch and cut than change your position, these shears really help your reach. Otherwise, they don't offer much advantage over conventional designs.

Dogleg handle. Pruners who work in fruit trees complained that standard shears slipped down out of their grip after a few cuts. To prevent that, new models have been designed with a dogleg in the handle (see lower photograph); this is a nice feature, but not essential. Try it first to make sure you're comfortable with it.

Lancet blade. A lancet blade at the base of the cutting blade (see picture second from right at top of page 197) lets small branches fit closer to the back of the jaws, where cutting power is greatest.

Padded bumpers. Some pruners have shock-absorption bumpers between the handles. These minimize fatigue from prolonged pruning.

Rotating handle. The fat handle on the shears pictured on page 197 rotates as the shears are squeezed. Most of our testers wouldn't live without it. But these European imports are expensive: prices range from $35 to $70 a pair.

Anvil pruners

Named for the flat anvil against which the blade cuts, this kind of pruner comes in three variations.

The no-frills type has a single pivot point. With the double-pivot type, the base of the anvil swings away from the cutting blade when the tool is opened; it cuts more easily than the single-pivot kind, but not quite as easily as a ratchet pruner. The ratchet type has a very thin blade and a built-in ratchet; cutting relatively heavy wood is easy with one of these, but some people don't like the multiple squeezes required.

Right- and left-handed shears

Bypass pruners have right and left constructions. Left-handed versions have blades and thumb locks reversed. If you're a southpaw, try one of these. Anvil pruners have no right or left configurations, so left-handers should be comfortable with any whose lock is accessible from both sides.


Almost every garden center and many nursery catalogs carry a least a few models of pruning shears. The most complete mail-order selection we've found is from A.M. Leonard, inc., Box 816, Piqua, Ohio 45356 (catalog is free).
COPYRIGHT 1990 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1990
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