Selecting & Maintaining Hand Pruners

How to choose, sharpen, and take care of hand pruners.

By Anne Marie Van Nest

Photography by Thomas MacDonald

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Hand pruners are an important tool for the gardener.Pruning shears vary in size, cutting mechanism, extra features, and ease of use. So how do you select the one that's best for you? The first step is to understand some of the terms used to describe types of pruners.

Bypass pruners cut with a scissor motion, with the sharpened blade sliding past a flat, unsharpened hook. Many gardeners prefer the clean cut and precision of a bypass pruner, especially for cutting the woody stems of shrubs, fruit trees, and roses.

Anvil-type pruners have a sharp blade and a fixed, noncutting surface—the "anvil." The plant stem is squeezed between the sharp blade and the anvil with enough pressure to make the cut. Anvil pruners are a good choice for cutting smaller woody stems or gathering a bouquet. But when anvil pruners get dull, they crush stems instead of cutting them.

Ratchet or gear-type pruners use a mechanism similar to a car jack that multiplies hand strength, making pruning cuts easier. They're recommended for gardeners whose hand strength has been diminished by arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Ratchet pruners can be anvil or bypass types.

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