The best pruning shear
Every gardener needs a good set of pruning shears, whether for light trimming of flowers, vegetables, and soft fruits or heavy-duty cutting through old rose stems and shrubs. Our concise shopping guide is designed to give you the comprehensive information you need to choose the right pair of pruning shears for your needs. Our favorites, from premium garden-tool makers Felco, are constructed to exceptional standards, are a delight to use, and come with a lifetime warranty. We doubt you'll find better.
Considerations when choosing pruning shears
There are two basic styles of pruning shears. Bypass shears work like scissors -- the two blades cross each other to make the cut. These are the most common type, capable of cutting hard and soft plant material.
Anvil shears have a single cutting blade, which stops at the anvil. You could think of it like an axe on a chopping block. Anvil pruning shears are great for hard stems -- particularly dead wood -- so they're often the heavy-duty option. However, they can crush soft stems, damaging rather than cutting properly. Ragged ends heal more slowly, which can let in disease.
Either type might have a ratchet fitted. It helps people who have reduced strength, because you can cut in small steps, rather than all at once. The ratchet keeps the blades together until the cut is finished.
Choosing the right model
The type and size of plant you're trimming will have a big impact on your choice of pruning shears. Most makers quote a maximum cut size, with general-purpose pruning shears able to cut stems from 1/2" to 1" thick. You want to see substantial blades if you're going to cut thick stems regularly.
On the other hand, if you spend most of the time in the flower border or the greenhouse, a lightweight pair of shears with thin blades will be better. It's not unusual for keen gardeners to have a pair of each, especially as the latter are often very affordable.
Blades are usually made of steel, which is hardened to provide a good cutting edge (high-carbon steels are hardest). Unfortunately, most steels are prone to rust. Several manufacturers use coatings to help prevent rust, and also to improve cutting by reducing friction. Teflon and PTFE are popular coatings. Titanium is also used. As a nice bonus, sap doesn't stick so much, making these blades easier to clean. Stainless steel blades do not rust, but it's a more expensive material. Also, while they have good edge-keeping qualities, they are more difficult to sharpen.
Handles are usually aluminum to minimize weight. Some have a plastic or rubber covering for better grip and increased comfort. Most pruning shears are fitted with a spring, so they open back up after each cut. It's less tiring on your hand. Some models are fitted with a finger guard -- either combined with the handle, or an extension to it. Make sure it's big enough so you can get a gloved hand in there. Almost all pruning shears are designed for right-hand use, and most left-handed people adapt without much trouble. If you do struggle, there are left-handed models out there -- but unfortunately, they aren't common.
Q. Do pruning shears need much looking after?
A. Not at all. Give them a wipe after each use. Use a little alcohol or spirit to remove sticky sap from the blades before it dries hard. Spray the spring and other moving parts with a little silicon oil.
Q. How do I sharpen my pruning shears?
A. Always clean your shears first. Sometimes a layer of dirt or sap makes them seem blunt when they aren't. If they do need sharpening, you can use a traditional whetstone, though some find it a bit awkward. A small hand-held diamond file can be equally effective. Go slowly and preserve the cutting angle. There are several online videos that demonstrate proper technique.
Pruning shears we recommend
Best of the best: Felco F-2 Classic Hand Pruners
Our take: Superbly made tool for the serious gardening enthusiast.
What we like: Precision engineered. Powerful, hardened-steel blades are adjustable for perfect cutting material up to 1" in diameter. Wire-cutting notch. Shock absorber for optimum comfort.
What we dislike: Expensive. Beware of counterfeits -- authentic Felcos should be marked "Swiss made."
Best bang for your buck: Fiskars Steel Bypass Pruning Shears
Our take: Excellent value for medium general-purpose tool.
What we like: Blades retain edge well and have low friction coating making them easy to clean. Simple locking mechanism. Comfortable grips. Lifetime warranty.
What we dislike: Inconsistent quality control means some arrive with defects. Weak spring.
Choice 3: Garden Elite Bypass Pruning Shears
Our take: Good alternative to other premium-quality tools.
What we like: High-carbon steel blades, Teflon coated to reduce friction and inhibit rust. Nice non-slip rubber covered handles. Spare blade and spring included.
What we dislike: Blades dull more quickly than expected.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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