The Right Pruner For The Right Job – They Are Not All The Same!

It is very important to choose the right pruner for the job. Usually the type of pruner is a matter of personal preference, however, there are some advantages to the different styles as well.

Three Pruner Types:

Bypass pruners

Bypass: Designed for cutting live wood. The cutting blade ‘passes by’ the counterblade in a scissor-like action. The hook shape of the counterblade helps to hold the branch steady during cutting. Shorter blades make precision cuts easier, but longer blades give you a little more reach, and longer handles increase your leverage.

Anvil prunners

Anvil: Designed for cutting old, hard, brittle and dead wood. The cutting blade drops into the middle of the anvil, sometimes into a small slot that is cut to receive the blade. The anvil supports the branch underneath to reduce the chance of it splintering. The anvil is going to crush the bottom of the branch a little bit on either side of the cutting blade, so it is not a good choice for live wood.

Double Cut prunners

Double Cut: Some people prefer a ‘double cut’, which means there isn’t an anvil or counterblade, instead there are two cutting blades. The edges of the blades don’t actually close directly on each other, they are sharpened on different sides so the cutting surfaces just miss each other, and the blades nest together.

Handle Type:

There are many handle types and shapes available including those for left-handed users or for someone with smaller hands. Ratcheting action can multiply cutting power, however can take several squeezes to make a cut. Latches are positioned in different places along the handle; it’s nice to have a latch you can open with just one hand. Rotating and ergonomic handles offer added comfort and reduced blistering while pruning all day.

Cutting Capacity:

Cutting capacity doesn’t mean you can actually cut that size branch, it is the distance between the blades of a pruner. True cutting capacity depends on the hardness of the wood, and the strength of the user. If a cutting capacity is .75 inch, you will be able to cut that size linden without any problem, but unless you are unusually strong, you aren’t going to get through .75 inch dead white pine. If you have to strain to make cuts, it can result in ragged cuts and cause damage to the pruner by twisting it. In this case, consider moving to a lopper or a saw to prevent unnecessary damage.

Pruner Maintenance and Sharpening:

  • If the pruners are getting sticky from sap, kerosene, alcohol, or a light oil like WD-40 will dissolve the sap and help the pruners move freely.
  • Sharp pruning tools cut with less effort and the clean cuts ‘heal’ faster.
  • A smooth, single cut mill file or stone should be used on straight edge pruning shears.
  • Sharpening the blade before it gets very dull can save you effort.  Take the file and stone in the field and touch up the blade as necessary.  A can of WD-40 can be used to free up sticky pruners in the field as well.
  • If the cutting blade is extremely dull, or has been notched, it may be necessary to use a vice, or to take the pruners apart to repair the damage.  Sometimes it is easier just to buy a new blade, rather than trying to repair a badly damaged blade.
  • Maintain the factory angle on the cutting edge. If the blade is filed flat and/or too thin, with no bevel, the edge will dull quickly, and can chip or roll..
  • Sharpen away from the blade, not toward the blade.
  • Sharpen only the blade, not the anvil.
  • Sharpen a ‘by-pass’ pruner on just one side of the blade.  Avoid filing the flat side of the blade, except to remove any burrs from filing the edge side. A wire brush may suffice in removing the light burrs that may appear.
  • Sharpen an ‘anvil’ pruner and a ‘double-cut’ on both sides of the blade.
  • Use one straight motion when sharpening. Do not “scour” back and forth. This will heat the edge unnecessarily.
  • Hooks or notches on straight edge shears rarely need sharpening.
  • Wavy edge hedge shears may be sharpened with a tubular, fine stone or tubular file. Do not use a file with a flat side, as this will not follow the contours of the “wavy edge”.
  • After sharpening, apply light machine oil to the complete blade.
  • Store your pruning equipment in a protected environment.
  • A turbo-cut saw is very difficult to sharpen; it is usually less trouble just to replace the blade.
  • Impulse hardened saw blades cannot be sharpened.

25 thoughts on “The Right Pruner For The Right Job – They Are Not All The Same!

  1. Good advice all round. But there are times when I’d really like to prune the rose garden with an overdose of glyphosate. Especially when I walk out and find all the prunings on the path from yesterday.


  2. I will send your post to my Granny, she ruined all our pruners with cutting wires and clipping off rusty nails and other weird stuff. My dad sorted out the damaged tools, this year she killed 7 of our pruners…serial Granny lol


  3. What an instructive post. I never realised secateurs were so varied. I used to enjoy pruning rose – very therapeutic with the right gloves on. I might try doing Lulu’s claws with them, too.


  4. Very useful info 🙂 Unfortunately here – you have very little choice! But I agree totally on keeping the pruners clean and sharp – anything to help – as I am usually the one doing the pruning, standing on tiptoe because I am too lazy to fetch the ladder! 😀


  5. Yeah! Thanks for this. I have the first one, the Bypass, however I left it out accidentally and it rusted badly though I still have it. Any special tips for renewing a rusty blade?

    This is another one of those things I didn’t think too much about as far as importance in the past but now I have a little better understanding, most especially after reading your post. 😉 I appreciate knowing the different kinds now too. I do wish they sold files near the blades, make it a one stop shop! This summer I was in a pinch and brought a piece of the chipped marble they sell for landscaping that I happened to have a bag of. I sharpened my little dull blade occasionally between cuts and it actually did make a difference. I know the plants and trees appreciate clean cuts.



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