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.
Size and weight
Pruners vary in handle size and weight. Choose one that is compatible with your hand size and strength and feels comfortable in your hand.
Your hand and wrist should remain at a comfortable, relaxed position—not bent or stretched—to ease strain and reduce fatigue.
Quality of parts
Look for durable handle coverings, sturdy springs, and shock-absorbing bumpers. Some of the most durable blades are made of high-carbon steel, a strong metal that holds its sharpness.
Pruning head size correlates to the maximum size of branch it can easily cut without leaving a torn stub. Large heads can prune branches up to 1 inch in diameter; smaller heads, up to 1/2 inch.
Multi-use pruners are intended to take on a variety of chores. Other tools are designed and marketed for specialized tasks, such as a narrow-bladed bonsai shear, or rose pruners with a "cut and hold" feature that grips the thorny stems while they are being removed.
Ease of use
The locking mechanism should be easy to engage with one hand.
Ease of maintenance
Make sure you can tighten or loosen the pruner so that it cuts with precision. Some models can be dismantled for cleaning and sharpening. Some manufacturers offer replacement blades and other parts.
It's unlikely that hand pruners, no matter how versatile, will be the only cutting tool in your garden shed. Don't overtax your pruners—or your body—when the task calls for long-handled loppers, electric hedge shears, pruning saws, or a telescoping pole pruner.
Recommended Hand Pruners
1. Stihl Hand Pruner (PP10), $18; an inexpensive but sturdy all-purpose pruner that's a good choice for new gardeners.
2. Fiskars PowerGear Bypass Pruner (7937), $30; ergonomic design and a rotating handle for small or arthritic hands.
3. Bahco PX series (PX-M2-L shown), $87; many customizable options, including head and grip sizes, left-or right-handed.
4. Fiskars Micro-Tip Pruning Snip (9921), $13; for light-duty cutting, shaping, and deadheading.
5. Felco 8 (F8), $55; the professional's choice for pruning roses, grapevines, and other plants that require a precise touch.
6. Florian Ratchet Pruner (701), $33; the ratchet mechanism increases hand strength up to seven times.
7. Corona Dual Cut Bypass Pruner (BP7100), $35; a dual-purpose tool for cuts up to 1 inch in diameter as well as precision work.
Hand pruners don't stay pristine forever. Eventually your cuts may take more effort and lack the crispness of before. With a little diligence, it's easy to keep your hand pruner in good working order.
For more information obout sharpening pruners, see our story Staying Sharp.