Selecting & Maintaining Hand Pruners

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

October 28, 2011

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.

Additional considerations:

  • 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.
  • Ergonomic design
    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.
  • Head size
    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.
  • Versatility
    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.

Pruner Maintenance

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.

Clean and oil the pruner at the end of every gardening day. Use a dry cloth to remove debris. Remove sap from the blades with fine steel wool or soapy water, then dry the blades.

Add light household or mineral oil into the space between the blade and hook. Some manufacturers recommend oiling the spring, as well.

Sharpen the blade when you notice that cutting takes more effort. Use a sharpening stone or diamond hand file, drawing it along the length of the blade and following the factory bevel angle. After a few quick, smooth strokes on the beveled side of the cutting blade, make a light pass on the flat side to remove any burrs.

Adjust the tension when the cut is no longer sharp and clean. If the blades are too loose, the pruner will bind on larger branches; if the blades are too tight, then extra force is needed to make the cut. Adjust the center screw or bolt until the blades are properly aligned and rub slightly along 2/3 of their length.

For more information obout sharpening pruners, see our story Staying Sharp.