Pruners are tools that build confidence and capability. Even the most tentative gardener struts more boldly into the shrub border with a sleek, razor-sharp pruning device in hand. Now we'll see some real action! But despite the built-in excellence of the tool, selecting the best-fitting pruner for your hand makes a big difference in performance.
Almost every pruner has strong, sharp cutting blades, but important differences are found in the lengths and widths of the grip handles that control the blades. To cut through wood with minimal effort, your hand should be able to close right around the grip handles. Literally, a good rule of thumb: you should be able to open the safety catch with your thumb while grasping the grip handles in the palm of your hand. If you can't reach the catch, the pruner is too large and your hand will tend to turn sideways as you struggle to control the grip handles. Instead of cutting vertically, the blades will be halfway horizontal, consequently cutting with a twisting and tugging motion that separates and loosens the blades, ruining their alignment. Wobbly blades are a sure sign that the pruner has been used incorrectly or by the wrong-sized hands.
Another feature of pruners is grip style. Most pruners are designed for occasional use and have standard grip handles. But some irrepressible gardeners and horticulture professionals have the opportunity to make several hundred wood cuts each day, and require rolling grip handles. The rolling movement is built into the lower grip and eases the stress of repetitive movement on the hand and wrist. The action takes some gardeners by surprise, but others swear by these rolling handgrips.
Bypass vs. anvil pruners
The style of pruner cutting action, either bypass or anvil, is important to the task at hand. Bypass action has a sharp upper cutting blade and blunt lower blade set to bypass each other as they are closed. This results in a swift slicing of wood and minimal damage to living tissue edges. A clean cut also prevents pathogens from infecting healthy tissue. Anvil action has an upper cutting blade that comes down flush on a broad, blunt blade, which crushes the wood, leaving ragged tissue with splintered edges. Anvil pruners are more appropriate for cutting up dead wood that is already severed from living plants.
Of course, colour is an important factor. My pruners absolutely must have red handles. I put them down in unlikely places, and were it not for the fire-engine red handles, they would be lost forever. Whatever your colour preference, just be sure you can find your pruners in the compost pile.