You can purchase inexpensive tools, but high-quality tools that cost more initially will perform better, longer, and lend themselves to sharpening or blade replacement when required. Another part of the equation for calculating tool durability and life-span will be the care given to your tools after use. If you neglect your tools, they will need replacement regularly. If you care for them, they may last for generations. Most tree pruning jobs can be accomplished with four or five of the tools listed below.
1) The thumb and one other finger of your favoured hand can be used for pinching, the most basic of pruning methods. Someone like myself who is constantly nipping out the soft new growth at the tips of the tender shoots of annuals, perennials and houseplants will allow the fingernails of the thumb and the other chosen finger to grow slightly longer than the nails on the rest on that hand. Isn't the opposing thumb wonderful?
2) A folding pocket knife is indispensable if you spend a lot of time in the garden. The knife can be used in place of your fingernails for pinching and many other tasks that invariably come up in the garden. For this, a good single bladed folding knife with a stainless steel blade is preferred. The blade of a horticultural knife is usually 2 1/4 inches long and rounded rather than pointed at the tip. The cutting surface is either straight or for a multi-purpose grafting and pruning knife, the blade is slightly curved toward the end. The ones I use are made in Switzerland and usually have red or black plastic three rivet handles.
3) A good hand pruner is necessary, and they come in varying styles meant for different pruning chores. Many of them are economically priced and may not take replacement blades, while the more expensive makes are tooled for blade replacement, and some may be of an ergonomic design, helping to reduce hand and wrist problems. Generally speaking, there are two types of hand pruners, the bypass and the anvil. I prefer the bypass pruner, which has a hook that gives a resting surface for the branch you are pruning, with the upper blade passing the hook blade as it cuts the branch. Regardless of the type selected, you should not attempt to cut material much thicker than your finger with them. For larger material, use one of the next two tools.
4) A lopper gives you more of a mechanical advantage since they usually have longer handles and jaws designed for larger cutting capacity. A good rule of thumb is that loppers are capable of cutting a branch with a diameter equal to the distance between the centre of the blade and the hook or anvil when the blades are open at right angles to one another. The better loppers come with a small shock absorber below the pivot point and have double bolted handles. Smaller handled loppers are also available that can substitute for hand pruners when cutting thorny material, or if you lack the hand strength for half to 3/4 inch branch cutting with hand pruners. For material larger than the size you can comfortably cut with loppers, it is best to use the next tool.
5) A pruning saw is the tool of choice if the branch you are trying to cut is too big for pruners or loppers. Unlike carpenters saws, pruning saws cut on the pull stroke rather than the push stroke. Most quality pruning saws have a curved blade, making it easier to fit and work in tight spots, and often have a slot every four or five teeth to allow sticky sawdust to escape the cutting teeth. Pruning saws are also available with attached extendable poles to reach shrubs and trees a distance above the ground. For branches larger than five or six inches in diameter, it is best to be very cautious, as cutting and felling them can be very tricky and will require some skill to perform the task safely. In the interest of your safety, it makes sense to call a licensed, insured, landscaper or arborist when cutting large limbs on your property.
6) The final tool that a home-owner might want to consider is a set of hedge shears for cutting back flowering shrubs and hedges. They are like big two-handed scissors, often with one blade serrated or notched to hold the foliage while the other blade crosses the notched blade and makes the cuts. Built-in shock absorbers are recommended on hedge shears to protect against repetitive hand, wrist and arm fatigue if they are used a lot.
All of the above tools need cleaning after use to remove the sap, leaf, and branch residues from the cutting edges. Every third or fourth use they will benefit from lightly rubbing the blades with steel wool and light oil, and then rubbing the inner blade surface with an old candle or canning paraffin before storing. To restore smooth action, it helps to now and again disassemble the tool and clean and lubricate the pivot bolt and the hole the bolt rides in. For tools with wooden handles, be sure to wipe the wood clean and dry after each use and consider a coat of linseed oil and a rub with a clean cloth every fall before storing them for winter.
Most of the pruning can be accomplished with the four or five basic tools listed above. If you purchase high-quality tools, give them a little TLC after each use, and a tune up yearly you can increase their life span almost indefinitely. If you neglect your tools, they will need replacement regularly and will not be a pleasure to work with when you need them.
66b, 33 Great George St,
0113 320 4202