Pruning: Using the right tools

Mr Ivan Cutting speaks on the selection and use of tools for pruning.

Before you start looking at pruning tools you need to consider your personal safety. This means you will need to think about the equipment and material you may need for your pruning task.

Because you will be working outdoors you may need a hat, sunscreen and perhaps sunglasses. You may also need a pair of strong leather gloves and sturdy clothing to protect your hands and body from plant material and sharp cutting edges. If your task requires overhead pruning you may also need eye protection. If the weather is hot, a cool water bottle is a good idea and a good pair of sturdy boots will protect your feet.

Mr Ivan Cutting

When you start looking at tools used for pruning you will find the selection quite overwhelming. You will find there are tools designed for almost every pruning job imaginable. There are tools that will snip, clip, pick, shape, trim and mould plants into any form or shape that takes your fancy.

But pruning is only part of the job, you also need to consider what tools you will use to clean the site afterwards, and of course, safety equipment. Then there is also the matter of keeping your tools clean and sharp.

Tools used to do the pruning

When you purchase tools for pruning it is probably best to limit your selection to the type of tools that are most suited to the pruning activities you are likely to be doing in your day-to-day work environment.

The types of tools that you will use for pruning include:

  • Secateurs

  • Long handled pruners

  • Aerial pruners

  • Handsaws

  • Hedge shears

  • Pruning knife.


For your day to day light general pruning I would suggest the main tool you will need will be a pair of quality secateurs; the standard scissor type are the most common used in the industry. However, there are other forms available and you may wish to consider them as an option.

Secateurs are used for dead heading and cutting of branches up to 20 mm in diameter. Good quality heavy duty scissors can be used for smaller twigs and branches.

Picture of secateurs Picture of scissors Picture of secateurs

Secateurs and scissors are the most popular pruning tools

To prolong the working life of your secateurs they should be kept sharp and well oiled. All nuts, bolts, screws, blades and springs should be checked regularly for wear or damage and replaced if needed. Always clean your secateurs immediately after use and store them in a dry sheltered environment.

Long handled pruners

For cutting off larger branches, say up to 40mm , you will need a pair of long handled pruners, sometimes called loppers. Even when the material you are cutting is not particularly thick they will save you unnecessary reaching and stretching. Long handled pruners are used for cutting back, sucker removal and thinning.

Picture of long handled loppers Picture of long handled loppers

Two different types of long handled loppers

Like secateurs, long handled pruners should be kept sharp and well oiled. If your pruners have a wood handle, they should be sanded back regularly and oiled with a 50/50 linseed oil and turps mix.

Aerial pruners

Picture of aerial pruners

Aerial Pruners

Where your job requires you to remove branches that are higher than you can reach, you will need a pair of aerial pruners; these are also called extension or pole pruners. These are used for cutting back and thinning.

You should take extra caution when using aerial pruners. They can be hard to control and you need to be especially carefull of overhead powerlines or cables.

You should care for your aerial pruners in the same way as long handled pruners, oiling them regularly and always storing them in a dry sheltered environment.


Where you need to remove branches that are greater than 50 mm you will need a saw. There are two main types of hand saw used; these are the pruning saw and the bow saw.

Pruning saw

Different size bow saws(below)

Pruning saw (above)

A small and large bow saw

A chain saw could be used for the removal of large branches, however, you should be trained in their use and extreme care should be taken whenever they are used. All these saws are used for thinning and cutting back.

To prolong the working life of your pruning and/or bow saws, they should be kept sharp and well oiled. All nuts, bolts and the cutting blades should be checked regularly for wear or damage and replaced if needed. If your saw has a wooden handle, it should be sanded back and oiled with a 50/50 linseed oil and turps mix regularly.

Hedge shears

If your job requires you to shape plants or trim hedges you will need to purchase a pair of hedge shears. These are designed to cut or prune branches up to 1 cm in diameter. There are two basic types of hedge shear; one has a straight cutting blade while the other has a wavy (serated) blade. The wavy type are designed to hold and prevent larger branches from slipping out of the blades. They can be purchased as either long or short handled models.

Curved pruning shears Serrated pruning shears

Curved pruning shears

Serrated pruning shears

You should keep your hedge shears clean, sharp, well oiled and, as with all pruning tools, store them in a dry sheltered environment.

Pruning knife

To give your pruning task a professional look you will need a pruning knife to trim and bevel the edges of your pruning cut. This is done to improve the look of large wounds and help in the healing process. You could also use your knife to take off developing unwanted lateral growth.

Your pruning knife is just that - a pruning knife - and should not be used for any other purpose. You should keep your knife clean, sharp and well oiled. When not in use store the knife, in the original sheath, in a dry sheltered environment.

Keeping your tools sharp

Sharpening Equipment

Sharpening stones

To sharpen the cutting edge on tools with fine cutting blades such as secateurs, shears or pruning knives, it is best to first dismantle the tool and thoroughly clean all components. A wire brush or emery cloth is excellent for this.

Then, using a flat sharpening stone, dress the face of both the hook and blade, making sure that they are flat on the stone so that the entire surface of the blade and hook is ground back as far as possible. De-bur using soft wood or a leather strap. Oil, reassemble and adjust. Finally test the cut on a sheet of paper.

Sharpening a pruning or bow saw is best done by an experienced saw doctor. Saws can be difficult to sharpen without experience and the correct equipment.

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