Best-Fit Hand Pruners

A set of hand held pruners should  be  in  every  gardener’s  tool  kit  but  selecting the right pair can be a challenge with an overwhelming selection available at most garden  centers  and  online. Hand  held  pruners  are designed for a variety of tasks in the garden. Some are large enough to cut small branches, while others are petite for delicate pruning of flowers. Pruners may be made for left- or right-handed individuals, and may be large to small to fit various hand sizes. Ratcheting mechanisms  and  rotating handles may also be an option on some brands. Using the appropriate tool for the job can make the job easier and allow you to work longer without fatigue while decreasing stress on the muscles and joints of your hand.

selection of pruning tools

There are many options to consider when choosing a hand held pruning tool. Comfort should be a priority.

Bypass pruners are designed to have a blade slide pass the “bite” in a scissor-like action. When the blade is positioned towards the stem of the plant, a clean cut is made allowing for more efficient wound closure. The crushed portion on the bite site will be discarded. They are typically preferred for the “finesse pruning” of cutting small stems and twigs, up to 1 inch in diameter.

Anvil  pruners  consist of a blade pressing through the tissue against the anvil resulting in crushed tissue on both the discarded portion and the preserved specimen. This may slow the wound closure process. They are best used for cutting debris into disposable sized pieces.

Larger tools, such as loppers and saws, may be required for other pruning tasks.

To minimize arm fatigue, hand-held pruners should be of a manageable weight and selected to fit your hand size. Avoid a tool where the spread of handles exceeds what is comfortable for your hand. This could make gripping and closure difficult or impossible for some tasks. Longer levers on pruner handles allow you to produce more force at the cutting surfaces with less force from your grasp. Tools that provide a spring action to return to the open position also require less hand force to operate, as long as the open position is not too wide. When selecting the proper fit, notice which part of your thumb is producing the force to operate the handle. For many gardeners, especially those over 40, the small joints of the thumb can easily become irritated with repetitive or forceful motions. A contoured fit of the handle to the broad surface along the thumb and into the hand is recommended. This style is less aggravating to operate than handles that require isolated flexing of either of the small thumb joints. This is especially true if the fingers can produce the majority of the handle closure. By contrast, handle designs that include scalloped contours for the fingers can produce too much pressure on the sides of the fingers during forceful gripping. A smooth, comfortable surface that allows the fingers to shift and slide slightly during operation is a better ergonomic fit.

demonstration of large and small hands grasping a pruning tool

A small hand (top picture) may have difficulty grasping hand-pruners when handles are open and may lack the strength to adequately close and bite through tissue, compared to larger hands (bottom picture) using the same tool.

For home gardeners, low- to mid-priced hand-held pruners may suffice for most gardening tasks, if properly used. High-end tools may be more appropriate for avid gardeners or professionals.

Many types of the low- to mid-priced hand-held pruners come with attached blades. When dull, sharpening may be difficult or impossible. A more expensive tool may have an initial sticker-shock but may last a lifetime if cared for properly and when offering removable blades to sharpen.

Using a scabbard or sheath allows for quick and easy holstering of the tool to free-up hands for use.

Written by:

  • Mike Maddox
    Director, Wisconsin Master Gardener Program, UW-Extension
  • Darcie Olson, PhD.
    Instructor, Occupational Therapy Assistant Program, Madison Area Technical College