Anvil or bypass? Do you need a pivot adjuster? Cut to the core of your gardening chores with our guide to buying garden loppers and secateurs.
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These cut like an axe on to a cutting block. The blade is sharpened on both sides and when the secateurs are closed the blade meets a flat metal or plastic block (the anvil).
They are generally better at cutting hard, dry wood, and require less cutting effort. However, a jolt is felt at the end of each cut, they are not as easy to get into tight places (their lower blocks can get in the way), and it's difficult to cut side stems flush with the main stem. If anvil secateurs are not properly sharpened, stems may be bruised or crushed.
For most gardeners, bypass secateurs are the best all-round option. But a pair of anvil secateurs would be a useful addition, especially if you cut lots of hard woody stems. Professionals tend to use anvil secateurs for commercial orchard pruning. And because of their symmetrical side-to-side construction, anvil secateurs are much easier for left-handers to use.
These are the most common type of secateurs. They have a scissor-like action where the cutting blade slices past a curved, unsharpened, slim jaw (beak) that supports the plant. They can easily access tight spaces, and can cut branches off flush with the stem.
Bypass secateurs are more suited to live green stems and stalks. The cutting blade has a flat surface on one side that causes less damage to plant tissue than the curved side. The blade is usually on the right-hand side but some brands are also available in a left-handed version.
Bypass loppers use a thin cutting blade that sweeps past a heavier hooked blade and shears off the branch. They're like a giant pair of short-bladed scissors.
Some models feature a compound-cutting action, where either a double-pivot system or a geared mechanism increases the leverage of the handles. This reduces the force needed to make cuts.
Telescopic handles, when extended, increase the reach of the lopper – and reduce the cutting force you need. There's a downside: the loppers are heavier and bulkier.
Comfort and grip. Check this before you buy. If the secateurs come in sealed packaging ask to have it opened. Check the handles to make sure they will be comfortable to grip for extended periods. You should be able to open and close them easily without over-stretching your hand.
The leverage you'll get depends on the length of the handles. But if they fit your hand poorly, open too wide, or if the spring is too powerful, your hand will quickly tire and you may get blisters.
Safety catch. The catches for locking secateurs in the closed position vary widely and are probably the greatest cause of irritation for users. The most common catch is a simple thumb-operated lever on one side. However, a lever catch that is loose or sticks out from the handle too far can accidentally engage during use.
Others have a sliding catch, usually operable from one side. On some models the catch can be worked from either side or from on top of the handle, and can be used easily by left or right-handers.
Check that the locking catch on your preferred model can be worked easily with the thumb of whichever hand you use. It should work smoothly without sticking, and you shouldn't have to grip the handles tightly closed to get it to engage.
Pivot adjustment. A real frustration for secateur users is a pivot that keeps coming loose. Look for one that can be tightened. The best types are those with a separate locking tab (with teeth) that positively fixes the adjusting nut in place. Others have locking nuts, or screws that can loosen over time.
Ratchet mechanism. Some anvil secateurs have a ratchet-type mechanism that reduces the effort required - you squeeze the handle several times to make a cut.
Visibility. Bright colours make it easy to find a dropped pair of secateurs. A wrist strap also helps keep hold of them.