Garden loppers and secateurs

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Essential tools in the gardener's kit.

We tested 5 garden loppers and 13 secateurs for cutting force, cutting quality and ease of use. We also looked at the Bosch Ciso cordless secateurs and the Ryobi one+ pole pruner.

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Cutting style

Our tests include anvil secateurs, bypass secateurs and bypass loppers.

Anvil secateurs

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.

Bypass secateurs

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

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.

Things to consider

If you're thinking of buying secateurs, here's what to consider.

  • 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.

Secateur maintenance

To keep your secateurs in good condition:

  • Keep them sharp - blunt secateurs can damage a plant. You may find this easier if you dismantle the blade. You can sharpen the cutting blades on a small oil stone. For bypass secateurs, sharpen the bevelled sharp edge of the top blade. For anvil types, sharpen both sides of the moving blade.
  • Don't try to cut oversize branches - you could distort the secateurs or break the handles. Use loppers instead.
  • Don't use a twisting action or you may bend the blade.
  • Clean the blade after use by wiping it with a lightly oiled rag.
  • From time to time dismantle the secateurs, and oil the pivot and moving parts.
  • Store your secateurs in a dry place.

Cutting with loppers

Loppers are useful when you're cutting larger branches, or if you find secateurs too difficult. But remember the basics:

  • Use loppers only on stems within the recommended diameter – up to around 3cm. For anything over this, use a pruning saw.
  • Make sure the lopper blades are sharp.
  • Pruning diseased plants? Clean the loppers before using them on another plant.
  • Avoid twisting the loppers when you cut. This is no good for the loppers or the plant.
  • Make cuts on a 45 degree angle just above the bud, so that water runs away from the bud.
  • Don't put up with blunt loppers. You'll be amazed at how much difference sharp blades make. You should be able to get your loppers re-sharpened by a saw doctor or someone who sharpens or repairs tools.
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First look reviews

We've also taken a quick look at these products (we haven't tested them yet).

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Bosch Ciso cordless secateurs

Faced with winter pruning and tidy-up chores around the garden? The Bosch Ciso cordless secateurs could be just what you need … charge them up and off you go. “Effortless pruning” says the packaging. “One cut per second.”

The secateurs will cut hardwood branches up to 9 millimetres thick and softwood branches up to 14 millimetres. To operate you simply pull a trigger (after releasing a safety catch).

We asked a user panel of 7 gardeners – 4 men and 3 women – to try them out at home. To see the results, upgrade to a Gold or Silver membership.

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Ryobi one+ pole pruner

The problem: how to trim branches overhanging our drive so a delivery truck could come in. Hand-sawing 100mm-thick branches while perched on a stepladder on uneven ground seemed difficult and risky. A better idea was needed.

I’d heard of petrol-powered pole saws, so went to the hardware store to check them out. I’m sure they’d do the job – but they’re heavy, noisy and expensive. They also only have one use.

Then I saw the battery-powered Ryobi one+ pole pruner: it was lighter, could reach much the same height as the petrol-powered saw, and had a similar blade-length. The deal maker for me was being told the lithium-ion batteries would work in my old cordless drill – which has one dead Nicad battery and a second battery that seems on life support.

Our verdict

  • The Ryobi one+ pole pruner cuts branches up to 150mm thick without difficulty.
  • Depending on your height, you can comfortably cut branches at just over 3 metres above the ground without having to be too close to the fall-zone immediately below the branch. (That’s using it with the weight taken on the shoulder harness.)
  • A tall user could cut branches as high as 4 metres – but they’d be extending themselves to do this.
  • We made 45 cuts of green gum branches (45 to 100mm in diameter) before the battery abruptly went flat. That’s a lot of cutting.
  • The 1.5Ah Li-ion battery recharges in an hour from flat, and can be used on many other Ryobi battery-powered tools – including those that formerly had Nicad batteries.

The drawbacks: Ryobi tools are exclusive to Bunnings (not always handy for everyone). And the batteries aren’t interchangeable with other brands.

Ryobi one+ pole pruner RPP1820LI15

  • Price: $279 RRP (includes battery and charger).
  • The Ryobi one+ pole pruner was very handy for trimming overhanging branches. It performed well, had a good battery life while pruning, and you can use the battery in other Ryobi cordless tools.
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