Secateurs: which ones are best for you?

Bypass secateurs work like a pair of scissors. They can be used for most cutting jobs from deadheading spent flowers to ...

Bypass secateurs work like a pair of scissors. They can be used for most cutting jobs from deadheading spent flowers to pruning thin branches.

Secateurs are the main hand tool for most small pruning and deadheading jobs. You'll be using them often so make sure you get the right ones for the tasks you do most often. 

Choose a pair that fits your hand comfortably. Clever modern packaging allows you to "try before you buy". Check that the handles don't open wider than you can comfortably stretch your hand. Using secateurs that are too big gets tiring very quickly. Even if you have no physical difficulties, tools with good ergonomic design will help you garden longer. Look for comfort grips and finger loops if your wrist and hand strength are compromised. Many brands of secateurs come in both right- and left-handed models. 

Check that the safety catch is in an accessible position but doesn't automatically lock shut every time you close the blades which is maddening. Also look at how the spring is enclosed. Many a pair of secateurs has been rendered useless by the spring popping out into the undergrowth never to be seen again. 

Secateurs that are bolted together (rather than riveted) can be taken apart for cleaning and sharpening or replacing the blade. Avoid those with cheap plastic handles but sturdy nylon and fibreglass handles do have the advantage of being rust free. My favourite pair spent nine months mouldering in the compost bin but were pristine after a quick rinse when I found them again.

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Left-handed and right-handed secateurs are available. Choose a pair that fits your hand comfortably.

Left-handed and right-handed secateurs are available. Choose a pair that fits your hand comfortably.



There are three main types of secateurs; bypass, anvil and those with ratchets or gears.

1. Bypass secateurs
The two sharpened blades work like a pair of scissors, making a cut as they pass each other. Adjust by tightening the bolt holding the blades together.

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When to use them: Bypass blades can be used for most cutting jobs from deadheading to trimming thin branches up to approximately 1cm in diameter. If the branch is too big for the opening or you have to strain to make a cut use loppers instead. The main advantage of bypass blades is that they can cut delicate stems without causing bruising to the stem being trimmed. The pointed blades can also 

2. Anvil secateurs
One sharp blade snaps closed onto a flat metal surface. Anvil secateurs are less likely to need adjusting and the straight blade is easier to sharpen.

When to use them: They can be used for everything that bypass secateurs can do but are particularly useful for woody stems as they are less likely to stick to the stem. Cuts are accurate with no bark tearing. However the flat anvil surface does crush fine stems.

Cut-and-hold secateurs have a nifty way of holding on to the cut pieces so they can be dropped straight into a wheelbarrow instead of falling to the ground to be collected later.

3. Ratchets and gears
Take the strain out of pruning with geared or ratchet secateurs. Squeezing and releasing the handles several times to engage the ratchet requires less force than a single cut as you make gradual process through the stem in several stages. Geared secateurs can help if you have a touch of arthritis or reduced strength and flexibility. Models with rotating handles are designed to reduce strain in the wrist when there is a lot of pruning to be done.

When to use them: Both anvil and bypass secateurs are available with ratchets and gears. Resist the temptation to cut material too thick for the tool just because you think you've got more power. Twisting and wrenching the blades will break the ratchet or dislocate the gears.


Keep them handy
When you find the perfect pair of secateurs that cut with precision and fit your hand to a T you'll want to hang on to them for as long as you can. It's very easy to put them down part way through a job and never see them again. Either wear a holster or builder's apron while working or carry small tools together in a bucket. Carry it to where you're working and make a point of putting each tool back in the bucket after you've used it. That way they'll be less likely to end up at the bottom of the compost bin or in the skip on the way to the green-waste recycling centre.

Keep them clean
Promote good garden hygiene by keeping pruning tools clean. If you've removed diseased material from one plant wipe the cutting blades with methylated spirits before moving on to the next tree. Sticky resin from conifers or milky sap from euphorbias or star jasmine gums up the blades and makes handles tacky. Clean off with a solvent like kerosene or isopropyl alcohol. 

Keep them sharp
Secateurs can be professionally sharpened or you can do it yourself. Some models will need to be taken apart. Lay out the pieces in order so you can remember how to put it back together. Use a whetstone or diamond sharpener. Oil the surface of the whetstone. Sharpen only the bevelled blade edges. Lay the bevelled edge flat against the whetstone and pull it towards you repeatedly. The surface will get shiny as the blade sharpens. A handy tip is to colour the cutting edge of the blade with a black felt tip pen. When all traces of the pen have been worn away you are done.

Get rid of rust
Wipe metal blades with an oily soft cloth to keep them free of rust. Avoid leaving tools in damp conditions to prevent rust forming.

 - NZ Gardener


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