Gardening: The Perfect Cut

The Right Tool for the Job

Many gardening chores are made easier with a well-designed tool to help out. When it comes to cutting and clipping, the right tool is essential, and the most important feature is a sharp blade. It’s not just about the blade itself, though; pivot points, handles, and blades themselves will give best service if they can make the cut without undue stress. Cuts will be cleaner, and your muscles won’t protest as much when the job is done with the right tool for each type of job. Here’s the lowdown on everything from florist’s snips to that lumberjack special.

There are basically two types of hand shears: the scissor-action or anvil-action pruners. Scissor-action shears have two sharp blades that slide past each other to make the cut. The smallest ones are indeed just heavy-duty scissors. They are useful for fine pruning of flowers and bonsai work. The larger varieties usually have one thin, wide blade that opposes a thicker, but narrower one. Anvil-type shears have only one sharpened blade that closes against a broad, flat unsharpened blade. These are designed to cut through wood that is not much more than an inch in diameter.

For larger cuts, two inches or more, lopping shears combine the scissor action described above with long handles for better leverage and reach. For an even longer reach, there are pole saws. Most of these combine the blade of a pruning saw (more about that below), and a unique scissoring blade that actually passes through a narrow slot (rather like the anvil, but with a slit to receive the blade). This is controlled by pulling downward on a rope attached to the spring-hinged device. Pole saws are very useful in situations where you can’t get a ladder close enough to the high branches. The handle or pole may be made of wood (heaviest), aluminum (dangerous around electrical wires should they come in contact), or fiberglass or plastic (lightweight and usually cheap).

For cutting branches of several inches in diameter, you may find a pruning saw handy. Pruning saws cut only on the pull stroke and the wide set teeth efficiently pull through the green wood of living trees and shrubs without binding. There are curved blade pruning saws with fixed handles, handy folding saws whose blades pivot on a bolt with wing nut for tightening during use, and bow saws with large handles in the shape of a bow and straight blades mounted between the ends.

Hedge shears are another type of scissor-action tool, with long sharpened blades to trim the soft leafy foliage of shrubs and hedges. The blades are typically mounted at a slight angle and require both hands to operate. Most of us will opt for power versions of hedge shears for large jobs. Their sharpened blades slide back and forth against each other in a sickle-like manner. As with all power tools, use caution and wear protective gear when using them.

For really big cuts, there are chainsaws, and depending on the power of the engine and the length of the bar, they can handle just about anything. They were designed to be labor-saving, and they can make a big job a lot easier. Unless you’ve had lots of experience with them, it’s best to leave the work up in the canopy of the tree to a professional, though.


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