Choosing pruners … for a gift, for you Essay

Choosing pruners .

. . for a gift, for you Useful any time of year, new pruners are especially welcome toolsat Christmas, when the winter the pruning season begins.

If you plan tobuy a pair of hand pruners or loppers, you may be surprised at thenumber of different designs now on the market. Even so, all arevariations of two basic types: bypass pruners and anvil pruners. Bothkinds are shown above. More popular with gardening and landscape professionals, bypasspruners ($10 to $40) have a blade and hook that make straight, cleancuts; they cut closest when you’re trying to nip off a branch flushwith the adjoining trunk. If you try to cut too big a branch with them,however, the force can push the blades apart laterally and ruin them.

(As a rule, if you can’t cut the branch by squeezing with one hand,you should switch to a larger tool.) When you shop for bypass pruners, look for blades of forged steel;they’re usually stronger and hold a better edge than stamped steelblades. Useful for fast, general pruning, anvil pruners ($5 to $15) cantake more abuse.

Many gardeners avoid them because they can’t makea flush cut (they leave a stub about 1/8-inch long), and most can bruiseor slightly crush the branch they’re cutting. But recent tests bythe U.S. Department of Agriculture show that a slight stub may bebeneficial, since it provides a natural decay barrier between branch andtrunk. Bruising and crushing can still be a problem with soft-woodedplants such as roses, but aren’t significant with most trees andshrubs.

Because anvil pruners aren’t easy to spring–even a slightlymisaligned blade will cut well against the broad anvil– manufacturershave devised four ways to make them cut bigger branches with less efforton your part and no damage to the pruners (even if you do damage them,you’ll find replacement parts more common for anvil than for bypasspruners). The first variation (not shown in our photographs) has gearing thatallows blades to open nearly parallel. The second design, availabel on both pruners and loppers, uses aratchet to gradually increase leverage on the cutting blade. You cutwith a series of firm squeezes instead of one hard squeeze of thehandles.

Between squeezes, the handles open up all the way–a benefitsince you can apply more force to open handles than to partially closedones. The compound action design, a common feature of bolt cutters, usesfour pivot points instead of one to increase leverage. Jaws open nearlyparallel and cut easily. You’ll find this design only on loppers. Geared loppers use two pivot points and a special gearing system tomake cutting easier. Photo: Close-up shows the big difference in hand shears. Bypasspruner at left has overlapping blades, cuts like scissors.

Anvil prunerat right squeezes one blade against a flat surface Photo: Loppers are for heavier pruning. Bypass type (left) cutsclosest; others are designed to cut with less effort. Prices areapproximate Compound action anvil loppers $21 Standard bypass loppers$15 Ratchet anvil loppers $40 Geared anvil loppers $28 Photo: Needle-nose shears ($13.50) are useful for clipping smallgrowth and cutting flowers Photo: If daylight shows between blade and anvil of closed pruner,it cannot cut cleanly. When you buy, check for perfect alignment or buypruners with adjustable anvil (above right) Photo: To keep blades from sticking in sap, top pruners havegrooved lower jaw.

Bottom pair has a nonstick coating, which also makescutting easier but eventually wears off Photo: Your pocket is the holster for anvil pruners. Round-noseblades close flush and lock together so they won’t jab or cut Photo: Top of the line bypass shears ($30) come apart with crescentwrench for replacement of blades ($6) and spring ($1)

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