General Advice

Secateurs - types and uses

Tony Matson - Thursday, March 19, 2020

Secateurs, secateurs, secateurs.  


What is your most important garden tool?   Secateurs, secateurs, secateurs!


There are three main types of secateurs – Anvil, Bypass and Snips.

Anvil secateurs have an upper blade that is typically sharp both sides and cuts down onto a flat or curved lower 'anvil'.  This anvil can be all metal or contain a hard plastic insert.  The action is much like a guillotine or a knife on a chopping board.  With the blade sharp on both sides, pruning harder stems is easier.  For tougher or woodier stems, a pair of anvil secateurs is recommended.  Anvil secateurs are good for both right and left handers.  The top handle is flat and the safety latch is in a central position.  

Most ratchet secateurs are of the anvil design.  Many experienced (mature) gardeners find the ratchet anvil secateurs very useful.  They are great for getting through thicker and harder stems although it may take a little longer.  Ratchet secateurs are extremely popular with gardeners with tendonitis, arthritis and/or those with declining strength.  It will take less effort (approximately 30%) to operate ratchet secateurs.

Bypass secateurs have a curved shaped blade, sharp only on the outer edge and cuts down beside the anvil (non-sharp hook).  The anvil or hook on bypass secateurs is typically thinner than anvil secateurs.  Bypass secateurs are the most common type of secateurs.  They are used for pruning live stems and where you need to make sharp, precise cuts.  They are more suitable for cutting softer living stems as the blade cuts all the way through the stem.  Bypass secateurs can cut smaller stems closer to a larger stem.  Due to this functionality nursery people will typically use bypass secateurs.

Most bypass secateurs are designed for right handers with a tapered handle, with the outside edge of the blade on the right side and safety latch controlled by the right thumb.  Harder or dead stems may cause the stem to bend rather than be cut and get caught between the blade and the hook.  This can cause the two sections to separate resulting in damage to your secateurs.  This will typically happen to cheaper brands or when the blade is blunt. 

For left handers the tapered handle, blade and latch are all on the opposite side.

Snips have a scissor-like action.  Like scissors the blades are longer and pointier.  However, they are better than scissors because they have a spring.  Snips are ideal for dead heading, picking flowers and herbs, thinning growth in foliage and propagation.  Snips are typically used by florists, nurseries and for finer work such as bonsai.

In summary - a good quality pair of secateurs with a sharp blade is recommended.  It is our recommendation to purchase what you can afford and be mindful that you “get what you pay for”.  $30 to $60 should get you a good quality pair.  To select the correct pair of secateurs for you, we recommend checking the cutting action, the size of the secateurs compared to your hand size, the weight of the tool compared to your strength and finally the availability of spare parts.

Ten Practical Pruning Tool Tips

Tony Matson - Saturday, June 16, 2018
Buying the tools:
  1. Buy what you can afford. Take heed of the saying "You get what you pay for!"  Doesn't mean you have to buy the most expensive item but consider your gardening needs.
  2. Try before you buy.  Not always possible but if you see someone selling tools take the opportunity to touch, feel and even cut some plant material.  A good retailer will have a selection of tools for you to select from.  A Garden Show is a good time to compare tools.  If you can't try before you buy (on-line purchase) then at least check the length and weight of the tool, and the size it will cut.  Measure your current tools to compare.
  3. Check availability of spare parts.  Think sustainability. We've become a throw-away society, but we don't need to.  A good pruning tool supplier should have all the spare parts.
  4. Warranty -what does this mean?  Warranties are intended to cover you if there is a fault in the item in terms of manufacturing and assembling of the parts. If something is going to go wrong, it is likely to be in the first few uses.  If someone is offering a lifetime warranty you really need to check what it covers - blade (normally not), spring, nuts and bolts, handles?  What is the difference between normal wear and a manufacturing fault when the product is say five years old?
  5. Buy something suitable for you.  Try this checklist:  
    • Size - for example, if purchasing secateurs, do they fit nicely in the hand.  Whilst you might want to cut a big stem it is no good buying a large pair of secateurs if you can't get your hand around it.
    • Weight - with the modern materials of plastics and aluminium it is possible to get many lightweight products suitable for your needs.  Hold the product for a while as if you are trimming a hedge, or lopping a branch, and determine if you can manage the tool.
    • Mechanical advantage - many products today have gear actions or ratchet mechanisms to make the task easier.  If you have some tendonitis or arthritis, then consider these options.
    • Reach - many items are extendable however this will add to the weight.  Check what you need to cut and if possible, keep your feet on the ground.  There are many light-weight extendable poles with pruning and saw attachments.
After use:
  1. Wipe the tool dry after use.  Blades and other parts are made from steel and will quickly rust with moisture.
  2. Clean with a 70:30 ratio of Methylated Spirit: Water mixture.  This will clean and disinfect the blades.  Use a small brass brush to scrub the more stubborn saps.  The brass brush is soft and will not damage the blade or other parts.  There are many commercial products available on the market including WD30 cleaner - a citrus based foam cleaner.
  3. Sharpen as required.  Each time you sharpen you are removing metal from your blade so when you are not getting a nice easy clean cut, then it is time to sharpen. Sharpening devices include whetstones, diamond files, sandpaper and tungsten carbide.  The latter is a hard substance that provides an economical way to sharpen your tools.
  4. Lubricate your tools from time to time.  Typically, any moving parts, including the silver volute spring on the secateurs.  You can use an oil or spray lubricant.
  5. Store your tools in a dry place.  First you may wish to smear some oil (machine oil, 3inOne, Singer) onto the blade(s) of your tool.  Cover the blades and put into a cupboard in your shed or garage.

    Pruning Hedges

    Tony Matson - Thursday, March 15, 2018

    Hedges are very popular as they not only can provide a formal element to your garden design, but provide privacy and screening from your neighbours.

    When to Prune?

    There are lots of times during the year when you are able to prune - during the dormant season, all the way to spring.  Pruning promotes new growth.  You don't want to prune in Autumn - reason being is that it will promote growth and the winter temperatures will damage the new growth.

    How Often?

    Most well established hedges should only require pruning twice a year, once at the beginning of Spring, when the plants are showing new growth, then once again at the beginning of summer to maintain shape.

    Newly established hedges do require a bit more attention in their first few years.  Tip-prune all the plants regularly in the first few years before they have reached their final height.  This encourages thick healthy growth and is important to establishing an attractive formal hedge.

    Tools required:

    Hand shears are the best choice for the home gardener.  They allow much better control and allow a closer and cleaner cut without the noise.  You will not get shredding or burning that some motorised hedgers will give.

    Secateurs - recommend a ratchet or normal pair of secateurs to cut larger branches which are too big for hedging shears.  

    Rule of thumb is that you shouldn't cut branches which are bigger than a 'lady's little finger' in width with hedging shears.   This will preserve the scissor type cutting action of the shears.

    Pruning Saw - can also be used for the woody sections of a hedge if cutting right back.

    String and 2 stakes or poles to create a straight line as a guide to pruning.

    Motorised hedger if hedges are extremely long.

    How to Prune?

    1. Prune out dead or diseased branches first
    2. Set up your stake and cord to get your height/ line
    3. Start at the top - flat along the top.   Decide if straight or round/ curved edges are required
    4. Trim back new growth by tip pruning, work down sides
    5. Feed and mulch after hedging plants to encourage healthy and vigorous new growth
    Ref:  Angus Stewart, "how to prune a hedge in 7 simple steps"

    Anvil versus Bypass Secateurs

    Tony Matson - Monday, November 06, 2017
    I often give talks at Garden Clubs and ask the question "What is the most important tool in the Garden Shed?"  Invariably the answer is 'secateurs' so I though it would be worth discussing the merits of Anvil vs. Bypass Secateurs.  Many people have more than one pair. 

    Anvil secateurs have an upper blade that is sharp both sides and cuts down onto a flat lower 'anvil'.  This anvil can be metal or have a hard plastic insert.  The action is much like a guillotine or a knife on a chopping board.  With a blade sharp on both sides, pruning harder stems will be easier. For tougher or woodier stems, a pair of anvil secateurs is recommended. The majority of ratchet secateurs are of the anvil design.  Some people suggest that anvil secateurs shouldn't be used to cut green material because it will be squashed rather than cut.  However, there are a lot of experienced (mature) gardeners that find the ratchet anvil secateurs very useful. Anvil secateurs are also good for both right and left handers.  The top handle is flat and the safety latch is in the central position.   As indicated, ratchet secateurs are extremely popular with gardeners with tendonitis, arthritis and/or those with declining strength.  Most of these people have lovely gardens and are not causing their plants to die by using anvil secateurs. 


    Bypass secateurs have a convex shaped blade, sharp only on the outer edge cutting down beside an anvil or non-sharp hook concave in shape.  The anvil or hook is typically smaller on bypass secateurs.  Bypass secateurs are the most common type, used for pruning live stems and where you need to make sharp, precise cuts.  They are more suitable for cutting softer, stringier living stems as the blade cuts all the way through the stem.  Bypass secateurs can cut smaller stems right against a larger stem and due to this functionality nursery people will typically use this type of secateur. The majority of bypass secateurs are designed for right handers with a tapered handle, with the outside edge of the blade on the right side and safety latch controlled by the right thumb.  Harder or dead stems may cause the stem to bend rather than be cut, and get caught between the blade and the hook.  This can cause the two sections to separate resulting in damage to your secateurs.


    In summary - for the average gardener who is not grafting or propagating either the anvil or bypass secateurs will be suitable.  In an ideal situation where either blade is sharp you will get a nice clean cut on living tissue.  The anvil secateurs are more useful for harder wood as both sides of the blade is sharp and since the blade is like a guillotine, is less likely to cause damage (separation of the blade and hook). These are very effective with lots of shrubs to prune, or cutting up to stems for the compost bin.  They also are invaluable if you are loosing strength or have arthritis or tendonitis.   If you are cutting flowers and herbs/ spices I recommend bypass style secateurs.  Whilst there is a lot to be said for using the "right tool for the right job" it is more important to get the right secateurs for you.  In addition to cutting action, check hand size and weight of the tool.

    Time to Prune

    Tony Matson - Monday, July 10, 2017

    Some think that Winter is the time to take a break from the garden.  This can't be further from the truth!

    Best time?  Generally prune most plants in mid to late winter before growth begins.  Roses in particular need a good prune back at this time of year to remove dead branches and invigorate growth.  Another rule for pruning is after the plant flowers or produces fruit.

    Why? The aim of pruning is to remove limbs that are dead or diseased, to thin a plant, to remove unwanted or dangerous limbs or to train/ shape a plant.

    How?

    1. Cut back each stem to an outside bud or branch so that new shoots will grow to the outside of the plant.  The stem or limb that you cut back to, should have a diameter of about one third to half that of the branch to be removed.
    2. Make slanting cuts when removing limbs that grow upward to prevent water damage to the cut limb.
    3. Cut large branches using multiple smaller cuts so that large branches don't fall through the tree damaging it or yourself.
    4. Do not prune plants that are to be transplanted - instead water regularly after the transplantation.
    5. Make all cuts clean and smooth.
    6. Don't twist or strain your secateurs or loppers.  Keep the limb to be cut as deeply in the jaws and near the pivot as possible.
    7. Be safe - use the correct tool and don't climb trees without a proper restraint.  Avoid cutting wire with pruning tools as the blades will probably chip.  Refrain from pruning trees near power lines or exert extreme caution if having to do so.
    8. Clean your tools after use to prevent spreading disease and to prolong the life of your equipment.
    9. Finally purchase good quality secateurs, loppers, hedgers and saws (preferably from CutAbove Tools) to make the jobs easier.

    How to Select the Right Gardening Gloves

    Tony Matson - Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    Where do we start with gloves?  There are so many types and so many uses for them in the garden.  Quite simply, working or gardening without gloves or the right gloves can be a pain.

    I'm going to concentrate on hand gloves rather than gauntlets.  Although a number of us want or need arm protection in certain circumstances or for health reasons so gauntlets or removable sleeves are an option.  I'm also not going to discuss disposable gloves such as those that might be used for propagating.

    Why Do We Need Gloves?

    • Keep hands clean (particularly under the finger nails)
    • Protect hands against rough objects, thorns, prickles, insects and other nasties (eg. stink bugs), diseases and the sun.  In terms of disease it is worth noting that a number of infections (some unfortunately resulting in death) have occurred in the Northern Territory.  Melioidosis infections is caused by a bacteria in the soil during the wet season.
    • Keep your hands dry
    • Minimize blisters
    • Absorb perspiration
    • Prevent dry and cracked skin
    Purposes:
    • Potting and seeding
    • Handling cuttings
    • Weeding
    • Pruning - roses vs others
    Types of Gloves:
    • Cow Leather
    • Deep Leather
    • Goat Skin
    The above three offer good protection, however need to be wiped with a damp cloth and treated with leather cleaner to keep them soft.  Can be expensive!
    • Cotton
    • Nylon
    • Bamboo
    • Rubbert
    • Nitrile
    The latter are more economical.  Cotton and nylon gloves are light and cool, can be washed and dried however may not offer enough protection and durability.  Bamboo is relatively new in gloves but eco-friendly and the product has been used in other clothing for a while.  Rubber gloves offer good protection against chemicals and can be rinsed off.  Nitrile gloves are typically cotton or nylon backed gloves with the palm and finger tips dipped in the nitrile.  Nitrile is three times more resistant to cuts and tears than normal rubber.

    What to Consider When Purchasing Gloves:

    There are four main things to consider when selecting gloves:  flexibility, comfort, durability and price.

    Flexibility - a good sense of touch is important so gloves need to be flexible, correctly chosen for their purpose and correctly sized.  Correctly fitting gloves will make those potting and weeding jobs much easier.  It will also make holding and handling your tools easier.
    Comfort - if you're wearing your gloves for long periods they do need to be comfortable.  In summer, ones that breathe will be a little cooler for extended use.  Remember by putting gloves on you are adding another layer.  In winter great, but in the Australia sun it can be quite hot.  Gloves also need to fit you snugly.  I don't believe one size fits all.  When fitting gloves, pull them on until the fingers into the webbing.  Your fingers then should just be touching the inner tips of the gloves.
    Durability - apart from being flexible and comfortable, gloves need to be strong and tough to be effective.  Are they going to protect you against the thorns and nasties lurking in the garden?  Are they going to last for a reasonable amount of time, especially the finger tips?  If you're working with chemicals and water, you will want to keep your hands dry so select a different style of glove.  Can they be easily washed?
    Price - the range in pricing is quite significant.  If you pay more than $20 for a pair of gloves you need to look after them as much as your tools.

    In summary, consider what you are using your gloves for and thus what type will be most suitable for the job.  If you are not in a position to look after them then perhaps don't consider the more expensive varieties.  Try them on if possible prior to purchasing to ascertain fit.

    What does CutAbove Tools sell?  Garden gloves are part of a wide range of gardening and pruning tools that we sell.  So we have selected one type of glove and that is Nitrile Gloves.  These are suitable for most chores in the garden, are thorn resistant, washable and there are five sizes available - from small, medium, large, XL, XXL.  The gloves are widely known for their durability and suitability to garden work.




    Purchasing the right tool for the job

    Tony Matson - Wednesday, February 08, 2017

    There are many things to consider when purchasing a pruning (or gardening) tool. Obviously you need to consider what is required to be done and how often you are going to be doing it. However, any expert will tell you to get yourself a quality tool.

    There are five main things to consider when purchasing a tool:

    1. Size of the tool – particularly important when selecting secateurs. If you have a small hand look for a smaller sized item that fits snugly into your hand.
    2. Weight of the tool – in the case of loppers, hedge shears and high reach pruners you are holding these in front or above you for extended periods of time.
    3. Extension – do you need a tool that extends? Extending anything will only add weight to the tool however if it stops you using ladders then seriously consider it.
    4. Mechanical Advantage – if you have some tough work to do then ratchet systems and gear action systems will assist.
    5. Spare Parts – spare a thought for the environment and before you purchase check out how readily spare parts are.

    Gardening can be an enjoyable time for those with the right tools but at the same time can be quite arduous if you are using the wrong tool.

    There are probably three types of gardeners:

    • those who are happy to be out there every day,
    • others that get motivated every so often, and
    • those who are out there because they need to.

    In all instances, it is important to have the right tools to make the job as easy and as pleasurable as possible.

    The first step is to look at the job at hand. For instance, when pruning, do you need a pair of secateurs (small stems), loppers (branches) or shears (hedge)? If the work to be done is green and live (on the plant, shrub or tree), and you can fit it in the jaw of the tool in question then you are likely to have the right tool (dependent on your strength).

    If you are struggling on each cut, it is recommend going to a bigger device. For example, select a small lopper rather than a pair of secateurs. If the greenery is dark and hard, it is better to select a larger tool or use a pruning saw.

    Hedge shears are a little different in that a lot of things can fit into the jaws however they are not going to effectively cut much more the size of a lady’s little finger, without damaging the blades or causing them to bow. However if the foliage is light you are going to cut much more in a quicker time.

    It is important to note that one tool is not going to do everything in most gardens. You will need a range of tools of tools. So again we need to look at the job at hand to decide what is required. For example if you have only roses then you may only need a pair of bypass secateurs, a pruning saw and tools to cultivate the earth and remove weeds.

    So once you have decided what tools you require then you need to consider the following factors when selecting a tool:

    • Size
    • Weight
    • Reach
    • Mechanical Advantage
    • Availability of Spare Parts

    Size: big is not always better! For example, a pair of secateurs that are too big will not fit nicely in the hand and you will barely get your thumb over the top handle. A smaller pair that can fit snugly in the palm of your hand will assist with leverage.

    Weight: is related closely to size particular with items such as loppers and hedge shears. It is no good getting a big heavy lopper, just because you want to cut something big, if you can’t lift the tool for a good length of time. Our recommendation is to hold the device at shoulder height for a while to assist with your decision making. The devices may include hedge shears, loppers or mechanical pole saws.

    Reach: many tools now have extensions to stop you having to get on a ladder. Consider these again with the weight of the item in mind. Obviously a tool that extends is likely to be heavier. In addition there are extension handles for garden tools (such as hand trowels and cultivators) that save you from bending and kneeling in the garden. There is also a number of stand up weeders available again to save the back and kneeling on the lawn.

    Mechanical Advantage: many of us are familiar with Ratchet Systems that save approximately 30% of your effort. The advantage of ratchets is easier cutting, you can cut thicker stems with less effort and they are good for those with tendonitis or arthritis. Also ratchet high reach pruners can make life a lot easier. 
    The downside of the ratchet systems are that it takes longer, and they are not really suitable for fine work (cutting flowers) Blades can be prone to breakage if twisting during a cut. Typically on the market you will find there are ratchet secateurs and ratchet loppers. 

    The other type of mechanical advantage is Gear Action. These tools save about 10 – 15% of your effort with the stem or branch being cut in one go. Gear action design may be found in secateurs, loppers and hedge shears. 

    Spare Parts: the availability of spare parts is very important. Most tools are put together by hand and apart from a new blade or spring, you may need a nut or bolt that may come loose. In terms of sustainability, if you chip a blade or wear out a spring, or lose a nut or bolt, we don’t want people discarding their perhaps favourite tool or searching fruitlessly at the local hardware shop. A good tool company should have a comprehensive range of spare parts for the products they sell. So ask about spare parts when making your purchase.

    In summary, make gardening as easiest as possible and take appropriate time in selecting your tools. Look at the features and benefits of each tool compared to the plants, shrubs and trees in your garden. If you can touch, feel and even cut some stems with the tools prior to purchase it will help with your decision making.