The best pruning shears should be in every lawn and garden enthusiast’s toolbox. These versatile hand tools have multiple uses such as harvesting flowers, pruning fruit trees and removing overgrowth or dead branches on ornamentals. However, choosing the right pruner that suits both the job and the user can be confusing. This article is here to break down some of the features you should be looking for in a pruner and point you in the right direction.
As the saying goes, it’s easy to look sharp when you haven’t done any work. Most pruners on the market work very well right out of the box, but not all perform well in the long run. Farmer Rich, a seventh-generation fruit and vegetable farmer, took on the challenge to test and review 16 of the most popular brands and styles of pruners on the market as he hand-pruned his apple orchard and ornamentals around his property.
Before we get into pruner reviews, some overview is needed. Whether you call them hand pruners, clippers, garden shears or secateurs, we are generally referring to a one-handed lawn and garden tool used to cut stems and branches under 1-inch in diameter. Anything larger would usually require two-handed lopping shears or a hand saw. Bypass pruners are typically used for cutting live wood and anvil pruners are typically used for cutting dead wood. Each pruner will list its maximum branch size on the box for reference. Cutting wood larger than what the pruner is rated for can result in excessive hand fatigue, damage to the pruner or serious injury to the user. Check out the end of this article for more details on pruner types, use and maintenance.
Read on to find out which pruners ‘made the cut’ as the best pruning shears.
What are the best pruning shears?
After extensive testing, we found the best bypass pruner for lawn and garden work to be the Felco 6. This durable, yet light-weight pruner scored highly across all of our test categories. The Felco 6’s incredibly sharp blade and quality engineering offered smooth, consistent cutting performance well past 100 cuts. Its ergonomic design for medium to large-sized hands combined with easily found replacement parts cemented this tool to the top of our list. The Felco 6 is a great all-around pruner and will offer years of solid performance.
If you are on a budget and looking for a solid, no-frills bypass pruner, the Corona ClassiCUT ¾” is an excellent alternative. What it lacks in ergonomics, it more than makes up for in durability and easy, clean cuts.
The Felco 32 was the best anvil pruner we tested. The hardened steel blade, metal anvil and wide grip smoothly cut through 1-inch thick sticks of dead wood. The blade on this well-engineered tool closes precisely on the anvil, making a complete cut with minimal crushing or stripping of bark. Overall, this heavy-duty pruner performed consistently well with a wide assortment of sticks and branches and would be a great pruner for anyone doing moderate to heavy lawn and garden work.
If hand strength is an issue, we highly recommend The Gardener’s Friend ratcheting anvil pruner. Its quality design made cutting thick sticks a breeze. This pruner is well deserving to be listed as one of the best anvil pruners for lawn and garden care.
Best Bypass Pruners
Ever since the invention of the Felco 2 model in 1948, Felco has been an international leader in hand pruners. The Felco 6 took the best parts of their previous models and combined them with great ergonomics and a slightly more compact design. It is a professional grade pruner designed with the lawn and garden user in mind.
The Felco 6 is smaller and more light-weight than its predecessors, but is still rated to cut .8-inch branches. It is made for medium-sized hands, but also worked well for large hands when we put it to the test. The ergonomics designed in this tool made it very comfortable to use and noticeably reduced hand fatigue. Although it is designed for right-handed individuals, it was comfortable and worked well in the left hand as well.
This pruner has an intuitive thumb lock, easily adjustable hinge mechanism and readily available replacement parts. The bright red handle also means you will be unlikely to lose it in the field. Its snub-nosed blade created a clean, reliable cut after well over 100 cuts on both dry and green wood. In fact, it was still sharp and tight enough to cut through paper like a new pair of scissors.
Although many pruner brands offer lifetime warranties, it is usually best to purchase a reputable pruner that will last a lifetime. Fortunately, Felco pruners have both the reputation of lasting a lifetime and offer a limited lifetime warranty. Overall, the Felco 6 is a fantastic pruner that will undoubtedly provide years of use.
If hand size is a concern, but you want the same functionality, Felco took the design of the Felco 6 and created the Felco 8 for large handed individuals and the Felco 14 for smaller hands.
The Corona ClassicCUT ¾” is a great pruner and a pleasure to use. It has a very simple yet rugged design with only a few parts. While lacking in some ergonomic features such as wide, curved handles or a traditional thumb lock, the ClassicCut was surprisingly comfortable to use and maintained its smooth, tight action well after over 100 cuts. The MAXFORGED high-carbon steel blade showed no visible signs of wear and kept an incredibly sharp edge after repeated use on both live and dry branches.
The simple design of the Corona ClassicCUT allows it to be used in both the right and left hand. For under $20, it is definitely in the realm of “budget pruners,” however, it was able to perform as well as other heavy-duty professional pruners several times more expensive. The tool locking mechanism was the only real area of frustration as it was difficult to use with gloves on and difficult to engage single-handedly.
The Corona ClassicCut ¾” seemed to fit the medium-large range for hand size. The spring of the tool is strong and held firmly in place. The tool also features a built-in sap groove in the bottom blade to help prevent the shears from gumming-up when working with evergreens or other sappy plants. The ¾ inch model is their mid-sized pruner of this design, with a ½” and 1” cutting diameter also available. Overall, this no-frills pruner offers solid performance and likely years of reliable use.
The Felco 2 bypass pruners are an industry standard and are the #1 pick for most professional landscapers and orchardists. Originally designed in 1948, the Felco 2 has become one of the most copied designs of bypass pruners on the market. In fact, you must be careful of companies selling knockoffs of this product because it has such a good reputation.
There is a reason the Felco 2 has become known as the last pruner you’ll ever buy. This heavy-duty pruner is incredibly well made — it has an ultra-sharp blade, comfortable handle (for larger hands), easy to use thumb-lock and is intuitive to tighten and maintain. The cutting action of this pruner is easy on the hands for repeated cuts; that’s why it is the go-to pruner for people who use them all day, every day. On test, it smoothly and cleanly cut through both green and dead wood with minimal crushing. This pruner was especially great for pruning green sucker branches from apple trees as well because it could handle both the small and the larger diameter cuts.
The Felco 2 is a right-handed pruner designed for users with large hands. They do have other options for left-handed users. The drawback of the Felco 2 is that it lacks some of the ergonomic features of their newer models (such is found on the Felco 6 that is designed for medium-sized hands). Users with some smaller hands or carpal tunnel issues may find issues using this pruner. While it is on the high end of the price range for pruners, the value is well worth it when you consider the years of reliable use you get.
The Japanese ARS VS8Z had the sharpest blade of all the pruners that were tested. It easily and smoothly performed over 100 cuts through up to ¾”-thick live and dead wood and was still able to cleanly cut through a piece of paper afterwards. The non-slip handles are nice and bright, making it easy to find if dropped on the ground. Although they are designed for right-handed individuals, they were not uncomfortable to hold in the left hand.
The ARS VS8Z has a unique “Squeeze to unlock” thumb lock on the top of the device. Some consumer reviews showed issues with the lock over time, but I found it easy to use. The pruner did tend to loosen after about 50 cuts, but was easy enough to tighten. For some reason, the pruners came with the blade dripping with oil. It was easily wiped-off, but slightly annoying out of the box. The biggest concern was how easily the spring popped out of the device when snagged on a branch. The spring in the ARS VS8Z dislodged easier than any other pruner in this review, making it a dealbreaker for someone who frequently reaches deep into trees and bushes to prune branches. However, if you are just using it around the lawn and garden you will probably be very satisfied with the product. The extremely sharp blade combined with the ergonomic feel of the handle made cutting easy and satisfying.
The Fiskars PowerGear2 was a pleasant surprise. Its unique rolling cam gear mechanism delivers up to 3X more cutting power with less effort compared to standard pruners. While many pruners that use gears or ratchets can be clunky or cumbersome, the mechanism in the PowerGear2 was exceptionally smooth. I was surprised at how easy it made larger cuts and how comfortable it was to use over an extended period of time.
The sturdy design worked well past 100 cuts. Although it is wider than normal pruners, it was still able to get into tight spots. The blade stayed tight after repeated use with no side-to-side movements. The thumb lock worked well and the ‘Soft Grip’ was comfortable for long pruning sessions. The safe spring placement made it unlikely to be knocked out or lost over time. Overall, I was extremely satisfied with this pruner and would recommend it to anyone who might have issues with hand strength. The only major drawbacks of the design is that it ONLY works in the right hand, and requires a large hand to use.
The Fiskars Plus P541 offers two great features that allowed it to earn its place in our best pruner list. First, the pruner is adjustable to fit different sized hands. This is a great option for households where more than one person uses the pruner. With the simple slide of a thumb lever, the hand opening can adjust from small to large. While it does slightly impact the blade opening, it is a breath of fresh air in terms of design accessibility. Second, the pruner is truly ambidextrous. It is ergonomically comfortable and functional in both the left and right hand. Again, a perfect tool for households with multiple users.
At 6.5 ounces, this tool was the lightest weight anvil pruner we tested. The spring is nicely located in a position where it is unlikely to ever get knocked out. The hardened steel blade stayed sharp and tight after 100 cuts of apple wood. However, the “low-friction” coating on the blade began to show signs of wear. The Fiskars Plus P541 would not be considered a heavy-duty pruner, but it would be a reliable household tool for as long as the plastic thumb lock and size adjustment lever hold up. Fiskars should definitely be commended on their design approach for this pruner.
The Okatsune brand is starting to develop a cult following outside of Japan as more and more gardening enthusiasts are swearing by this pruner. Its hardened steel Japanese-forged blades are rated amongst the hardest on the market and promise to offer numerous clean, sharp cuts before needing sharpening. In fact, after over 100 cuts of wood up to an inch thick, it was able to cut paper like it was a new pair of scissors. There are several knockoffs on the market, so do some research into the vendor and don’t expect to find one under $45.
The vinyl coated handles have a hollow u-shape design that significantly reduce the overall weight of the pruners compared to others of the same size. The brightly colored handles make the Okatsune 103 easy to find and are designed to be held in either the left or the right hand. Some features that are unique to this product are its large safety pin style spring and the heavy-duty heel lock. While initially locking and unlocking the tool one handed was an issue while working from a pruning ladder, I found it could be easily done by using my hip as a force to open and close the lock. Overall, it has a very simple design with few parts and that makes it very easy to maintain.
The Okatsune 103 is a medium-length model. However, that does not mean it fits people with medium-sized hands. It requires a very large handed grip. Although I wanted to like these pruners, there was a major flaw in the design which others have pointed out. The ergonomics are severely lacking —the handle was awkward and slippery, with and without gloves. My hands kept sliding towards the hinge, requiring me to constantly adjust my grip after just a few cuts, potentially dropping the pruners in the process. It resulted in frustration and hand fatigue faster than any other pruner I tested. Having said that, the unrivaled hardened steel blade still makes this one of the best pruning shears, and it’s ideal for quick and small jobs.
The Sun Joe 3.6-volt Electric Cordless Pruner is an electric powered bypass pruner capable of cutting live wood up to ½” thick with the easy pull of a trigger. It features a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with an impressive factory claim of up to 750 cuts per 65-minute charge. At 1.4 pounds, it comes in way heavier than other pruners, however, the ease of pruning is a nice tradeoff for the weight.
This electric pruner is a light-duty machine. Do not expect to be cutting all the branches of a tree with this. When sticking to green (live) branches and stems under ½” in diameter, the pruner worked very well. It has a two-trigger safety system that prevents accidental activations. The blade takes less than a second to clamp down and automatically returns to the open position whenever the finger trigger is released. A charge indicator near the plug tells when the pruner is fully charged. Although there is no battery level indicator, you can audibly hear the pruner slow down when the charge is low.
The blades stayed sharp and nick free after over 100 cuts. There is an easy blade unlocking mechanism if you need to quickly replace or want to sharpen the blade in a vice. These Sun Joe pruners also have dual LED lights in case you need to make precise cuts in shady areas.
Some of the drawbacks are that they are not at all weather resistant, so I would avoid using them in damp spaces. Also, they are wider than manual pruners, which can make it difficult to make close cuts. The product has mixed reviews from users who experienced issues with the battery overheating or the blades coming out. I did not experience any of those issues. In my opinion, the Sun Joe electric cordless pruner worked very well and is ideal for thin green branches and flower stems. For those with hand strength or arthritis issues, this might be a nice option to keep you in the garden.
Best Anvil Pruners
As with most Felco products, the Felco 32 Anvil Pruner is an incredibly rugged, well-made pruner trusted for years by professionals. The hardened steel blade, metal anvil and wide grip smoothly cut through 1-inch thick sticks. The blade closes precisely on the anvil, making a complete cut with minimal crushing or stripping of bark. The bright red handle is easily found if put down, and replacement parts are readily available. While the pruner can be used in both the left and right hand, the thumb lock is designed for right-hand use.
The Felco 32 does require a large hand to operate and may be unwieldy for those with reduced hand strength or carpal tunnel issues. It is an expensive pruner, but if you divide the price over the lifetime of the tool, it is very reasonable. Overall, this heavy-duty pruner performed consistently well with a wide assortment of sticks and branches. If the handle size isn’t an issue, then this would be a great pruner for anyone doing moderate to heavy lawn and garden work.
The Gardener’s Friend Ratchet Pruning Shears offer a very functional ratcheting system that makes cutting thicker or harder branches a breeze. Each squeeze of the handle drives the blade further down towards the anvil until the stick cuts through. This spreads difficult cuts into up to four squeezes, greatly reducing the amount of hand strength needed for pruning.
This pruner comes with oiler pads to help with the oiling process, a very sharp blade and has a built-in knuckle guard to help protect your hand. It is designed for medium to large handed individuals and can be operated in either the left or right hand. I appreciated the internal spring which is unlikely to ever get knocked out and lost. The pruner was comfortable to use and had a very solid feel. It consistently cut through dead wood of various shapes and diameters without much crushing or stripping of the bark.
What I liked most about Gardener’s Friend pruner was that you didn’t always have to rely on the ratcheting system. If you have the strength to cut through the stem in one go, just squeeze the handle and cut. If not, release the handle slightly and the ratchet is automatically engaged. It was very simple and satisfying to use. If you’re looking for a very user-friendly anvil pruner that also doubles as an easy-to-use ratcheting pruner, this one has it all. I would put it as the go-to for anyone with carpal tunnel or hand strength issues. Overall, I was highly impressed with the Gardener’s Friend Ratchet Pruning Shears — it’s definitely one of the best pruning shears.
The Gonic 8” Professional SK-5 anvil pruner uses a unique “pulley mechanism” inside the handle that slowly increases the blade pressure on the wood as you squeeze. This reduces the amount of effort it takes to cut each branch and lessens hand fatigue. The SK-5 in the name refers to the very sharp high-carbon steel blade that easily cut through 100 dead sticks of all sizes up to ¾” thick. Its aluminum body is very lightweight, yet feels sturdy and reliable.
The Gonic 8” Professional SK-5 anvil pruner has an ergonomically designed handle to be used either in the right or left hand. I found it to be rather slippery without gloves, but it worked well with gloves on. While the sliding thumb lock was conveniently located, I did find I would occasionally knock it into the locked position while pruning with gloves on, resulting in some frustration.
Perhaps I received a faulty unit, but there was a rivet that partially stuck out from the pully mechanism that would constantly rub against my finger. This made it uncomfortable to use over a long period of time. This pruner was also by far the noisiest manual pruner I tested with both the spring and the pulley singing along with each cut. Even though it did cut very well, these design flaws made it frustrating to use at times and moved this pruner lower down on the recommendation list. It’s a great price for the performance you get though.
The STEELHEAD 7” Anvil Pruning Shears have an extra-sharp, high-carbon steel blade and a very comfortable grip. The handles are ergonomically designed for both right and left-handed use, and the plastic thumb lock is conveniently placed on the top of the head. These pruners consistently performed well in over 100 cuts of dead wood up to ½” thick without causing too much crushing damage.
At under $10, these are the least expensive of all the pruners tested. They should be considered a light-duty anvil pruner due to its small diameter capacity and plastic anvil. While the website says they are rated for 5/8 inches, the box they arrive in says .4 inches, which is very small for a typical anvil pruner. The spring has nice action, but is easily knocked out. While they did work very well, I have trouble thinking of scenarios when you would want an anvil pruner that is rated for less than half an inch, but you never know. These are the best pruning shears if you’re after a small, light-duty anvil design and you’re shopping on a budget.
How we selected and tested the best pruning shears
There are hundreds of pruners available on the market. The pruners chosen for this test were selected because they ranked amongst the highest in terms of product reviews from reputable brands and vendors. We were looking for a pruner that created a reliable, clean cut, with minimal crushing of the wood or tearing of the bark. It had to be relatively comfortable in the hand and at minimum have a hardened steel blade.
As mentioned earlier, each of the pruners featured in our best pruning shears list were hand tested by an experienced farmer while pruning fruit trees and ornamentals. Each pruner went through at least 100 cuts of wood and stems of various diameters. Most of the wood used was either apple or pear wood with a diameter of up to 1-inch thick. Live and dead wood was used for bypass pruners and dead wood was used for the anvil pruners. Flower stems were used to test thin green cuts. At the end of testing, all bypass pruners also went through a papercut test to see if the blades had stayed tight and sharp enough to cut a thin piece of paper.
Several other pruners were tested for this feature and many literally did not make the cut to be included in our ranking.
There are different types of hand pruners for different types of uses. It really depends on if you’re cutting a living plant or dead wood.
Bypass Pruners are by far the most popular style of pruners and are ideal for cutting and pruning living plants. They work like scissors; when the handle is squeezed, a very sharp top blade slides past a duller bottom blade leaving a clean, smooth cut. The cleaner the cut, the faster the plant will heal and the more resistant the cut will be to disease. There are a few new electrical and gear-driven bypass pruners on the market for those that might have arthritis or carpal tunnel issues and a couple of them have made it into our top picks.
Anvil Pruners are ideal for cutting dead wood. When the handle is squeezed, a sharp top blade drives down against a flat surface (called the anvil). This gives the pruner more cutting power with less effort. However, it is not a ‘clean’ cut and can often crush branches and stems. If used on live plants, it can result in stripped bark or a rough cut that leaves the plant open to infection.
Ratcheting Anvil Pruners offer mechanical assistance while cutting dead wood and can be used for slightly larger diameter cuttings. A ratcheting mechanism in the pruner distributes the effort of cutting the wood over up to four squeezes instead of one. Each squeeze of the handle drives the blade further down into the stick until it eventually cuts through. This type of pruner can be great if you are lacking in hand strength, but it does increase the number of times you have to squeeze your hand. Basically, you are trading ease for repetition.
Pro tip: If you’re pruning wood from a sick tree or bush, dip the pruner head in isopropyl alcohol before moving on to a healthy branch. This will limit the spread of disease.
Selecting a pruner
Pruner prices can vary from under $10 to over $100. When selecting a pruner, purchase the best you can afford from a known, reputable brand.
Many consumers assume that the larger the blade and blade opening on a pruner, the thicker it can cut. However, the real limiting factors are often hand strength and the size of the handle opening. It is better to get a tool that fits you than to get a tool that is too big and prevents you from getting the leverage you need to make the cut.
As someone who uses pruners as part of my job, here are a few features I look for:
- Make sure you get a pruner that fits your hand size and has a good grip. Most professional pruners are designed for large hands and right-handed users, but there are some options.
- Choose durability over budget. Although some cheaper brands offer lifetime warranties, it’s usually best to purchase a more expensive pruner that will last a lifetime.
- Read the product details and make sure the pruner has a hardened steel blade, ideally “high-tempered carbon steel.”
- Pruners are surprisingly easy to lose, so the brighter the color of the handles, the better!
- Make sure the blade can be easily removed, tightened and sharpened with basic tools.
- Pruner springs often rust or get knocked out. Make sure you can easily find replacement parts.
Some pruners offer titanium coatings and non-stick rust proofing, but I typically don’t consider those a long-term benefit since the coatings wear off after extended use and sharpening.
Use and maintenance
Hand pruners work best if the wood or stem you are cutting is placed as deep into the jaws of the device as possible. Most bottom blades and anvils are now curved to help hold whatever you are cutting into position. Do not twist the pruner as this can bend the blade and possibly break the tool. Some wood, like oak, is very strong and even a small branch can be difficult to cut. Don’t force it. Use lopping shears if the wood is too hard.
Pruning can be hard, repetitive work. Here are a few steps to keep your tool in tip-top shape and make it work as efficiently as possible. Your hands will thank you for it.
- Over time, all bypass pruners will loosen and form a gap between the blades. This is normal. A quick tightening of the hinge screw will help ensure a clean cut.
- The cutting blade will dull over time making it harder to cut. Having a fine-toothed metal file available can help ensure your blade stays sharp between uses. Learning to sharpen a blade at home will save you money in the long run.
- Pruners should always be wiped down before storage to remove any sap, dampness or debris that could cause rust or gum the hinge. A quick spray of WD-40 or a wipe-down with a rag and some mineral oil will greatly extend the life of your pruners.
All pruners have at least one very sharp blade, so safety is very important. These tools are not designed for children and should be stored appropriately. Make sure you keep the blades in the locked position when you are walking around with pruners, and ideally carry it in a sheath or holster on your hip instead of in your hand or pocket. Also, always wear proper fitting gloves and eye protection whenever you are pruning.