After researching 49 pairs of pruners and testing 39 models on dozens of maple branches, buckthorn limbs, scallions, raspberry canes, and wooden dowels, we found that the Felco 2 Classic Manual Hand Pruner ($47) is the best pruner for most people.
The Felco 2 made clean, straight cuts on almost everything we tested. Its bypass blades open and close smoothly, and require only slight force to cut thick branches. We like them because they are made to last forever, too. The hardened-steel blades are strong enough to withstand sharpening dozens of times, the plastic-coated forged aluminum alloy handles are nearly unbreakable, repairs are easy, and replacement parts for any worn-out pieces are widely available. The near-universal availability of Felco pruners and parts was the factor that gave the Felco 2 an edge over another pair that performs slightly better but suffers from distribution and pricing quirks.
Felco models are consistently priced, well known, and widely beloved among gardeners, many of whom have kept their Felco 2s for a decade or more. They’re not quite perfect. The pruners crushed a ¼-inch dowel a tiny bit, and the handles spread a little wide for some users (if that’s you, we have a pick for smaller hands). But, those flaws aside, they’re close to perfect.
If you yearn for the perfect pruner, you will finally be satisfied with the ARS HP-VS8Z. This tool was the only model that consistently made perfectly clean, flat cuts in soft stems, woody growth, hardwood dowels, and even ¾-inch buckthorn branches without crushing or tearing anything—and with less effort. The ARS has stunningly sharp high-carbon steel blades that have been tempered for hardness and resilience, and the tight, precise tolerance between the two blades creates a silky smooth cutting action. Every other pair of pruners jerked or stuck on something in our test, but not this pair. Comfortable plastic-coated aluminum handles (which are available in other sizes) make cutting easy.
The HP-VS8Z is so good that it was almost our first pick for this guide, but its pricing is inconsistent—and sometimes very expensive (we’ve seen it fluctuate between $50 and $80). We were also concerned about the availability of ARS models, as this Japanese brand isn’t as widespread as the Swiss brand Felco in the United States. If you can find this tool for lower than the Felco 2’s price, you can be confident that you’re buying the best available pruner.
If you want to pay a fraction of the price for performance that’s almost as good as that of the best pruners out there, the Corona BP 3180 Classic Cut Forged Bypass Pruner ($20) is a great budget pick. The blades are sharp enough to slice through spindly stems and thick branches swiftly and efficiently. We even cut a ¾-inch branch one-handed with this pair, a feat that only the best pruners in the test could manage. That cut, however, required more effort than with our top two picks. These pruners don’t make quite as clean a slice as the ARS and Felco models do, and they don’t move as smoothly. Like the top picks, the Corona BP 3180 accepts replacement blades, springs, and screws. You may need those parts sooner, though, as some owners claim that this pruner is prone to rust. The Corona BP 3180’s handles are also large enough, and splay out widely enough, to feel unwieldy for many people with small to medium hands—but if you have big hands and a small budget, the Corona BP 3180 is a solid choice.
Not everyone has the hand strength of Conan the Licensed Professional Arborist. If your arthritis, hand weakness, or other conditions make closing a pair of pruners a chore, we recommend the ratcheting EZ Kut Heavy Duty Ratchet Pruner ($24). Ratcheting pruners take longer to cut through branches, but they require less force: You squeeze the pruners’ handles repeatedly to close them, instead of forcing them closed in one motion. The EZ Kut Heavy Duty Ratchet Pruner did a fine job cutting raspberry canes, and it ratcheted through dowels, Norway maple branches, and buckthorn branches up to ¾ inch thick with minimal effort over several squeezes. However, the tool couldn’t cut scallion tops, failing to separate the stems on eight out of 10 tries. Overall, none of the ratcheting pruners we tested could cut a wide range of materials as deftly as our main pick could. But the things the EZ Kut could cut were, well, pretty easy to cut.
I’ve been gardening in the Boston area for 19 years, pruning apple trees, rhododendrons, raspberries, spruces, tomatoes, roses, and any groundhogs found nibbling on my Sugar Snap pea vines. I am one of the pillars of the Menotomy Gardeners e-group. I earned a certificate in field botany from the New England Wild Flower Society in 2007, and I co-founded the Lexington Community Farm Coalition, which is devoted to preserving working agricultural land. In 2010 I published Boston’s Gardens and Green Spaces, a Boston Globe Local Bestseller, and I am the co-creator of the Green Spaces: Boston app. I have appeared on NPR’s Radio Boston and WCVB’s Chronicle discussing Boston’s open space, and my work has been featured in the Boston Globe, the Boston Phoenix, Boston Magazine, and the Time Out Boston guide. I give frequent talks to historical societies, garden clubs, and book groups about New England landscape history and agriculture. My blog about Boston’s plants and landscape appears at Green Space Boston.
For this guide, I surveyed members of the Ecological Landscape Alliance and received recommendations from eight professional landscapers from all over the continent, asking about their favorite pruners they used themselves, as well as the models they give to their landscaping crews. I got recommendations for seven pruner models (the Felcos were mentioned more than once), a small chainsaw, and an “extendable pruner-gun” from a Quebecois orchardist who I’m not entirely sure I understood correctly.
I also combed through consumer, tool, and gardening sites, poring over articles and posts in Popular Mechanics, Fine Gardening, Organic Gardening, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and an assortment of blogs. None of these sites consistently tested a variety of pruners on a set of materials that a home landscaper would confront in their yard. The Popular Mechanics review consisted of slicing celery, rope, and chicken wire—no branches at all. (Never cut wire with your pruner blades unless they have a wire notch. You will destroy the blades. Get a wire cutter instead.)
Pruners have one job on this earth, and that is to make straight, clean cuts without hurting your hands. Uneven cuts make it harder for a plant to heal, expose more area to insects and disease, and create crevices in which water can collect, increasing the chance of infection and rot. We wanted a pair of pruners that could reliably cut all the way through every last bit of a branch or stem without crushing it—or hurting your hands.
Beyond a sharp edge, we wanted an overall design that allowed the pruners to cut well, and that came down to the center nut or screw controlling the distance between the blades. The blades should rest so tightly against one another that, if you look at their edges together, no light should shine through. As the Felco Store says: If a nut is too loose, branches will get stuck between the blades; too tight, and it’s hard to force the blades together to make a cut. We wanted a pair of pruners that was properly adjusted out of the box, and easy to tighten if it became loose. We also wanted a model with replacement parts available—even if they’re properly adjusted, and cleaned and sharpened, pruners are mortal.
We also wanted pruners that could perfectly fit a user’s grip and permit opening and closing with one hand, which is key to having a great pair. But this kind of thing is subjective. (As a garden columnist wrote in the Portland Press Herald, “Trying to pick a hand-pruner for someone else would be like trying to pick a mattress for them.”) So we focused on brands that made excellent tools in a variety of sizes—such as ARS, Corona, and Felco—so that if our pick didn’t fit your grip, there would be an alternative at another size.
Last, you can find two basic types of pruners: bypass pruners and anvil pruners. Bypass pruners have two blades that pass each other like scissors when you make a cut. With anvil pruners, a sharpened blade simply stops on a hard, flat surface; this design is better suited for dry, dead brush. Our search focused on the bypass style, which has the precision you need to make clean cuts in live growth, whether it’s woody branches or delicate stems.
To simulate typical garden use, I tested the pruners by cutting a variety of delicate and woody stems: I hacked up scallions, ¼-inch-thick raspberry canes, ¼-inch and ½-inch wooden dowels, ½-inch Norway maple branches, and common ¾-inch buckthorn branches. I cut through each one 10 times apiece, and then I snipped through the scallions again and washed and dried the pruners so that my home office wouldn’t smell like onions while I was writing this review.
I judged the tools by the quality of their cut—whether they mashed the material or left fibers hanging, whether they required a great deal of force to make the cut, and whether they cut consistently throughout the testing. The scallions proved surprisingly challenging: Most models cut the green and white parts cleanly and consistently, while others squeezed them into mush.
While the stems tested the tools’ finesse, the woody pieces tested their delicate force. For the ¼-inch dowel, only the ARS HP-VS8Z pruners provided effortless, clean cuts; all of the other models mashed and flattened the wood as they severed it.
In our test, it was easy to see why Felco 2 pruners have earned such a great reputation among generations of gardeners. No other pruner we tried (except for the Upgrade pick) performs like this pair. The Felco 2 sliced through scallions and tree branches with finesse, leaving almost everything in our test with a perfectly flat, smooth cut edge. Its cutting action was smoother and its blades were sharper, and it required less effort than anything else in our test (with the exception, again, of the ARS HP-VS8Z). Compared with cheaper pruners, Felco tools not only work better but also last longer—you can adjust and repair them, you can replace parts, and you’ll find that they’re just plain tougher and more durable than the competition.
Felco tools also have one major advantage over the great ARS model: Felco pruners are everywhere. Their replacement parts are easy to find. This widespread availability means that their prices are consistent online, and if you want them, the shopping experience is easy. We were ready to name the slightly superior ARS model as our first choice—but over the course of writing this guide through the spring, we saw that model’s price rise by as much as $30. ARS is a niche manufacturer with a limited US presence, and although its tools are fantastic, their availability can be inconsistent. The recent price volatility was the clincher, and we decided that recommending the Felco 2 as our first choice would give readers a nearly perfect tool that wouldn’t be a hassle to find and buy.
The fact that the Felco pruners cut everything well will be obvious right away, and what you’ll find over time is that they could honestly last forever. It sounds like marketing hype to say that, but they really can work like new for as long as you need them. Olga Kraus, a certified horticulturist with over 20 years of experience working in the nursery trade, and one of the pro landscapers we consulted at the Ecological Landscape Alliance, said, “The Felco 2’s I have been using for 25 years were joined last year by a pair of Felco 6’s.” Gardeners writing reviews on the arborist supply site Tree Stuff have similar stories: One person has had the “same pair for 13 years and counting.” Another has owned a pair for 12 years—“longer than I’ve done tree work, and they’re still on the first blade.” And here’s a perfect example, also from a Tree Stuff reviewer: “I have [had] … a set of these pruners for 16 years for personal use and 5 of the years professionally. Lost them for several months. I found them in the yard. I oiled, wire brushed the rust off and sharpened them. Still using same pair and they still work as good as new!” This extreme level of durability sets Felco products apart from all the cheaper pruners you can get (and really, most products in the modern world).
A word on Felco maintenance: If you do happen to find your long-lost pruners deep in the compost heap, you can adjust the hardened-steel center bolt to make sure the blades still align correctly. Out of the box, we found this blade-to-blade tolerance to be precise and accurate, but all pruners go out of alignment eventually. You can adjust and fine-tune Felcos whenever you wish. That’s another feature that separates Felco models from the cheaper pruners.
Another Felco difference is how much easier making a cut feels with these pruners. When you step up to the Felco 2 from the Corona model (our budget pick), for instance, you get a pruner that takes less effort to open and close. The Coronas are stiffer. You may not notice for the first few cuts, but after 15 or 20 minutes of use, you’re going to start feeling it, especially if you’re an older gardener.
Felco pruners are also easier to grip than cheaper models, with contoured handles and a modest open width. The Coronas seem to be designed for landscaping crews full of big, burly guys with wide palms. The Corona pruners are sturdy, but a lot of women can barely get their hands around them when they’re open. The Felco (and ARS) models are just a bit easier for men and women of more modest size to handle.
The Felco pruners were nearly perfect in our test, and the very few problems they had in cutting performance seem like only shortcomings when compared with our Upgrade pick. The Felco 2 pair required some minor effort to close on a Norway maple branch—that task was easier with the ARS model—and the Felco blades slightly crushed a ¼-inch dowel, which the ARS managed to sever more smoothly. But these were tiny flaws. The Felco pruners cut every other sample perfectly and effortlessly, and performed better than any of the other tools we tried.
The Felco 2 also has a construction quirk that’s either a flaw or a feature, depending on how you look at it. Unlike with other Felco hand pruners, the F2’s lower blade is riveted, not screwed, into place. That rivet means that the lower blade is firmly attached—but it also means that if you ever need to replace the lower blade, you’re going to need to rivet it, or find someone who can. Odds are, you won’t need to do this, ever, judging by how long people keep their Felco pruners, but to my mind, it’s a slight flaw.
The ARS HP-VS8Z pruners cut better than any other pruners we tested, leaving fewer bits of bark and ragged ends of stems than every other pair. They were the smoothest-feeling pruners we tried, slicing straight through both hefty branches and wispy scallion tops with no hesitation, jarring, or jerking, and they never got stuck. Although ARS doesn’t publish maximum cutting diameters for its pruners, the ARS HP-VS8Z even managed to cut through a ¾-inch branch with aplomb—unlike several other pruner models that were rated to cut 1-inch branches.
The ARS pruners probably work so well because they are very, very sharp. As one blogger put it, “ARS stands for ‘Always Really Sharp.’” The pruners’ blades, made of what the manufacturer calls “high-carbon granular spheroid annealing steel,” have a Rockwell hardness scale rating of 59 (900 on the Vickers scale). Typical hardware-store pruners score in the range of 50 to 54, and several companies (Felco and Bahco, among others) will not release information about the hardness of their steel. But from what we could determine, this pair was harder than any other pruners we tested, except the Okatsune (60). Harder steels tolerate sharpening to a finer point than softer steels do, and will keep their edge longer between sharpenings, as long as the manufacturers carefully engineer the steel to last through typical gardening abuse. Beyond a sharp edge, the ARS tool’s blades have a very precise bypass tolerance straight out of the box, which is critical to that smooth, never-stuck cutting action and the perfect results you see on every cut.
ARS makes the rest of the tool as carefully as it does the blades. ARS crafts its VS-series pruner handles out of cast aluminum coated with plastic, so you don’t have to worry about the handles snapping off, unless you keep a metal-chomping Pulgasari for a pet. The handles come in three sizes: the ARS HP-VS8Z, the 8-inch model I tested; the ARS HP-VS9Z, a 9-inch model for larger hands; and the ARS HP-VS7Z, for smaller hands. Unfortunately, ARS does not make left-handed pruners; for that, you’ll have to get a Felco 9. For an explanation of the difference between right- and left-handed cutting tools, see The Sweethome’s scissors and kitchen shears review.
The question is, how much are you willing to pay for perfection? The ARS HP-VS8Z usually costs more than our top pick, the Felco 2. Sometimes it costs a lot more. In the course of our 2015 research, we found that the prices for all ARS models fluctuated dramatically from week to week, increasing in total by about $30.
Beyond pricing, there’s the matter of availability: For a Japanese company that has been around since 1876, ARS isn’t that common in America, and that goes for limited in-store availability as well as a lack of English-language reviews. Instead, almost everyone who has an opinion about pruners talks about Felco models, which have been widely marketed for decades in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and are known as a reliable brand with plenty of shapes, sizes, and replacement parts available. At Home Depot, you can buy nine models of Felco pruners but only one ARS model—and that’s a pair of hedge shears. Our Upgrade pick is currently available on Amazon, and if finding it there proves difficult, try GrowTech, ARS’s US distributor.
The Corona BP 3180 is an economical choice for $20, able to easily trim delicate scallion stems and slice right through raspberry canes. The action was smooth enough—and the blade was sharp enough—that I was able to cut through a ¾-inch branch single-handed with the Coronas. The only other pruners in my sample that could do this, the ARS, Felco, and Bahco models, all cost more than twice as much as the Corona BP 3180. Corona’s blades are made out of high carbon SK5 steel, and should keep their edge for a long time after sharpening.
The reason this model isn’t our top pick is that the Corona BP 3180’s cuts on large branches weren’t quite as clean as the cuts that the ARS and Felco pruners made, because the Corona pair didn’t cut as smoothly and easily, and because users with small to medium hands will find them unwieldy. This model has a very wide handle span—when splayed open, these pruners are hard for many users to grasp. Sweethome editor Michael Zhao happens to own these pruners, and he’s had such problems: “They have a wide neutral stance, so they’re not good for people with smaller hands. I would also say that I have above-average hand strength (from climbing), and find that they have more resistance than I’d like.”
The plastic-coated metal handles feel sturdy, but they aren’t especially shaped or molded to fit your hands and fingers like the handles of an ARS or Felco pruner do. The Corona handles are straight with just a slight arc at the end, which partly explains why they can feel awkward if your hands aren’t quite large enough to grasp them. Corona does offer a smaller model, the Corona BP 3130 Classic Cut Forged Bypass Pruner, but it’s rated to cut branches only up to ½ inch in diameter. Most home users would be better off with a pair of pruners that can tackle a broader range of branches.
A minority of commenters on Amazon also complain that this model is prone to rust. Zhao has had this problem, too: “I wipe them down after using (not super carefully), but they’re still covered in rust. They probably want regular oiling that I’m not giving them.” Still, even with these issues, you could keep the pruners going for years with replacement top blades, springs, and screws. The lower blade, however, is put together with rivets and cannot be replaced.
Ratcheting pruners require less strength for big cuts than conventional bypass pruners, and are a good choice for people with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other hand-weakening conditions. While conventional bypass pruners are basically assembled like scissors, ratcheting pruners have an interior mechanism that allows you to squeeze the pruners multiple times without reopening the blades—you don’t have to muscle your way through the branch in one forceful blow.
For anyone who needs this type of pruner, the EZ Kut Heavy Duty Ratchet Pruner ($24) is the best option in this category. In our tests this pair sliced through ¼-inch raspberry canes easily without ratcheting, and it ratcheted through ½-inch dowels and ¾-inch branches with no fuss and little force. However, the EZ Kut isn’t as sharp as an ARS model, a problem that’s especially noticeable on delicate stems—this pair could barely cut two out of 10 scallion samples. The EZ Kut opens wide, but the loop design of the finger-side handle makes it easy to keep hold of the pruners as they open up. The latch is easy to operate one-handed.
The only drawback to the EZ Kut, apart from its failure on soft stems, is its riveted construction. Don’t count on keeping these pruners around for the long haul; if the spring pops, you’ll need a new pair. But the EZ Kut works better on stiff stems and tree limbs than any other pruner for the price.
I found no reliable reviews devoted to ratcheting pruners, so I selected top-rated ratcheting pruners from Amazon for further testing. All of these pruners were technically anvil pruners, not bypass pruners; instead of having two cutting blades, like scissors, they had one sharp blade and one flat “anvil” blade for holding material. Various commentators say that anvil blades will mash green woody stems to a pulp—as conventional anvils do when dropped from great heights on Wile E. Coyote. But the EZ Kut, like the other models I tested, yielded clean, neat cuts and never mangled my plants.
I tested three types of pruners for the 2015 update. Most of the testing was on standard bypass pruners, and I also tried pruners with rotating handles to reduce fatigue, as well as ratcheting pruners that make large cuts with less force. Here’s how they all did, starting with the new bypass pruners. Note: The first few bypass models mentioned here—the Tierra Pro, the Okatsune, and Burgon & Ball’s professional secateur—were all quite good. The remaining standard bypass pruner models on this list all performed significantly worse.
Two new pruners in my sample—the Tierra Pro 38-1713 7.5” Bypass Pruning Shears and the Tierra Pro 38-1710 8.5″ Bypass Pruning Shears—performed exceptionally well in testing, and if you find either model for $30 or less, buy it immediately. (MSRP for the 7.5” model is $25, and the price for the 8.5” is $27.) With sharp blades and smooth action, these pruners performed better in testing than many other pruners in our 2015 sample, with one big exception: the ARS VS-8R, our pick for a pruner with a rotating handle. These models fell short because they failed to cut one of the 10 scallion samples, they slightly crushed raspberry canes and dowels, and they needed extra force to close around a ¾-inch buckthorn branch. But the cuts were clean, and the blades didn’t strip bark from live branches. Look for the 7.5” model first—the 8.5” type was similar, but felt rougher to close, and it tore some bark from raspberry canes. Another drawback is that these are hard to find. Marketed by TDI Brands, which caters to independent garden centers, these pruners (released in fall 2014) aren’t currently available online. I got them directly from the TDI Brands marketing department, which said the pruners may go on sale online in the late spring; we will post updates as we receive them.
The Okatsune 101 7-inch Bypass Pruners ($27) are a favorite among bonsai enthusiasts. They’re made of “Izumo Yasuki Japanese steel to deliver a Rockwell hardness of 60 +/-1,” which means that they’ll stay sharp longer than pruners with softer steel. In my testing, they offered a curious combination of perfection and frustration. Slim and short, they open very wide (6 inches across at the base), making it hard for users with smaller hands (like me) to grasp them, and the handles feel slightly slippery in damp conditions. They cut live branches and dowels perfectly—really, perfectly—with little torn bark and smooth, flat cuts, but they failed to cut through scallions on three out of 10 attempts. Users will find the sssssnick! noise they make when closing either charming or annoying. That said, the Okatsune pruners are economical for such a high-performing tool. Okatsune does not offer replacement blades for these pruners, but users on BladeForums make comments such as “I have used the same pair of 8″ pruners professionally for the last 9 years and they will definitely outlast me.” Wayne Schoech at Stone Lantern assures me that his firm carries replacement Okatsune springs (although they’re not listed on the website).
If you live in the UK, the Burgon & Ball Professional Compact Bypass Secateur GTO/PRL (£25) performed almost as well as the Okatsune in testing, though it felt slightly more rough and jangly, and the force of closing the pruners made cut ends go flying. No US merchants currently offer this model. I hope that either Burgon or Ball takes care of that soon.
The Tierra Garden 35-1731 Ergo Forged Bypass Pruners (MSRP $20) have the same location issue as the Tierra Pro models—you can’t buy them online yet—but they don’t perform quite as well. The Ergo model cut scallions perfectly but tended to crush the dowels and Norway maple branches, and it required more force to close around live branches than the other Tierra models did. If you’re going to search for pruners at a garden center, look for the Tierra Pro pruners instead.
The Burgon & Ball RHS GTO/SC Bypass Secateur ($32) is like the Royal Horticultural Society that endorses it: respectable. It opens wide and snaps shut hard, but it could cut a ½-inch dowel or ¾-inch buckthorn branch only if I forced it with two hands. It tended to crush the dowels, but it did sever them, and it made good, flat cuts in live branches. Still, if you can find the Tierra Pro pruners for a good price, or if you can spring for ARS pruners, you’ll probably be happier.
The Fiskars Quantum Hand Pruner ($53) looks groovy, like a 1970s macrame owl, with swooping cork-coated handles and a big aluminum eye. Unfortunately, the Fiskars Quantum, like an owl’s beak, is not made to slice scallions, and it left dangling onion bits on more than half the cuts. The Quantum also cut the ⅜-inch Norway Maple branch unevenly, and tore bark. The tool’s plastic latch extends out slightly beyond the level of the handles, which can be irritating if you’re using the pruners without gloves. If you’re going to spend $50 or more on a pair of pruners, get the ARS HP-VS8Z.
According to Fiskars, the Fiskars PowerGear2 ($25) “multiplies leverage to give you up to 3.2x more power on every cut.” However, power is not the same as finesse. In testing, the PowerGear2 tended to crush live branches and dowels slightly, and it required more force to close than the Tierra Pro pruners. I needed to reopen and squeeze the PowerGear2 pruners three times to cut through a ¾-inch buckthorn branch. The blades also didn’t close especially smoothly; the ends of the dowels snapped and went flying when I cut them.
The Gardena 8757 Classic Vine Bypass Hand Pruner ($22) required more force overall to close than other bypass pruners. Although it’s supposed to cut materials up to 20mm (.79 inch) thick, cutting the ½-inch dowel and the ¾-inch buckthorn branch with this pair was challenging. There are better options.
The Tierra Pro 38-1707 7″ Bypass Pruning Shears, like other Tierra Pro models, currently can’t be found for love or money outside of brick-and-mortar garden centers. Unlike other Tierra Pro models, it cut through scallions only half the time, and could barely cut through a ¾-inch buckthorn branch, leaving cuts with torn bark and an uneven surface. The distinctive gold clamp at the end of the handles kept closing automatically when I squeezed the handles, and I needed to unlatch it repeatedly.
The Corona BP 3350 Bypass Pruner with Adjustable Grip ($19) is economical, and you can buy replacement blades. However, I needed two use two hands to force it to close on the ½-inch dowel and the ¾-inch buckthorn branch, and both the ⅜-inch and ¾-inch branches were slightly crushed in the process.
The Corona BP 6310 ($35) had a hard time cutting scallions, and required significantly more force to close than most other bypass models; I needed two hands to cut the ¾-inch buckthorn. For $30, the Okatsune 101 is a better deal.
The Kenyon Forged Bypass Pruner 41406 ($31) did a decent job on scallions and raspberries, but it required more force to cut through wooden dowels and live branches than most other pruners in my sample. Theoretically, it has a ¾-inch-diameter cutting capacity. In practice, if you’re not a Muscle Man, you’ll find cutting a branch of that size impossible. Choose another pruner for an easier time in the garden.
The Zavaland Pruning Shears ($46) were the only pair of pruners in my sample that were completely incapable of cutting through scallions. They could not cut anything without hard squeezing, even raspberry canes, and they just barely cut the ½-inch dowel and ¾-inch buckthorn branch. Do yourself a favor and get the ARS HP-VS8Z or Okatsune 101 instead.
For a slightly lower price than the Felco 2 pruners, you could get the AM Leonard 1286 Traditional Bypass Pruners ($33)—and keep them for the long term, since AM Leonard also sells a replacement-part kit for $8. AM Leonard pruners are almost as comfortable as the ARS HP-VS8Z and cost almost $20 less. Sharp blades and reasonably smooth action let the AM Leonard model slice through scallions and dowels, although it required two hands and force to cut a ¾-inch branch. There’s plenty of praise on the AM Leonard site and on Amazon for these pruners’ durability and sharpness, but there are also a few complaints about the locking mechanism’s tendency to close during cuts. As one reviewer writes, “the feel is not quite there.” I also found that they shut more roughly than the ARS, Felco, and Bahco models.
The Fiskars 7936 PowerGear Pruner ($24) required more force than other pruners to cut scallions and raspberries, and cut the ¼-inch dowel inconsistently, but then it cut through the Norway Maple branch with just one hand. If you need to cut branches bigger than a half-inch with a pruner instead of a long-handled lopper, and if you don’t mind using a bit more effort to cut small branches, consider the Fiskars 7936 PowerGear pruners—but beware that the clasp, the handles, and the gear housing are all made of plastic. Once they break, you will have to buy a new pair. This pair also didn’t cut as cleanly as more expensive pruners in tests on scallions, raspberry canes, and 1/4-inch dowels. Still, if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s your best alternative at this price. But if you’re cutting a lot of thick branches, you’ll get more leverage with a pair of long-handled loppers.
Many professional landscapers and arborists prefer pruners with a rotating handle to reduce hand and wrist fatigue. Some casual users find the rotating handles awkward, however, so these models aren’t our main pick. But if this is the kind of pruner you want, look at the ARS HP-VS8R Signature Heavy Duty Rotating Handle Hand Pruner ($74). It performs identically to the ARS HP-VS8Z but has one handle that swivels on a pin in a 90-degree arc as you close your fingers. Otherwise, it features the same smooth, perfect action, and has the same sharp blade, as the ARS Signature Heavy Duty Pruner. The rotating sleeve did reduce the amount of power I could put into a cut: I needed to use two hands on the ¾-inch buckthorn to force the blades closed, whereas the non-rotating handle could do it one-handed. It also stripped a tiny section of bark, but the cut itself was neat and flat.
Like ARS’s plain-handled bypass model, the HP-VS8R is sized for small to medium hands. The ARS HP-VS9R is a larger model for larger hands. As with the non-rotating ARS HP-VS8Z, we noticed during our research that the prices for ARS pruners fluctuated more than those of other brands, with differences of up to $30 from week to week. Prices in the mid-$40s were as good as we saw in spring 2015.
Another great rotating-handle tool is the Felco 7 ($56). The two performed almost identically—the Felco 7 made perfect cuts but needed force for the big branches. The Felco 7’s latch was slightly stiff to use one-handed, and the handles are ½ inch longer than the ARS’s. The rotating handle is covered with a rubbery-feeling plastic. The blades’ action felt slightly rougher than the silky-smooth ARS HP-VS8R, but almost anything would. One advantage with the Felco is that these pruners are usually around $10 cheaper than the ARS model. As we decided with the first ARS/Felco debate, if you’re already paying about $50, you should throw in a few extra dollars to get the absolute best choice, not the almost best one. But if you can’t find the ARS model, you probably won’t be disappointed with a Felco 7 instead.
Ratcheting pruners require less strength for big cuts than conventional bypass pruners do, and are a good choice for people with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other hand-weakening conditions.
Our former pick as the best ratcheting pruners, the Ace 8in Ratchet Pruning Shears, has been discontinued. Farewell, Ace.
The Gardener’s Friend Ratchet Hand Pruners, $40 on Amazon (or $42 including shipping if you order the Horizons Heavy-Duty Ratchet Pruner H107), was the easiest-cutting ratcheting pruner we tested—and the second most expensive. Cutting through 1/2-inch dowels and 3/4-inch branches with the Gardener’s Friend requires significantly less force than doing so with most other ratchet pruners, even though it takes the same number of ratchets for each pruner to cut through (two to three for the dowel, three for the 3/4-inch branch). If you are dealing with especially painful arthritis, weak hands, or repetitive-strain injuries, it might be worthwhile to get these pruners instead of the EZ Kut pruners. The Gardener’s Friend pruners are made for slightly larger hands than the other pruners, and their clasp is easy to slide back single-handedly. They cut scallions perfectly, while our ratcheting pick struggled there (but really, cutting stems is easy, and not where ratcheting truly benefits someone of limited abilities). The Gardeners’ Friend pair also comes with a little mineral-oil-saturated sponge embedded in the handle for cleaning and oiling the blade, which saves you the bother of getting a rag out. Still, these are $16 to $18 more than the EZ Kut pruners—and that could buy a lot of rags.
The Corona RP 3230 Ratchet Action Anvil Pruner ($14) is an economical choice. It’s lightweight, and it ratchets easily through thick branches, but it can also cut delicate scallion tops. However, the handles spread very wide, and the anvil blade is broad as well. That’s a problem if you try to cut raspberry canes and other softer materials. When I tested the Corona RP 3230 on berry canes, I could not get it to cut ¼-inch canes without engaging the ratchet—and in the time it took to make three ratchets, the canes were well mashed by being held under pressure against the anvil blade. These pruners also won’t last forever. No replacement parts are available, and the riveted construction doesn’t allow you to take it apart anyway. The latch, handles, and bottom anvil blade are all made of “polyamid” and plastic, not metal, which is why they cost only $14.
The Flexrake LRB205 Ratchet Anvil Pruner ($13) looks as if it’s assuming the protective coloration of Fiskars pruners, or maybe a monarch butterfly. It did a mediocre job of cutting scallions, tearing four out of 10, and it could not cut through raspberry canes without engaging the ratchet. When I used the ratchet, it crushed and tore the canes on a majority of cuts. It worked better on dowels and branches, though, cutting the Norway maple and the buckthorn flawlessly. Still, for a little more money, you could get the EZ Kut pruners and have a much more flexible tool.
The Gardena 8798-U SmartCut Ratchet Pruner ($70) is far more expensive than anything else in the category, mostly because it has an unusual feature: a lever to switch the pruners from plain bypass to ratchet mode. Unfortunately, the ratchet action doesn’t improve the Gardena’s performance except on the thickest branches. It failed to cut scallions six out of 10 times. It also crushed the raspberry canes, crushed both dowels, tore off some of the outer layer of the ½-inch dowel—something no other tested pruner could accomplish—and left strips of wood hanging from the Norway maple cuts. However, in ratchet mode, it did cut the ¾-inch buckthorn branch flawlessly. If it cost $10, I’d happily recommend this pruner for occasional big cuts. As it is, it’s a very pricey pruner that isn’t as capable as the $24 EZ Kut.
The Flexrake CLA349 Classic 8-Inch Ratchet Pruner ($13) required more force to close than any other ratchet pruners when cutting every material except scallions. Since the point of ratchet pruners is to use less force, I can’t recommend this model.
I was unable to complete testing for the Flexrake LRB168 Ratchet Anvil Pruner. When one of my children picked up the pruners off the table where I had placed them after cutting scallions (cutting six out of 10), the tiny screw that holds the ratchet to the blades popped out and disappeared. I have no idea what would have happened if an adult had picked them up at that moment.
The Barnel B888 8-Inch Aluminum Straight Blade Garden Ratchet Hand Pruner ($20) is a decent alternative to the EZ Kut pruners if they’re not available. The Barnel pruners don’t do quite as clean a job of cutting scallions as the EZ Kut or the Gardener’s Friend, and they take more ratchets to cut a ½-inch dowel than other models (four versus three).
The Gardenite Ratchet Pruning Shears ($23) are perfectly reasonable. They’re slightly larger than other pruning shears, and they require a second squeeze at the end of every snip to engage the ratchet for a clean cut—even on soft scallion tops. That final squeeze makes cutting feel somewhat clunky compared to the EZ Kut’s smooth action. The Gardenite also required more ratchets to cut through branches: four to cut the ⅜-inch Norway maple branch, five to get through the ¾-inch buckthorn. If the EZ Kut’s handles feel too small for your hands, you might wish to try the Gardenite pruners; otherwise, stick with the top pick.
The Ezy Pruners ($25), not to be confused with EZ Kut, are not EZ to use. They mashed four out of 10 scallions, required three ratchets to cut through a half-inch dowel and left crush marks from the textured anvil blade, and consistently tore bark from tree branches. There are better ways to spend your time.
The Florian 701 Pruner ($33) weighs in at 4 ounces, and was the lightest, slimmest pruner in my sample. It makes a gentle clunking sound when the ratchet closes, and it will not be rushed: I had to wait a fraction of a second after each cut for the ratchet to completely close on the raspberry canes to get a clean cut. Its light weight isn’t always an advantage, though. When I was cutting the ¾-inch buckthorn branch, the slim pruners would twist out of position, making the ratcheting action useless. I had to remove the pruners and reposition them to keep cutting. If having a lightweight pruner suitable for smaller hands is important to you, the Florian is a fine choice—but it isn’t as useful on as wide a range of materials as the EZ Kut or the Gardener’s Friend.
For me, the superior performance and easy feel of the ARS HP-VS8Z are worth paying a few dollars extra, because hacking up shrubbery is one of my dearest joys. After all, it’s the plants you want to cut up, not your hands. If the ARS HP-VS8Z isn’t available, the Felco 2 is a good alternative—it cuts nearly as well, and it has the advantage of being widely available and usually a few dollars cheaper than the ARS. If your budget is tight, the Corona BP 3180 works almost as well as our first choices do, for half the price or less, although it’s awkward in small hands. Gardeners with arthritis should look at the EZ Kut ratcheting pruner, and if you’re planning on a life of daylong pruning marathons, you can prevent hand fatigue with the ARS HP-VS8R, a tool that’s as sharp and capable as our main pick and comes with a strain-reducing rotating handle.
Originally published: June 1, 2015