This week’s Tuesday Tool is the bypass hand pruner, easily confused with anvil pruners. Here’s the memory trick that I use to distinguish them: a bypass pruner has a curved blade that smiles at me for using it on fresh soft stems. Its counterpart, the anvil pruner, takes a straight bite into hard old stems, and we’ll discuss that tool at another time.
Whether you have arthritis, carpal tunnel, an injury, or none of the above, it is crucial that any pruner fits your own hand. Think of this like buying shoes for your feet—you wouldn’t try to wear your spouse’s shoes if they were too big or too small, would you? Take a couple of 6” long twigs to the store and keep trying pruners until you find one that feels just right for you. There are models for lefties, for hands of all sizes, and for strength or ability limitations. Pruners are going to be in your hand for most of your gardening hours, so it’s definitely worth an in-person visit to the garden center to find one that is a true fit for your needs.
Most serious gardeners love their pruners by Felco, which makes a popular No. 6 small model. The Felco 160S also fits a small hand, but comes at a lower price. Fiskars makes a range of models including the rotating handle shown in the photo. Personally, I cannot get my small hand around it, but a friend with a medium-sized hand raves about the ease of a rotating handle. This handle curls as you squeeze, giving a weak thumb or wrist up to 3 times more power. Corona makes a range of models, including an adjustable handle. When I adjusted the Corona handle to its smallest grip size, there was barely any blade opening space, so this brand might be better suited to slightly larger hands than mine.
Bypass hand pruners are designed to cut stems up to 3/4” thick, which is about the size of your thumb. If the pruner is sharp, there is a great temptation to exceed this size or use it on hard wood. Exceeding these limits puts a dangerous stress on your hand and the tool blades. The simple solution is to move up to a two-handed lopper for cutting larger, harder stems.
I hope you find these tips handy and will check back in two weeks when I show you how ridiculously easy it is to keep these hand pruners as sharp as new.
Vivian Mizuta is a native Puget Sounder who grew up with gardening parents. She’s been an occupational therapist and Skagit County master gardener, and loves to try any tool or technique that will make gardening pleasant and easier. She and her husband, along with their Havanese dog Ghilli, have been busy renovating their 1960s garden in West Seattle.