In a previous Tuesday Tool post we discussed bypass hand pruners, which can be confused with anvil pruners. Remember my memory trick to distinguish between the two? 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.
Of the two types, an anvil pruner is the lesser-seen variety of hand pruners. It is designed to cut best on tough or dead wood, with a straight blade that makes a slicing or chopping cut against a flat anvil. Sharpen the anvil pruner just as you would the bypass pruner, except follow the straight original bevels on both sides of the blade. It comes in three variations, but you will most often see two: the no-frills single pivot or the ratchet type.
An anvil ratchet pruner can make cuts in heavier wood with multiple, lighter squeezes. Doing this gives more leverage for smaller or weaker hands, and can save everyone strain and fatigue. This is why a ratchet pruner is money well-spent. It takes only 2 or 3 very light squeezes to cut through a thumb-sized hard woody stem, taking a further little bite with every squeeze. Because they tend to "squeeze" rather than slice, they don’t do well on fresh, tender stems. There are no left-right configurations and no lefty models as with bypass pruners.
If you have mature and tough landscaping, take a look at an anvil ratchet hand pruner. I used my Florian ratchet pruner almost daily for over 20 years on two acres of old shrubs before it wore out. It’s thinner handle fits my small hand very comfortably. Because of the ratchet, the span between the two handle grips can be much less than on bypass pruners. This means more comfort, even before squeezing, for arthritic, weak or small hands.
They are labeled for cutting up to 3/4” diameter stems but the ease of use makes this limit very hard to heed. The next step up in size, and safety, is a two-handed lopper. The Florian representative told me their two-handed mini lopper is actually their best-selling item. Check back in two weeks when we move along the pruning tool chain to discuss loppers.
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.