Everything You Need to Know about Loppers and More

Loppers are a like a giant pair of pruners. That’s basically what they are, isn’t it? They are used to cut twigs and branches much like your favorite pruners.

But wait. There’s one big difference.

They have much longer handles!

This little, or depending on your point of reference, big, detail makes loppers an essential tool in any gardener’s tool kit. This feature gives loppers two unique advantages:

  1. You can reach further and higher to cut low hanging tree branches or tall shrubs.
  2. You have more leverage to cut thicker branches.

Now that you know what a lopper is and what it can do, let’s talk about what you should look for when selecting a lopper and how to properly use your lopper.

Not all loppers are made alike. Loppers come in many different shapes and sizes. However, there are two main types of lopper: Bypass and Anvil.

Bypass Loppers

Bypass loppers work a little like scissors except they have one sharp cutting blade that moves past a non-sharpened concave hook. The bevel, or cutting edge, comes to rest just outside of the hook, which is used to grab on to or grasp the limb to be cut.

Bypass loppers are the most common type of lopper. Bypass loppers are extremely versatile. They can be used in almost any situation, but They are best type used to cut live branches because they make nice, clean, cuts.

Anvil Loppers

Anvil loppers have a typically straight blade that comes to rest on a flat surface called the anvil. You may have read invectives against anvil loppers, claiming that they crush plants and leave wood spurs and you should never use them.

The first part is partially true. Anvil loppers do tend to “crush” stems. This is for two reasons.

  1. The blades must be tightly fitted to make a clean cut.
  2. Anvil loppers are made more for strength than precision.

In fact, the stopper gives anvil loppers more leverage than bypass loppers. This feature makes anvil loppers an excellent tool for cutting large dead branches or storm damaged wood from redbud or dogwoods, and starting a cut on a large live branch before finishing it off with a bypass lopper.

In any case, it is a good idea to have both anvil and bypass loppers in your arsenal. Especially now that you know the best use for each.

Important Considerations

Dimensions

How long should your loppers be? Lopper handles are usually between 12” and 36” long. Longer handles give you greater reach and leverage and let you get into the interior of crowded shrubs. Other than reach and leverage, consider your own body type and arm length. Besides reach and leverage, comfort and fit are an important part of the decision for how long your handles should be.

Telescopic handles

Telescopic handles extend from the base of the lopper handles and extend to allow you to manually adjust the length of the handles. Some telescopic handles can reach as a much as 10 feet!

While telescopic handles can be a nice feature, the big downside is that the telescoping mechanism can jam or break fairly easily and you may be left with a pair of short loppers!

The Blade

A good blade is very important! When choosing a lopper, try to find a blade that is made of real steel. A steel blade that is made well will be easy to sharpen- an important aspect of lopper use. A blade that is made of sub-par materials will be difficult to sharpen and ultimately a challenge to use.

When pruning, you also want to be able to open your blade as wide as possible and place the branch as far toward the back of the blade as it can go in order to get the best cut. it is a good idea to get a bypass lopper that opens wide. Anvil loppers don’t usually open as wide because of the way they are made. The wingspan of a lopper gives you more leverage to cut branches up to 2” in diameter.

It is also a good idea to get a blade that is coated in teflon because it will more easily shed sap and debris.

Handles

Should you get wooden handles or is metal better? This really is a question of preference. Many gardeners prefer wooden handles because wood just has a more “natural” feel. Wood also tends to be a better shock absorber than metal.

Most metal handles are either aluminum or fiberglass. When choosing metal handles, look for two things 1. Oval handles 2. Comfortable grips. Oval handles are less prone to bending than round handles and comfortable hand grips will help you both absorb shock and ensure good grip.

Regardless of the type of handle, make sure that your bypass loppers have rubber stoppers that prevent the handles from crashing into each other.

Other Features

Another popular feature you may want to consider is a ratchet. Ratchet loppers allow you to maintain the level of mechanical pressure in steps and can be easier to use for people with hand and wrist problems.

The big drawback of ratchet loppers, like that of telescopic handles, is that the ratchet mechanism can easily break. It can be very difficult to find a replacement, so you should really only use these if you have hand problems and you promise not to try to cut branches that are too big!!

Notes on Use

Ah, technique! Aren’t you just supposed to cut the branch off? Not quite.

When using loppers it’s a good idea to wear some sturdy gloves and even safety glasses.

Before making your first cut, make sure your blade is sharp. No amount of proper technique will overcome a dull blade. Half of the work of the lopper is done by the sharpness of the blade.

When cutting with a bypass lopper, place the blade so that the bevel edge is facing away from the the trunk of the tree. This has to do with the physics of the tree and wood. If the blade faces inside towards the trunk, it will be pushed into the claw of the lopper, and eventually cause damage to the blade.

Open the lopper as wide as it will go and cut with the wood deep into the blade. This will keep your blade sharper, longer since the meatier part of the blade is doing the work. Doing this will also put less strain on your hands.

Never bite off more than you can chew! It is tempting to test you loppers. Even if they claim to make cuts 2” in diameter, it is best to not try to push your lopper beyond 1.5” diameter cuts. For cuts that are too big for loppers, use a pruning saw or a bow saw. If you attempt to make cuts that are too big, you run the risk of twisting and bending your loppers to make the cut. When you twist, you can loosen and bend the blades and you will make bad cuts that can jeopardize the health of your plants!

Don’t over reach! It may be tempting to try to reach very high or wide with your loppers, but this may cause you to fatigue quickly and may result in bad cuts. Try to work in a comfortable position. Your body and loppers will thank you!

When you are finished with your loppers, clean them up so that they will be good to go for the next time. A little soap, water and vegetable oil, if necessary, should do the trick.

Finally, have fun! Using your loppers can be a fun and rewarding experience while working in your garden. Make your garden beautiful and clean with a great pair of loppers!

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