“The right tool for the job” is more than just an old saying. It’s especially accurate when you’re going to prune your trees. The wrong tool, along with its wrong application, can seriously injure a tree—and possibly you, too.AM Leonard Bypass Pruner cutting wood

While we recommend all major tree work be done by a certified arborist, some homeowners prefer to do smaller pruning jobs themselves. To help you get the best results, this article describes the right pruning tools to use for specific pruning tasks, the features to look for when choosing your tools, and safety considerations to be aware of.

PRUNING TOOL BASICS

The first thing to consider when buying or using tools for tree work of any kind is their quality. A good tool may be inexpensive, but more often you will find that cheap pruning tools are weaker, lighter-weight versions of standard tools.

Cheap pruning and tree care tools often use:

Consider the jobs you want your tool to perform and the energy needed to perform those jobs. Your investment in a good-quality pruning tool is a small cost compared to the likelihood of a cheap tool breaking—potentially injuring you and your tree—and needing to be replaced.

Good tools need to be maintained. Cutting blades should be sharpened after each use (read more about the best tool sharpeners here), all debris and sap should be wiped off, and all metal parts should be oiled. If you store your tools for any length of time, they should be more heavily oiled to prevent rust and seizing.

If you’re not able to purchase high-quality tools, or you have no place to store and maintain them, you may find that hiring an insured, bonded, and trained tree service professional who has all the equipment needed for a job is the better value.

WHICH PRUNING TOOLS TO USE

Chances are good that you, along with almost everyone else, have forced a tool to do a makeshift job, and usually it works out. But when the job is tree pruning, the risk of injury is too great to justify improvising.

Pruning tools are designed according to their function and each tool has a limit to its use. Forcing or mishandling a tool is often the cause of damage and injury to you and your tree.

From small to large tasks, common pruning tools include:

Hand Pruners

Hand pruners, also called clippers, secateurs, or hand shears.

Among the most common garden tools, hand pruners:

You can read more specifics about the best hand pruners here

Loppers

Instead of forcing your hand pruners when you have larger branches to cut, use loppers!

Loppers, also called long-handled pruners:

As with hand pruners, choose loppers with scissoring blades instead of anvil blades. Anvil blades are far more likely to crush stems and branches instead of cleanly cutting them. This increases the chance of wounding tree tissue.

You can read more specifics about the best loppers here

Pruning Saws

When you have branches that are larger in diameter than hand pruners or loppers can manage, or branches that are hard to reach with a scissoring blade, choose a pruning saw.

Pruning saws:

Read more about different pruning saws, and their specific uses, here

Pole Saws & Pole Pruners

If you have branches to cut that are out of reach, use a telescoping hand pole saw or pole pruner.

Pole saws:

Because of the distance between you on the ground and the blades at the end of the pole—and the strength required by you to hold and cut branches—these pruning tools will often make less accurate cuts, and you may not be able to cut the maximum branch diameter. Remember that the high branches you are cutting will also be moving as you saw them, as you don’t have an extra hand to steady the branch.

Whenever you’re pruning above shoulder height, wear a hardhat and eye protection to shield yourself from falling branches and sawdust. Being struck by a heavy branch that unexpectedly comes loose is a common cause of injury, as is eye damage from falling debris.

NOTE: High branches may be pruned with hand tools if you’re standing on a ladder, such as the tripod, or orchard, ladders used by trained tree care professionals. However, we do not recommend homeowners do this - a fall from a ladder can be dangerous or fatal. It’s best to do pruning from the ground or, at most, a short stepladder that’s firmly held by an assistant.

Power Pole Saws or Power Pole Pruners

Pole pruners may use batteries, an electric cord, or gas to power a moving saw blade at the end of a pole.

For most power pole pruners:

NOTE: Power pole pruners of each type will make noise and vibrate, the pruner can weigh up to 20 pounds, and motorized blades run much faster than hand-operated blades. Safety, and safety gear, is especially important when using power pruners.

You should always read about your power pruner choice first. Remember that corded pruners limit the distance you can go from an electrical outlet and their amperage determines their maximum cut diameter, battery pack power sets maximum blade power, and gas engine size determines maximum cutting strength.

Chainsaws

Large, powerful, and dangerous, chainsaws can cut and remove large tree branches and trunks. Professional tree pruners are always trained in their use, as well as in climbing and attaching chainsaws with ropes.

Because of the risk of injury to you and your trees, neither electric- nor gas-powered chainsaws are recommended for homeowner use, on the ground or up in a tree. If you have large branches to remove, or a trunk to cut, call a professional tree care expert.

THE TAKEAWAY

Before deciding to do large-scale tree pruning and maintenance yourself, weigh the cost of the following against the cost of hiring tree care professionals.

Tree care professionals are trained in all these subjects, and more. Professional tree companies are also insured against damage to your property or your neighbors’, and will efficiently clean up and remove all green waste.