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How to buy the best secateurs

By Manette Kaisershot

Using a decent pair of secateurs allows you to cleanly cut through woody stems when pruning, but a bad pair struggles to make a cut and leaves damaged stems.

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Secateurs are the perfect hand tool for pruning and cutting back plants in your garden. They are particularly well-suited to precision cutting for delicate plants and shrubs. 

A great pair of secateurs will cut cleanly and help keep your plants healthy and well-maintained. In this guide we give you advice on what to look for when buying a pair of secateurs, including: 

Just want to know which are the best pair of secateurs? Head to our secateurs reviews. 

Which type of secateurs do you need? 

Do you need to cut small, delicate stems? Do you have lots of weedy branches that need trimming? Are you trying to cut really tough, fibrous plants? 

There are different secateurs for different jobs; we explain the different kinds of secateurs and which is best suited for your needs. 

Bypass secateurs

For precision pruning and general use, bypass secateurs are the best choice.

Bypass secateurs have a blade sharpened on just one side, which cuts past a curved metal surface, similar to a pair of scissors.

They are great if you have a lot of precision pruning to do, as the design of the blades makes it easy to get into small gaps and to prune side stems flush with main stems.

If you keep the blades sharp, they will give a very clean cut through softer stems as well.

Don't use your bypass secateurs to cut through stems thicker than the recommended cutting diameter - this can easily damage them. The thickness of the stem or branch you can cut with your secateurs will differ depending on make and model, so check this before you buy. 

Loppers or a pruning saw can be used for thicker stems. 

We test bypass secateurs as they are the most common type; head over to our secateurs reviews to see the ones we’ve tested.

Anvil secateurs

Choose anvil secateurs if you cut lots of hard, woody stems. 

Anvil secateurs cut like a knife on a chopping board; the blade is sharpened on both sides, and when the secateurs are closed, the blade meets a flat metal or plastic block.

Anvil secateurs cut through woody stems quickly, with less effort than bypass secateurs. But they crush as well as cut, so will not leave such a clean cut - particularly on softer stems.

The design of anvil secateurs means that their lower flat blocks can get in the way in tight corners. It also makes it very difficult to cut side stems flush with main stems.

Rachet and geared secateurs

Ratchet secateurs most often have an anvil blade.

As the cut is made in a number of stages, less force is used overall to make the cut, but this can take some getting used to.  

Power lever or geared secateurs are easier to use, although they don't have quite the same power to get through woody twigs. Unless you have a lot of woody twigs to cut through, stick to normal secateurs.

Cordless secateurs 

Cordless secateurs are battery powered to take the effort out of pruning. The battery powers a cutting assist, which kicks-in when the secateurs senses you're starting to struggle. 

Cordless secateurs can be useful if you are struggling to cut woody, tough branches. They can also be helpful if you have a weak grip and need a little extra force to help you cut. Beware though that they are much heavier than ordinary secatuers. 

Looking after your secateurs 

A good pair of secateurs can last you a lifetime, but you'll need to take care of them properly. Here's how: 

  • Keep your secateurs sharp

Blunt secateurs are hard to cut with and will damage your plants.

You can prevent this from happening by sharpening your secateurs as soon as you notice they're not cutting cleanly.

You can take them to a professional sharpening service or if you don’t have a sharpening service near there are companies online that you can post your secateurs to for sharpening. You can also buy a tool sharpener and do it yourself.

We’ve sharpened three different types of secateurs on five sharpeners:

  • Felco Sharpening Stone 902
  • Felco Steel sharpening Stone 903
  • Spear & Jackson Razorsharp Blade Sharpener
  • Darlac Tungsten Sharpener
  • Anysharp Edge Tool Sharpener

All of the sharpeners were easy to use so you'll be safe picking up any of these models. However, the Felco sharpeners, which cost about £20 each, were best at putting an edge back on the secateur blades.

  • Clean your secateurs regularly  

Sap will gum up the spring and corrode the blades of your secateurs, so clean them with soapy water after each use, dry them, and give them a spray of lubricating oil.

If you’re cutting diseased plants, dip your secateurs in household disinfectant before you move to other plants. 

If your secateurs get wet, don’t delay drying the blades.

Oil them or they will rust - the oil will keep the blades and spring working smoothly.

  • Keep the spring in your secateurs

Losing the spring often spells the end of secateurs.

Some brands offer a replacement service or sell replacements, but often when it's gone, it's gone.

If lost springs are an irritation for you, then you might like to try secateurs that have the spring held within the body.

Some secateurs, such as Niwaki, don’t use a traditional spring, which eliminates this problem altogether.

  • Don't lose your secateurs 

It's frustrating, but it's easy to lose your secateurs in the garden or throw them into the compost along with the garden waste. There's a few ways of preventing this from happening: 

  • Look for a pair of secateurs that has a small loop built into the handle. You can use this for attaching a wrist band, some even come with a wrist band attached.
  • Buy a holster for your secateurs. It will act as a good aid to memory, as well as giving you somewhere safe to keep them.
  • Buy secateurs with colourful handles - yellow and red will stand out in the garden - or stick some colourful tape on them.

Why are Felco secateurs so popular? 

Felco produces classic quality secateurs, which are generally the choice of professionals.

They have replaceable cutting blades, sturdy aluminium handles and come with a lifetime guarantee.

They are extremely popular, as they can be completely dismantled for maintenance and have a reputation for longevity - one pair of Felcos should last more than a lifetime.

Felco’s own sharpening service

If your Felco secateurs need a complete overhaul, for £20 you could send them for a full service by Burton McCall (the company that distributes Felco secateurs).

We sent off a pair of well-used Felcos and they were returned within 10 days with new blades and a new spring.

What's different about Japanese secateurs? 

Japanese-steel blades are said to hold a keen edge for longer.

The spring often resembles the spring from a clothes peg, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's weaker than other types of spring.

Traditional Japanese secateurs often come with different-coloured handles - red and yellow, or red and white, for example.

This is a rather nifty idea, as it means that during the day the red handle of the secateurs is easy to spot, while at night the white handle becomes more visible.

We’ve tested a pair of secateurs from Japanese brand Niwaki; head over to our secateurs reviews to see what our trial gardeners thought of them.

The best secateurs for your hands 

When choosing secateurs, it's important to make sure that they not only perform well, but also suit your hand shape and size.

It's worth asking the retailer to open the packaging for you to try before you buy.

We also indicate in our reviews whether a pair of secateurs is suitable for those with a weak grip and for left-handed people. 

Secateurs with rolling lower handles

These are designed to prevent strain on your hand or wrist when you have a lot of pruning to do or use secateurs very regularly.

The roll handle might take some getting used to at first, but many gardeners prefer them. 

Secateurs for a weak grip 

If you have problems with your hands, you need to look for secateurs that are comfortable to hold and cut through stems easily.

A strong spring, blunt blades and uncomfortable handles will tire your hand and make pruning a real chore.

Ratchet secateurs may provide a good solution as they make a cut in a number of stages and don't need so much strength to cut through thicker stems.

Geared or power-lever secateurs can also help, as you will need less effort to make a cut. Cordless powered secateurs are another alternative that help take some of the strain out of your hands. 

Choose light secateurs - a lot of models have moulded plastic handles that keep the weight down.

Secateurs for small hands

The best way to choose secateurs is to actually get your hands on them; there is no guarantee that a 'small' pair of secateurs is suitable for a small hand.

Check that when the blades are open that the span between the handles isn't too large.

It will be a strain to use them if you're fighting with the spring to keep the handles together when you release them after a cut.

Check you can comfortably reach the safety catch as it's irritating to have to struggle to close the secateurs.

Secateurs for left hands

A lot of secateurs have the safety catch on top or centrally located, allowing you to reach it with your left hand.

But you can buy secateurs specifically for left-handed use, including Felco Model No 10 and Darlac's left-handed pruner.

Try out the secateurs before you buy them - even if the safety catch is in a convenient location that doesn't mean they will be comfortable in use.

When we test secateurs we assess how suitable they are for people with weak grips or people who are left-handed. Find your perfect pair by visiting our secateurs reviews.