It is important when gardening to use the proper tools for the task at hand. And while any pair of heavy-duty kitchen scissors could handle basic yard work such as deadheading flowers, or pruning foliage, the best tool for the job is a great pruner.
A tool that can be found in any gardener’s collection is a great pair of secateurs.
Also called clippers, hand pruners or pruning shears, these are a type of heavy scissors for use on plants – they can be used for trimming and shaping the plant, pruning dead or damaged foliate and small branches or to cut back perennials.
How secateurs work
They are operated with one hand, and a spring between the handles causes the jaws to open back up again automatically after they’ve been squeezed shut.
There are many types of specialized secateurs: some are designed for right-handed or left-handed use only, while some have a rotating handle or ratcheting action to minimize stress on the hands of arthritic users.
They are one of the most-used tools in any gardener’s arsenal, so it’s crucial to choose the pair that works best for you. But is there a type of secateurs that works best for the gardener with smaller hands?
Types of secateurs
Developed in the early 19th century and widely sold throughout Europe and North America in the late 19th century, today secateurs are typically used by vintners, fruit farmers, and gardeners – both professionals and hobbyists.
They are a great multi-purpose tools as secateurs can handle simple tasks like pruning dead leaves yet are still strong enough to cut hard branches up to 2 cm thick; and ratcheting pruners are stronger yet and can typically handle slightly thicker stems.
Secateur blade designs
Pruning shears will have one of the three following blade designs:
- Anvil pruners have only one blade, which closes onto a flat surface, similar to a knife on a cutting board. The blade can be sharpened from both sides and will still cut even when it is slightly blunt; as it can crush stems when dull, these are best used on dead wood rather than live plants. Theses pruners are useful for cutting thick branches as they can bite into the stem from one direction, then be swung around to bite into the weakened wood from another direction.
- Bypass pruners are the most popular choice and work like scissors; they have two blades, one of which is sharp and the other isn’t, that pass by one another to make the cut. There is a convex upper blade and either a concave or a straight lower blade. They typically have a smaller tip than the anvil pruner so can reach into tighter spaces.
- Parrot-beak secateurs are similar to bypass pruners but have two concave passing blades which trap the stem between them to make the cut; these are not as strong as other types and are typically only suitable for narrower stems.
Types of secateur blades
Secateurs’ blades can be made of different types of metals, and this is generally reflected in the price of the pruner; a more durable blade is typically more expensive than a flimsier option.
Stainless steel blades are highly resistant to rust, as they have a protective chromium oxide layer; they are not, however, highly durable for long.
Carbon steel provides more malleability and durability; however, they are prone to staining and corrosion.
Titanium coated blades provide a good balance between durability, sharpness and resistance to corrosion. Titanium is stronger yet lighter than steel, and its coating helps to strengthen the blade and prevent rusting. After several sharpenings, the underlying steel edge can be exposed.
Best Secateurs for Small Hands
There isn’t just one kind of pruning shear that’s perfect for everyone. What works best for you will depend on your hand size and shape, grip strength, the type and amount of pruning you do, and your budget.
A gardener with smaller hands may have difficulty operating some pairs of secateurs. But, like many garden tools, secateurs are improving in leaps and bounds; many different sizes and styles are now readily available, including some fantastic pruners for children or adult gardeners with smaller hands.
It’s always a good idea, whenever possible, to handle a pair of secateurs in-store if you’re considering purchasing them; it will give you a feel for how they’ll be in use. There is no guarantee that the smallest pair of secateurs in the store will be the best choice for the gardener with a small hand.
Things to consider when shopping
Like most gardening tools, pruning shears come in a range of price points and, while you typically get better quality at higher prices, it’s not always necessary to pay more – even to get a specialty item.
For the novice gardener, Corona and Fiskars pruners are an excellent choice; they’re affordable and long-lasting, and some can be taken apart to clean and sharpen.
If you’ll be doing more extensive pruning work, you can’t beat Felco, ARS, or Bahco pruners. While they’re typically more expensive, they are readily available, will last forever, and their parts can be easily cleaned, sharpened, and replaced. These manufacturers are also more likely to have specialty models, such as the Felco 6, which was designed for gardeners with smaller hands.
Okatsune also makes a fantastic lightweight pruner with razor-sharp blades forged of the finest Japanese steel that is particularly suitable for the small hand; Okatsune pruners are the undisputed first choice for Japanese gardeners – those for whom pruning has been elevated to an art form.
You will want to check that, when the blades are fully open, the span between the two handles isn’t too large to accommodate your hand comfortably. It would be an unnecessary strain to use your pruners if you need to fight with the spring to keep the handles together whenever you release them after a cut.
Also consider your grip. After an hour of pruning even the most experienced green fingers get sore with hard inflexible tools so look for padding, ergonomic designs and shock proof fittings. An adjustable nut is good too, so you can loosen up tight mechanisms.
If you plan to be doing a lot of pruning, you may wish to check the weight of the secateurs as heavier ones will cause more fatigue than a lighter pair.
Some secateurs are designed with a rotating handle, which spins as you close the pruners. These are often easier to bridge with a smaller hand, and can stop blisters and sores while putting less strain on your hands and wrists. That being said, not everyone likes the feeling of a rotating handle and some prefer a more traditional grip style.
It may also be a good idea to choose a pruner with bright-coloured handles, as they’ll be easier to spot if they’ve been dropped amid the foliage.
Most pruners have some sort of mechanism that allows you to lock it in the closed position. Not only is this safer (you can’t accidentally cut yourself on a sharp blade) but it also protects the blades when not in use.
You should ascertain whether you can comfortably reach the safety catch, as it can be irritating to struggle to close your secateurs, and look for a latch that you find easy to open and close but that doesn’t get in the way while you’re using your pruner, and will stay put in either the open or locked position.
A battery-operated pruner is convenient as it doesn’t require squeezing to operate; it is however, bulkier than the traditional secateurs, so may not fit into tight spaces between stems. They can also be heavier than pruning shears and may require two hands to hold and operate.
Ratcheting secateurs can be especially useful if you have smaller hands or lack the hand strength to squeeze a pruner closed in a single push; they have a mechanism that re-sets itself after each squeeze of the handles, clicking into place and allowing the user to pump the handles to work slowly and steadily through thicker branches. Ratcheting secateurs have either an anvil or a bypass blade design.
Ergonomic secateurs, such as those made by the Swiss company Felco, are designed for comfort and to reduce stress on the hand while optimizing the force output by every squeeze. It’s important, if you choose an ergonomic pruner, to make sure it fits your hand very well – fighting against an ergonomic design may end up being more fatiguing on the hand than using straight handles.
Not to put too fine a point on it, pruning isn’t everyone’s favourite task, and when it’s painful, awkward or annoying it can be even more tempting to skip it – which inevitably just makes the problem worse. By choosing the right secateurs, that are comfortable to hold and use, you’ll have a much easier time in the garden.
My pick of secateurs for small hands