Cutting tree branches with loppers lopping shears

Loppers – The essential garden hand tools for every garden with trees

In this article we are discussing about another one well-known garden hand tool. Its name is lopper. Generally, loppers are valuable garden tools. In case you are fortunate to have a garden with trees, shrubs and huge thorny bushes you will probably agree with us that loppers belong among the best tools for gardening.

What are loppers

The loppers are large gardening hand tools. They are large pruning shears with very long handles and bigger cutter head. For this reason, they are known as lopping pruning shears or lopper shears. The lopping shears are two-handed garden cutting tools that will help you prune in places that the hand pruners can’t reach. In addition, their name reveals their main purpose: Lopping

Felco F 211-60 Lopper with anvil blade type
The Felco F 211-60 Lopper. Find more loppers with anvil blade type at amazon.com.

What are loppers used for

They are essential tools used for gardening, best suited for lopping in gardens with trees and other big plants. Surely, you can use both pruning shears and loppers to prune. A key problem when pruning is the gardening tool’s length. The hand pruners are not long enough to reach and cut off tree branches. With a long reach pruner like the lopper garden tool you can accomplish this task a lot easier.


Lopper vs pruner

Loppers and pruning shears are both garden cutting tools. Actually, the pruning shears, also known as hand pruners, are pruning tools. Loppers are lopping tools (id est tree branch removers) that can be used as pruning tools. This doesn’t mean that you can substitute a pair of pruning shears with a lopper. Trust us… you don’t want to do that. There are many reasons why they are discrete garden hand tools. They have some key differences like length (reach), cutter head size (maximum cutting capacity), weight and accuracy.

Reach

As previously mentioned, the hand pruner isn’t quite as long as the lopper. The pruning shears are short one-handed pruning tools. On the contrary, the lopping shears are much larger. They are two handed long reach pruners. In order to reach and cut off small thin branches or shrub stems with hand pruners you might need to use a small ladder or climb. These are dangerous for obvious safety reasons. Also, thorny shrubs like Pyracantha (firethorns) can be a hassle when you have to prune them with pruning shears. Additionally, you can use a lopper to save your back from having to constantly bend over to cut suckers that grow from the base of the trunk.

Cutting capacity

An additional weakness of hand pruners is their inability to make clean cuts to larger than 3/4 inches in diameter stems and branches. Usually, they can cut through branches up to about half an inch wide. Yes, some hand pruners may have the ability to cut more like 1-inch or more stems or branches.

For example, a few months ago we used some Gardena pruning shears to cut an old grape vine trunk. It was a thick trunk with a lot more than one inch in diameter. The trunk was dry, we had to use both of our hands and we were lucky enough not to damage the hand pruner! On the other hand, loppers have larger blades than hand pruners and can cut thicker wood.

Weight and accuracy

The hand pruners provide better accuracy which is critical when pruning. Furthermore, they are one-hand gardening tools which means that your other hand is free. On the other hand, loppers are operated with two hands. So, don’t use a lopper when you can use a hand pruner. The lopping shears are heavier than pruning shears and will tire you when you have to make a great amount of cuts in a day.


Lopper vs Pruning saw

The lopping gerund derives from the verb lop. Lop means to “cut off (a branch, limb, or twig) from the main body of a tree”. Well, in the case of the loppers you should substitute the word “large” with the words “long” or “medium”. If you have to cut branches more than 1.5-2 inches in diameter it is recommended to use a pruning saw for better cuts instead.


Pruning with loppers

As a matter of fact, it is important to always read the manual and follow the instructions before using your gardening hand tool. In the case of lopper tools, there are different types, sizes, special mechanisms etc. which means slightly different methods. However, sometimes there aren’t any instructions available to read. This happens most often when you buy inexpensive garden hand tools. In that case and if you are unfamiliar with the operation of this garden tool you can follow the recommendations below.

How to use loppers

  1. First things first, wear leather gardening gloves and safety glasses or protective goggles.
  2. Open as wide as you the tool allows you to and place its fully opened cutter head around the branch being cut.
  3. You should cut from the back, not from the tip of the jaw.

The complete opening will force you to hold the lopper correctly. This means that you will have to hold it from the handle’s grips. You see, there is a reason why the grips are at the end of the handles. The further from the head you hold the lopping shears, the more leverage you have when cutting.

When to use loppers

We remind you that when you prune a plant you cut parts of it to improve its health, vigor and promote its healthy growth. Therefore, the cuts must be precise and clean. Whatever your pruner manufacturer states for the tool’s maximum cutting capacity, the general rules when pruning stems and branches are:

  • Up to 1/2 inches thick – Use a pair of pruning shears
  • Between 0.5 to 1 1/2 inches thick – Use a lopper
  • More than 1 1/2 inches thick – Use a pruning saw or a pole saw for hard to reach branches

Note: Rules are for breaking. There are some models on the market that make clean cuts to thicker stems and branches.


Types of loppers

Similar to hand pruners, the lopper garden tools are divided into three basic types: bypass loppers, anvil loppers and ratchet loppers. Also, there are extendable loppers and some special types of these garden cutting tools with very long handles.

What is a bypass lopper?

The loppers of the bypass type work much like a pair of scissors. They have two sharp blades that glide past each other when you cut. The bypass loppers are used for cutting live wood exclusively. They can make precise, clean cuts to green, fresh branches and other living growth. While they are considered the best loppers for pruning cuts, bypass loppers don’t work well on deadwood.

What is an anvil lopper?

Unlike the bypass type, anvil loppers have only one sharp blade. When cutting branches of trees or shrubby evergreens the sharpened blade meets the anvil which is a flat metal surface. The anvil loppers are mostly used for cutting deadwood. They are very good for cutting broken tree branches and perfect for pruning dead tree branches.

What is a ratchet lopper?

Typically, the ratcheting loppers are anvil loppers with a ratchet mechanism. Therefore, they are best for cutting deadwood like broken tree branches. The ratcheting mechanism enables them to make perfect cuts easily, with less effort and without hassle or frustration. The Ratchet mechanism allows for easier cutting in short steps. At every step the cutting blade of the ratchet branch cutter advances towards the anvil blade. The Ratchet Loppers are the best loppers for large, hard and thick branches.

Although most of them are anvil loppers, the ratchet loppers can be used to make clean cuts for live wood as long as the cutting blade is sharp. Usually, this type of loppers has telescoping extendable handles made of aluminum. Unsure of how to find the best lopping shears type? The combination of ratchet function and lightweight, extendable handles makes the best choice if you want to buy an all-around lopper!

Spear & Jackson 8290RS Razorsharp Telescopic Ratchet Anvil Loppers
Spear & Jackson 8290RS Razorsharp Telescopic Ratchet Anvil Loppers. You can find them at amazon.com.

Anvil vs bypass loppers

Generally, you can’t tell which one is better – anvil or bypass loppers. The main difference between bypass and anvil loppers is the cutting blades. The first type has a cutter head with two sharp blades. The anvil type loppers have only one sharp blade. Despite that, the anvil loppers can be used to cut live wood if the cutting blade is sharp enough. On the other hand, pruning dead or dying branches injured by diseases with a bypass lopper is a very difficult task. It can become very tedious and take a lot of time to make a cut to deadwood with a bypass lopper.


Where can you use loppers?

If you have a large garden with large bushes or trees, chances are you have a mountain of twigs and branches hanging over your head. Additionally, you might have a fence with thorny shrubs. In both cases the loppers are perfect for you. The lopping tools will help you refresh your garden’s overall appearance.


Why should you get loppers for your garden?

If you have ever spent an afternoon trying to reach a twig to prune it with a hand pruner then you will know just how valuable a lopper can be. In addition, cutting lower branches off trees with a hand pruner can be a hassle. When you prune you have to make sure that the cut will be a smooth and clean one. The hand pruner must be able to cut through like butter. When you have to deal with a stem that is more than a half inch in diameter that is not going to happen with most hand pruners. Most loppers are capable to make clean cuts of up to one and a half inch in diameter.


How to choose the right lopper

There are many things to consider when you plan to buy a good pair of lopper shears. The most important ones are the weight and total length of this garden hand tool.

Handles

You can get a pair of loppers in a wide range of handle material such as wood, steel, aluminum, and fiberglass. Typically, the aluminum and fiberglass ones are the most lightweight. Many of them have a non-slip coating that improves grip and helps prevent blisters, hence improving safety and comfort during use.

Blades

As far as blades are concerned most of them are made of high carbon Japanese SK-5 steel. This kind of steel is very popular in cutting tools. The hardness and toughness of it are the main reasons for this popularity. In addition, a blade made of SK-5 high carbon steel will stay sharp, even after some heavy use because this type of steel has good edge retention.

That being said, the main downsides of the SK-5 steel are its low resistance to moisture and the difficulty to sharpen it. Typically, these blades have a layer of hydrophobic coating that protects against rust and improves the cutting ability of the lopper tools. This kind of coating is good to have for a new tool, but you have to keep in mind that loppers are cutting tools which means that they need sharpening. The coatings will wear off when you sharpen them.

Weight

Unlike pruning shears, the lopper’s weight should be a big concern for you. The biggest drawback to these long-handled pruners is their weight. You will find loppers with a very light weight of say 1.5 pounds but also as heavy as 5 pounds! A typical weight for most models of the lopper garden tool is 3 pounds more or less. The very long handled loppers weigh over 4 pounds.

The lighter the weight of a lopper is, the less tiresome it becomes. It also offers more control, since you can freely maneuver the lopper. On the other hand, lightweight loppers are usually small which means that they do not have long handles.

Length

The length of these long reach pruners should problematize you. The total length of a lopper tool can vary from 13 to more than 42 inches! As already mentioned, in order to reach high branches on a tree some of the pruning loppers have extendable handles. Since the handle can be extended, you can adjust the length of the extendable lopper based on your needs. The length of extendable loppers can usually be increased by 15-16. This is great because the extension increases the leverage when you use loppers with extendable handles.

Other considerations

Many lopper tools have a mechanical compound action or similar system that multiplies the cutting force applied to the blades on every cut. This means more cutting power with less effort which is very important if you intend to use lopping shears a lot. Also, some of the loppers have some extra arm and wrist protection like shock absorbing bumpers. A final note is that, like in the case of pruning shears, the manufacturers Felco and ARS make outstanding high-quality loppers. Their tools are rather expensive, but they worth every single penny – in our opinion.

What are the best loppers

To find the best all-around type of pruning loppers, we spoke with the head gardener of the biggest municipality in Attica. Our expert told us that if you had to choose just one type of lopping shears whether it’s anvil or bypass or ratchet, nothing is more essential than a good heavy duty ratchet lopper; especially for thick woody branches. The best loppers for thick branches are the ratcheting loppers.

We tend to agree with the expert because, in the past, we have used many different kinds of the lopper garden tool. We had to find out the hard way that the ratcheting is the most comfortable type of loppers whether for occasional or regular gardening.


Which is the best place to buy loppers?

Always, the best place to buy a tool is your local store. There you can hold the garden tool in your hand, see if it fits you, ask questions and get answers immediately. Unfortunately, the lopper tool does not come in one size. They come in various weights and total lengths. You should hold the lopper to feel if it’s well balanced for you.

In the case that you don’t have any hardware store near you and plan to buy from online stores then you can look at amazon.com big collection of lopper tools. At amazon you can find anvil loppers, bypass loppers, ratchet, extendable, telescoping or other loppers.


Lopping shears maintenance

Their maintenance procedure is almost the same as that for pruning shears. Like every garden hand tool, they must be clean when they are not used. Moreover, the lopper’s cutter head has one or two blades with cutting edges that need to be sharpened once in a while. You want your tree branch cutters to cut well, especially if they don’t feature a ratcheting mechanism.

Cleaning loppers

Firstly, you have to remove the plant remains and dirt. Make sure to remove the sap (id est the plant fluids). You can use warm soapy water, but you have to make sure to remove the sap and water’s moisture with a dry cloth afterwards. This cloth must be a towel or a similar thick cloth because the blades of this garden tool are sharp and can traumatize you. Apply a few drops of machine oil to lubricate its moving parts. From time to time, you should apply some oil to the garden tool’s blades too.

Sterilizing loppers

One thing is certain when you are doing various tasks in your garden. You need to avoid the spreading of plant diseases. Soak the blades of the lopping tool in a disinfectant, like a mix of one part household bleach in nine parts water or use rubbing alcohol. With either way you will manage to sterilize it when you are dealing with diseased plants.

Sharpening loppers

Right off the bat, make sure it’s clean and fry. Then remove any rust from the lopper’s blades with fine sandpaper. Then you can proceed to sharpen it. For this task you can use a hand file or a honing store. The best type of file for this job is the diamond file. Use a thick rag to remove any metal debris and oil the metal parts.

Storing

Before storing, remember that you have to lock the sharp blade. When not in use, this garden tool should be placed somewhere far away from children’s reach for safety reasons. In addition, remember to oil the garden hand tool’s metal parts with an anti-rust oil before the end of the season. Lastly, make sure that the storage location is dry.


In conclusion

If you are lucky enough to have a garden or yard with large shrubs and trees, a garden lopper is an essential gardening hand tool that you will fall in love with. If you have to pick only one type of loppers for general use then choose a ratcheting lopper with extendable handles.


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