I have often been asked what tools I use for tree pruning; here’s my top personal choice of tools.
Go for the very best that you can afford. I find that a combination of by-pass secateurs, together with long-handled by-pass loppers and a top quality pruning saw, will tackle almost every job. The only additional tool necessary may be a bow saw although if you need one it’s questionable whether you are technically pruning, rather coppicing, pollarding or felling!
I always try to work to the rule of thumb when pruning: prune no branches larger than your thumb. This will minimise the time needed for the wound to heal (read more about pruning technique). However, this requires you to keep on top of the pruning in your wood, orchard or garden, and inevitably there will be occasions when you come across a large branch that is too big for secateurs, and perhaps awkward to reach with a pruning saw. This is where a good pair of loppers are a worthwhile addition to your pruning tools.
I use a pair of Bahco Expert bypass loppers which are immensely powerful and will cut easily through green wood over 25mm (1 inch). There are other models in the range including those with telescopic handles. Be careful not to twist the handles if you are tackling wood that may be too thick: this can twist the metal blades and damage the tree. If it is getting too tough, you may need to switch to using a pruning saw.
Pruning saws are designed for the task: having aggressive cutting teeth for green wood, which are angled to work on the pull stroke. This means that cutting branches that you need to stretch to reach is easy work. Their rigid blades allow you to accurately control the cut so that you don’t tear the branch collar while allowing you to to get close enough to the stem.
Personally I swear by the fantastic quality pruning saws made by Silky Fox. I have owned and used many models over the years; from tiny folding models to the extendable pruning pole saws that allow pruning up to 6m or more. My favourite is probably the Silky Super Accel 21, which is small enough to fit in a pocket but will cut through 10-15cm fresh wood as if it was butter. The blade has two open positions for dealing with high branches or those lower down. Its rubber handle provides super grip and is welcome in the cold of winter when you are most likely to be out in the woods pruning.
If you are on top of your pruning regime, and keeping to the rule of thumb, a good pair of secateurs (pruning shears in the US) will be your most-used tool for formative pruning of young trees. The Felco range are used widely by horticultural and forestry professionals and renowned for their quality. The Felco – Model #2 is the standard model and one that I’ve used almost exclusively. Most Felco models are available in both right and left-handed models. Model #2 includes a notch for cutting wire which can be very handy. I use a leather belt holster which is very useful when you may have other tools to carry around, and prevents you putting the secateurs down in the leaf litter where they have an uncanny habit of disappearing instantly.
Don’t forget to sterilise your pruning tools between trees, and between different sites (read more).