Ratchet Pruners: The Pruning Shears With Ratcheting Action

Learn the Difference Between Anvil and Bypass Pruners

Image of anvil pruners versus bypass. The former can also be ratchet pruners.
Image: anvil pruners (left) differ clearly from the bypass kind (right). Ratchet pruners are available in the anvil style. David Beaulieu

The Bottom Line

The ratcheting action of ratchet pruners does most of the cutting work for you. Little hand strength is therefore needed to cut relatively thick branches using this tool, which can be bought for under $20, depending on the model. 

Pros

  • Ratchet pruners are ideal for those with hand problems or related injuries.
  • Let the ratcheting action of the tool save you energy, bodily stress.
  • Cut thick stems that regular cutters can't.

    Cons

    • Not the optimal cutting tool for every job (see below).

    Features to Look For

    • Pros pay $500+ for Felco pneumatic pruners. Ratchet pruners are the homeowner's cheap alternative.
    • Ratcheting action makes them easy to use, since it reduces strain on your hands.
    • Choose an ergonomically-designed model to minimize strain even further.
    • Many models have non-stick coated blades to facilitate brush-cutting.
    • They typically cut limbs up to 3/4".
    • Replace the sharp blade when it becomes dull, to reduce stem crushing.
    • These are anvil-style pruners; for what that means, see below.
    • For pruning roses, you need bypass-style cutters, not anvil-style (see below).
    • Loppers are preferable to ratchet pruners if you're cutting limbs of a girth larger than 3/4".

    How Ratchet Pruners Work and the Difference Between Anvil and Bypass Pruners:

    Let's first consider how "anvil" pruners work. Anvil pruners have one sharp blade and one flat, non-cutting blade that acts like a blacksmith's anvil.

    When you squeeze the handles, the sharp blade is brought down against the branch you're cutting, and the anvil holds that branch in place so that the cut can be executed. If the sharp blade becomes dull, it will crush the stem instead of cutting it, so you need to replace blades when they get dull.

    However, experts will tell you that even a brand-new pair of anvil pruners will never give you as precise a cut as will bypass pruners.

    By contrast, the "bypass" style works just as you would anticipate from the name: the two blades bypass each other when the handles are squeezed. Specifically, a sharpened blade passes through the object being trimmed and by an unsharpened blade to complete the cut. But it's easy to see that the bypass type is different from the anvil type even at a casual glance: the former has two curved blades.

    So when would you want to use the one kind of cutting tool over the other? Bypass pruners make a cleaner, more precise cut, generally, because there's no danger of crushing the branch or stem being trimmed. They're a bit more refined than their anvil counterparts. I like to think of them as a pair heavy-duty scissors for the garden. Their greater precision makes them a better selection when pruning rose bushes. According to the Seattle Rose Society, the crushing of rose stems caused by pruning with anvil pruners can result in infection.

    High-quality anvil pruners, however, can be an excellent pick when you have a lot of "bull" work to do and you need a sturdy tool that can take a beating.

    Since ratcheting action is available for the anvil style, they are truly hand savers for gardeners with arthritis, etc. who own numerous flowering shrubs that cry out for their regular trimming annually.

    Anvil pruners that also a boast a ratcheting action allow you to easily cut thick tree branches that regular cutters would stand no chance against. The ratcheting mechanism's settings multiply your hand's power, so that you don’t have to do the work – the tool does it for you. As you cut through a branch, the ratcheting mechanism clicks and moves to the next setting, providing ever-increasing pressure as you cut. Ratchet pruners are thus obviously ideal for those with hand problems.

    Buy ratchet pruners on Amazon.com.