Best Loppers for Pruning: Guide & Recommendations 2017
When you’re faced with the tough job of cutting through branches over 1 inch in diameter, what do you use? Pruning shears are likely to break and a pruning saw may be overkill. But loppers are perfect!
Loppers are essentially pruners with long handles. They’re used mostly to prune out twigs and smaller branches (up to 2 inches in diameter, depending on the lopper). The long handles allow you to reach higher/farther and give you the leverage you need to cut thicker branches.
How to Choose the Best Loppers for You
Loppers come in a range of styles, sizes, and price points; what’s best for you depends on the kind of pruning you’ll be doing, your size and strength, and your budget. Pruning can be heavy, repetitive work so it’s important to buy the right loppers.
If you just want to see our list of recommended loppers, you’ll find it at the end of this page.
10 Important Considerations When Buying Loppers
To help you choose the best loppers for your needs, these are the features you should consider.
1. Type of Cutting Blades
There two basic types of loppers – bypass loppers and anvil loppers. Each is best for different types of pruning so we recommend choosing the one that best fits your pruning needs (or buying one of each).
- Bypass Loppers. These are the most commonly-used loppers, consisting of two blades that slide past each other like scissors. They typically provide the cleanest cut on live wood, allowing the plant to heal more quickly. However, they tend to get jammed when cutting dead, dry branches, which can bend the blade.
- Anvil Loppers. These have a one straight blade that cuts as it closes onto a flat edge or ‘anvil’ (think about it like a knife on a chopping board). Because the blade often crushes stems when cutting (unless the blade is extremely sharp), these are best used on dead wood or to trim back live wood before making a final, clean cut with bypass loppers. Because of their design, they can often cut thicker branches than bypass loppers.
If you’ll be cutting anything thicker than 2 inches, it’s best to use a pruning saw.
2. High Quality Steel Blades
Lopper blades are generally made out of steel, with the best option being blades made of high quality, hardened or carbon steel. These blades last longer and are less likely to nick, bend, or need frequent sharpening. Blades made from poorer quality material generally don’t hold a sharp edge, which means that pruning takes more effort and branches are easily damaged.
Lopper blades are sometimes covered with a non-stick coating that resists sap and other sticky materials. This is particularly handy if you’ll be pruning trees, like pine, that have especially sticky sap or pitch.
Another thing to look at is how closely the blades pass as you open and close them; the closer the better. Quality loppers will allow you to adjust the tightness of the cutting mechanism and ensure that the blades are tightly held against each other.
Be sure that the blades are flat, with no rough spots, burrs, or bends in the cutting edge or blade surface. It’s common for poorer quality blades to bend slightly, especially when used on thicker branches – this causes further damage with each pruning cut and can damage the branch you’re cutting.
3. Ratcheting, Compound Action, or Geared Cutting Mechanism
These types of mechanisms multiply force, allowing you to cut through a thick branch with less effort.
- Ratcheting Loppers. As you squeeze ratcheting loppers, they latch so you can release and squeeze again, performing the cut in easy steps rather than all at once.
- Compound Action Loppers. With multiple pivot points and moving parts, these loppers need to be opened further to get the blades around a branch.
- Geared Loppers. These loppers are exactly what they sound like – they have a gear mechanism at the fulcrum that gives you more leverage when you cut.
One thing to note with all of these types of loppers is that they typically weigh more than other loppers and, with all of the extra moving parts and more complicated cutting mechanism, there are more things that can go wrong.
4. Handle Length
Loppers come with a range of handle lengths, from shorter 15” or 18” loppers to 32” or longer. Lopper length affects the amount of leverage you have – longer loppers give you more leverage, making it easier to cut through thicker branches. The downside of longer handles is that they are more difficult to work with and tend to be heavier. Look for a length that you can comfortably handle – it’s not worth buying longer loppers if you can’t make clean pruning cuts with them.
5. Telescoping Handles
Telescoping lopper handles allow you to extend the handle length when you need more reach. This allows you to work with shorter, more easily controlled loppers most of the time, but still cut higher or farther branches when needed. These are a nice compromise for many situations, although be aware that they are usually heavier than a similar-size, non-telescoping lopper. Also, closely check the telescoping mechanism; some do not stay locked in place, especially when fully extended.
Loppers come with a wide range of handle/grip sizes, shapes, and materials. Some are “ergonomically designed” to fit your hand, while others are made of softer material to cushion impact. We found that the softer, foam grips are most comfortable, but they’re also the most prone to damage. Handles with contoured grips may be most comfortable for some people, but try it out before buying as not everyone holds loppers the same way. Also check on the size of the grips; some are rather short, which limits hand placement on the handles when pruning.
All better loppers have a bumper or other cushioning mechanism (usually near the blades) to prevent the handles from smashing together as you complete a cut. Make sure that the bumper prevents your hands from touching as you cut and try closing the loppers forcefully to see how well the bumper absorbs shock.
8. Availability of Replacement Blades and Parts
Not all loppers can be taken apart for cleaning or sharpening, and many do not allow you to replace parts that break, wear out, or get damaged. On loppers, the blades can easily be damaged by poor pruning techniques (such as twisting the loppers while you cut), cutting branches that are too thick, or cutting deadwood with bypass pruners. Look for a pair of loppers that have a removable bolt holding the blades together; this typically means that the cutting blade is replaceable.
As a general rule of thumb, better quality loppers (generally those above $35) tend to have replacement parts (usually available directly from the manufacturer or distributor – check their websites for details) while the least expensive do not (it’s more cost-effective to simply replace the loppers).
Lopper weight is usually determined by the composition of the handles. At the lighter end, you’ll find aluminum and fiberglass handles, while steel loppers are generally heaviest and wooden handles fall in the middle. Steel is typically used for heavy-duty loppers with a larger cutting capacity, although the weight can make them uncomfortable and tiring to use. Aluminum is generally found in lighter-duty loppers, although they’re sturdy enough for everyday use.
10. Cutting Capacity / Power to Weight Ratio
Although some loppers can cut branches up to 2 inches in diameter, if the loppers are too heavy for you to use comfortably, the handles are too short for you to get enough leverage, or the handles are too long for you to open the loppers far enough to hold the branch firmly in the blades, then having a 2 inch cutting capacity doesn’t do you any good.
When looking at the “power” of loppers (cutting capacity), consider how heavy the loppers are relative to the power and weigh that against your strength and fitness. In many cases, it’s better to buy a lighter pair of loppers with a smaller cutting capacity and then use a pruning saw to cut thicker branches. Don’t be tempted to cut larger branches than you can easily manage; straining to push the lopper handles together usually results in twisting the loppers slightly, which can bend or even break the blades and/or handles, not to mention damage the branch.
GPR Recommendations: Best Loppers
We reviewed a range of different loppers to find the best loppers for gardeners and home owners. To test the loppers, we had two licensed arborists and an experienced gardener take all of the loppers into the woods to cut both live wood and deadwood of varying widths and hardnesses on both trees and shrubs. The loppers we tested varied in price, style, material, brand, cutting mechanism, and more – but all were bypass loppers. Here are our results …
Highly Recommended Loppers
Smooth, easy, and precise cutting – “OMG, dang, that was easy!”
These Dramm loppers are perfect for every-day pruning and the telescoping handles actually stay put. As one of our reviewers said, “Wow, these are lovely!” >> Editor’s Note: This is my personal favorite – I use it for nearly everything!
These loppers are probably more than the average homeowner needs, but they easily and cleanly cut up to 2.125″. Our favorite for heavy-duty pruning.
Incredibly sharp blades that stay sharp and are perfectly aligned. Lightweight aluminum handles are strong and well-balanced. A real pleasure to work with.
Handles that stay put when extended and a compound action cutting mechanism that makes quick work of both live and deadwood.
Corona SL 3264 ComfortGEL Bypass Lopper, 30″ Length
Coated blades give a clean cut. Review coming soon …
Corona Clipper SL 7180 Forged Dual Cut Bypass Lopper, 2″ Cut, 32″ Length
Heavy but allows you to get in nice and close for a clean cut. Review coming soon …
Not Recommended Loppers
Corona FL 3470 Compound Action Bypass Lopper with Extendable Handles, 1-1/2″ Cut, 21″ to 33″ Length
Handles don’t stay locked in place during use, making it almost impossible to work with.
Fiskars 9632 27-Inch PowerGear Bypass Lopper
Light-weight and sturdy BUT requires considerable strength and tears bark with each cut.
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