Gardena StarCut 160 BL Tree Pruner: Product Review
How do you prune branches and limbs that are just out of reach or at ground level? Normally, you’d need a ladder or a full-fledged extendable pole pruner, or would have to get down on your knees. But ladders can be unstable and potentially unsafe, and bending over or getting on your knees can make for sore body parts. And what about trying to prune trees and shrubs that have thorns and prickers?
Gardena has solved this dilemma with the StarCut 160 BL, a stick-style pruner that addresses all these concerns and more.
About Fixed Length Pruners (Stick-Style)
Stick-style pruners are an excellent way to make pruning cuts when you can’t quite reach the pruning site, and where a traditional extendable pole pruner is over-kill.
These short pruners typically come in two designs. The first incorporates a rotating cutting head where the blades are rotated into position by holding onto the blade activation handles and spinning an aluminum shaft. The second type has an adjustable cutting head that is attached to a fixed shaft. The Gardena StarCut BL 160 is modeled after the second type design.
Features of the Gardena StarCut BL 160
- Length: 160 cm (approx. 5’ 3”)
- Cutting Diameter: 32 mm (approx. 1 – ¼”)
- 2000 cutting angle (1000 on either side of center)
- T handle at end of pole that gives a cutting distance of 3.5 m (approx. 11’ 6”)
Virtually all stick-style pruners are constructed with an aluminum shaft to reduce the pruner’s weight. Aluminum is an excellent conductor of electricity, so never used aluminum shaft stick-style pruners around power lines.
About the Cutting Head
The entire cutting head mechanism is encased in a hard plastic shell, with no exposed ropes, wires, nylon webbing or springs to potentially get stuck in brush or branches. Everything that operates the cutting blades is smartly packaged inside the pruner head.
The StarCut 160 BL cutting head uses a unique geared pulley system that is housed completely inside the cutting head. This design increases the pruner’s leverage/cutting power.
The cutting head is only 1-1/2” wide, the narrowest head of all stick-style pruners of this type that I’ve tried to date. The narrow width certainly had its advantages when I needed to thread it into tight places.
Rotating Cutting Head
The cutting head moves 1000 in each direction from its center (zero position) on the aluminum shaft, giving it a wide range of cutting angles.
Cutting Head Doesn’t Lock In Place
As you move the cutting head from side to side, you’ll hear and feel a “click” as it goes through each 9-degree increment. That’s supposed to lock the head in place, but it doesn’t really work and it’s one of the areas that I felt fell short on this tool.
Other adjustable head stick-style pruners I’ve used have a locking mechanism to make sure that that head stays in place while in use, and that’s a feature that comes in handy.
With the Gardena StarCut stick pruner, I had problems with the cutting head when pushing it into dense brush – the cutting head would hit a branch or limb and pivot to another cutting angle, making it impossible to make my pruning cut. In some situations, the head went from 00 all the way to 1000 as I pushed it into a shrub or tree canopy.
The lack of an aggressive locking mechanism to hold the cutting head in place is definitely the Achilles heel of the StarCut stick pruner. Gardena suggests that this is actually a benefit – simply clamp the blade around the branch to be pruned and then push the cutting head into the perfect position. That may work if you have a clear path to the one branch you want to cut and no other obstacles in the way, but trees and shrubs rarely cooperate by providing this perfect pruning environment.
The cutting blade is extremely sharp and has a special shape intended to “hold the cut material in an optimal cutting area and allow an especially easy and clean cut.”
The blades are coated with a non-stick material that resists sap and prevents them from sticking together. I found that it worked quite well when cutting sap-producing wood.
Good Cutting Power
Of all the stick-style pruner I’ve tested so far, the Gardena had the best cutting power – but only when the cutting head was in the 00 position (in line with the aluminum shaft).
Cutting power was still adequate in the 450 range but the farther I moved the cutting head away from 00, the smaller the diameter of material the StarCut cut through. It was at its worst when the head was at 1000. At this angle, the blades could only cut through material that was about half of the maximum blade opening (about 1/2 to 3/4 inch).
The specs says that the Gardena StarCut 160 BL will cut through 32mm (1 ¼”) material, but my experience was that it actually cut through only 1 1/8” (although that’s not a huge discrepancy). The widest distance between the cutting blades is 1 ¼”, but that’s at the very tip of the blades, which isn’t a place where this diameter wood would even have a chance of being cut.
Still, the BL160 is a cutting beast. It made quick work of 1 1/8” material when the head was at 00 and a little over half that diameter when the cutting head was rotated to 1000 off center.
It made clean cuts, probably due to the unique blade design and the extreme sharpness of the “precision ground” cutting blade. Even after hundreds of cuts, the blade was still super-sharp.
Of all the features in this handy tool, I would say its greatest attribute is its cutting power and cleanliness of cuts (compared to other stick-style pruners). Plus, it’s great for cutting branches, stems, etc. below your waist. In most cases there is no need to bend over – just set the cutting head to the proper angle, slide it into the cutting zone and pull either the center or T-handle.
Like some of the other fixed shaft/adjustable head pruners on the market, the StarCut 160 BL cutting head is actuated by nylon straps (also called webbing) that are attached to both the middle handle (at the center of the aluminum shaft) and the T-handle at the end of the shaft (opposite the cutting head).
Like similar stick pruners, the StarCut has an extra length of strap emanating from the center handle – it’s used to adjust the webbing tension.
Unfortunately, the strap on our unit was so short that I had to use needle-nose pliers to pull it out from under the handle. That caused the blades to close, leaving no room for tension adjustment. I suppose that if the webbing stretches it’ll be easier to access the adjustment strap but it would’ve been better to have a longer strap in the first place. [Editor’s Note: Gardena’s website shows this product with a long tension adjustment loop that looks nothing like what we received.]
Gardena incorporates two handles to activate the cutting blade.
One handle is placed in the middle of the aluminum shaft. It’s round where you grip the handle, but also has a flared (fatter) end that faces the back of the pruner. This flare gave me greater pulling power as my hand tended to slip backwards when making difficult cuts through large diameter wood. The handle was comfortable and ergonomically well designed.
The only thing I wish Gardena had incorporated into the middle handle is some type of rubberized grip – I always find that plastic by itself is more slippery, particularly if my hand begins to sweat or the handle gets wet. The StarCut BL 160 has three rows of raised ridges on the middle handle, which I figured was to create a more secure gripping surface, but they seem to be mostly cosmetic and didn’t really prevent slippage.
I recommend wearing gloves with a rubberized palm when using this stick pruner. I would stay away from a leather palm as I’ve found that these can slip more than a bare hand. Instead, try nitrile (or equivalent) coated gloves. See our Glove Guide & Recommendations for more details.
On the back end of the aluminum shaft is a T-handle to provide another pull-point. Overall, I really liked the T-handle as it provided a very secure gripping point for making long reach pruning cuts.
One small thing that I didn’t particularly like was that the T-handle had a trapezoidal shape that required the vertical part of the T to be inserted into the aluminum shaft in a specific way. This kept the handle from rotating, but I’m not sure why it was incorporated into the design instead of a round piece. After each T-handle use, I was forever fiddling with it to align the vertical part of the T back into the aluminum shaft and it became a real annoyance after a while.
Instructions Would Have Been Helpful
Most stick pruners are pretty straightforward to use so instructions are less necessary. But the Gardena StarCut has some unique features that require explanation. Unfortunately, the pruner came with no instructions so I checked the Gardena website where I discovered (at least I think I did) two things that were not self-evident.
The place I found the most useful information was on the Gardena website video.
Blade Locking Mechanism for Safety
The specs said it had a blade locking mechanism to keep the blades shut while in transport (a nice feature for sure) – but it wasn’t clear where that mechanism was or how it worked.
After some finagling, I discovered that the nylon webbing attached to the T-handle can be pulled from the back of the pole and looped under a piece of plastic attached to rear of the pole. This wasn’t an easy task as the plastic (I’ll call it a “clip”) clip lay flat against the aluminum pole. It took several tries and a little prying with my fingernail to get the strap under this clip. I found that the webbing would slip if I only stuck it under the clip once and left the handle dangling, so I made another revolution around the aluminum shaft and tucked another coil under the clip. This did the trick and kept the blades closed, but it wasn’t simple to do.
I also discovered that instead of making a double turn of webbing under the clip, I could shove a short piece of webbing that emanated from the clip back into the trapezoidal hole at the end of the shaft and insert the trapezoidal T-handle against the webbing. This achieved the same effect as a double tuck of webbing under the clip, and it kept the T-handle from dangling in free space, where it could get caught on something.
Without instructions, most users will miss this great safety feature.
It would have also been nice to see instructions about how to operate the unit. I have lots of experience with these tools and even I didn’t fully grasp how to use the “self-adjusting” head until after I’d read the instructions.
Lightweight for Extended use
The entire unit weighed in at just under 2 ½ lbs, which is a pretty typical weight for this style of pruner. The nice light weight of the StarCut BL160 made it easy to haul around and work with for long periods of time without muscle cramps or getting overly fatigued – definitely a plus.
A 25 year guarantee is front and center on the advertising placard that comes with the tool but it doesn’t mention whether that is a limited or a full lifetime warrantee. I searched the Gardena website and could find no answers there (maybe I just didn’t search hard enough).
The strength of this stick pruner is its cutting power. If you need a pruner that’ll make clean cuts through easily accessible thicker material, then this may be right for you. The StarCut’s geared-transmission allows you to cut both live and dead wood up to a maximum diameter of 1-1/8” diameter, although the cutting power diminishes quickly as the cutting head is rotated from the 0-degree position. The blade-locking feature is a nice safety feature, although instructions on this feature, as well as how to operate the self-adjusting locking mechanism on the cutting head, would be helpful. The center handle would benefit from the addition of some non-slip material (or use nitrile gloves when using it) and our unit didn’t have a usable tension adjustment strap. Finally, the cutting head’s lack of a true locking mechanism is problematic when pruning in tight or overgrown areas.
Where to Buy
Your best bet is to buy the StarCut 160 BL on Amazon where it retails for around $97.
It’s also available at some garden centers and home improvement stores, but check with the store before you go as it can be hard to find. You can’t order products directly from Gardena and their website doesn’t list specific locations where their products are available in the US or Canada.
Now over to you – What’s the most effective stick-style pruning tool you’ve tried? Let us know in the comments below!
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Disclaimer – GPReview would like to thank Gardena for giving us a free tree pruner to review. There was no expectation that it would be a positive review and we received no compensation for writing it. All opinions expressed here are those of the author based on personal experience using the product.
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