How Do You Choose Secateurs? (What Is Important And What We Recommend!)


If you’ve done any searching online to find the best secateurs, you can see there is a lot of choice. Working out what is actually important in a pair of secateurs is vital to making the right decision for you.

To choose the best secateurs, or pruners, you want to consider comfort, weight, material strength and usability. A good pair of secateurs will cut with precision and enable you to work hard on your hedges without discomfort.

There are three types of secateur:

  • Bypass (good for living branches)
  • Parrot beak (good for narrow stems)
  • Anvil (good for wood and dead branches)

Now that’s out of the way, I want to take some time to explain the different types of tool, so that you can understand what you’re wielding. There’s more to these things than meets the eye!

Before I dig a little deeper (excuse the spade pun!), it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t a sponsored post, and the images I’ve chosen are based on my “if I drew a secateur what would it look like?” criteria. The tools I recommend at the end are based on my own findings, and the links are affiliate links. You don’t have to follow my advice, but I’ve certainly done the leg work (or rather, hand work) for you!

Bypass Secateurs

FELCO 12 Secateurs

If you are working with living bushes and shrubs and you want to make precise cuts into relatively soft wood and branches, then bypass secateurs are the tool for you. Essentially they have the same action as scissors, with two blades that pass each other by, cleanly cutting the plant between them.

The two blades will differ in their curves, with one being thicker and generally concave (think of this as the lower jaw) and the other being convex. Our FELCO friend shows the lower jaw quite clearly. It also features a ratchet (the dark mechanism at the hinge of the two blades) and a spring (to help open the blades).

Anvil Secateurs

FELCO 31 Anvil Secateurs
FELCO 31 Anvil Secateurs

If you have to tackle thicker branches, old wood or trees* then anvil secateurs give you the power you need. As you squeeze the grips, the blade presses down onto a flat surface (the anvil), and because the pivot is not central, the blade moves forward through the plant as well as cutting it, which creates more force. Think of it like a knife cutting a carrot on a board, rather than a pair of scissors doing the same job and you’ll see where the difference matters.

*Obviously we’re not talking about cutting down trees with these tools. You’ll need a chainsaw and some professional support if you’re tackling the really big jobs!

Parrot-beak Secateurs

These are similar to the bypass style, but the two blades are concave and trap the stem between them prior to cutting. These tend to be used on narrow stems, and are only necessary for the die-hard delicate de-headers.

Which Are The Best Secateurs

The Finer Points

You may spend a lot of time using these tools, so there are some practical considerations that may define the best secateurs for you:

  • Comfort – the weight of the tool and the feel of the grip is critical to your success and to the harmony you will experience as you prune plants. While you will naturally adapt to using any object for long enough, a well balanced pair of secateurs with thoughtful grip materials will make life much easier.
  • Visibility – inevitably you will put your tools down and wonder where you left them – there’s a reason why the most popular tools are often the brightest. As tempting as it is to choose visually appealing products, practicality should come first. Save the fancy pairs for your social media feeds, while using something slightly garish as your easy-to-find friend in the field.
  • Steel – the natural choice for all good garden blades, the better the quality of steel on your tool, the easier the job. This is another of those price vs. quality points where a softer steel will blunt and lose the fight against branches, which ain’t cool.
  • Ratchets – if strength is an issue, and you struggle to have the kind of grip that can crush walnuts, then you may consider a pair that feature ratchets. These lock the position of the blade with each squeeze, bringing them together incrementally until the job is done – at which point you release the ratchet and the grips return to their starting position.
  • Latches – you don’t need your blades on show all the time, so latches are almost ubiquitous on all secateurs. Just be sure to give the blades a wipe before you close them up for the night!

Which Secateurs did I choose?

After a lot of online searching and an amount of surreptious squeezing at a few garden centres, I decided to get three pairs of secateurs – a bypass pair for my everyday pruning, an anvil pair to tackle the bigger jobs and then some nifty Japanese secateurs for times when I wanted to channel my inner ninja.

My picks for the best secateurs are:

My number one choice is the FELCO 12 secateurs as they have a rotating lower handle that moves with your grip, meaning that you can use them for hours at a time without blistering or losing your edge. Take it from me, they’re a great tool and can be used as a daily driver for years.

Best Secateurs: Bypass – FELCO 12

These red handled snips – shown above – are a classic choice but much like their fellow countryman (countrytool?) the Swiss Army knife, you can’t go wrong with FELCO. The company has been going since 1945 and their #12 secateurs, which are their original product, have all the features you need for a good cutting companion:

  • Replaceable forged steel blades – which means you’ve got a friend for life.
  • A wire cutting notch to take care of hidden metal miscreants.
  • A sap groove to aid with blade cleanliness.
  • Aluminium handles with their trademark red covering, meaning you can find them with ease.

The thing that sets these secateurs apart from the average is the rotating lower handle which turns with your grip as you close the blades. It’s an unusual element but once you’ve got to grips with it (literally) it’s a game changer as you don’t get the same drag on your hands and therefore you reduce your chances of blistering.

Trust me, they’re great.

Best Secateurs: Anvil – Spear & Jackson Razorsharp Ratchet Anvil Secateurs

Spear & Jackson Razorsharp Ratchet Anvil Secateurs

I know I won’t use these as often as the FELCOs, but when tackling threatening thicket, these ratchet powered Spear & Jacksons are the tough guys I want. Spear & Jackson have been making tools since 1760 and their products come with a ten year guarantee as standard. The ratchet mechanism really helps drive the blade through the thickest stems (up to 2cm in diameter) and the grip is comfortable and assuring. They work fairly well with gloves, but you may find the one glove approach, for the hand that clears the debris, is the way to go.

Best Secateurs: Ninja ChoiceOkatsune 103 Bypass Secateurs

Okatsune 103 Bypass Secateurs

When you start looking into the Japanese secateur scene, the name Okatsune comes up again and again. With carbon steel throughout, the plant material has no chance against these blades and I’m sure some branches just fell off in fear, rather than through cutting. The latch and spring are simple and elegant, and they are the most comfortable cutting tool I’ve ever used. I even treated myself to the Okatsune leather holster as well in honour of such a fine implement.

It’s worth pointing out that you can quite happily live with your Okatsune secateurs for years as they are a mighty tool, however for me, the difference between the FELCO pair and the Okatsune is akin to an Audi vs a Ferrari. You can drive a Ferrari all day and you’ll have a great time, but more often than not, you’ll plump for the Audi as a daily driver.

For me, if I have to get down and dirty with some plants – trying to revive a dying hedge for instance – then I’ll use the FELCO pair. But if I’m getting artistic and want to create a ball topiary, for instance, then the Okatsune pair give me the right attitude.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and that you get many hours of pleasurable pruning with the tools you choose!

Mr X

I'm Jamie and I started TrimHedge to learn about hedge trimming and topiary and share my findings with you. I enjoy the sight of well formed foliage and enjoy helping you keep your hedges in good shape and your borders in order. To find out more about me, visit my About Page.

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