The Best Loppers for Pruning Trees and Shrubs
When pruning shrubs and trees, the right loppers make the job go faster and ease hand and arm fatigue. Read on for help choosing the best loppers for the job.
Beautiful landscapes and regular pruning go hand in hand. Thinning out rose bushes and trimming hedges might not be your favorite tasks, but they go more quickly if you have the right tools. Handheld pruning shears are great for nipping off narrow stems and branches up to 1/2 inch in diameter, but for pruning large branches up to 2 or 3 inches, you’ll want to use loppers. In effect, loppers are the beefed-up version of pruning shears, offering more reach and better cutting power. Read on for the details on what to look for when shopping for this type of landscaping tool—and don’t miss our top-favorite picks among the best loppers available.
- BEST FOR LIGHT DUTY: Corona Super-Duty Bypass Loppers
- BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: TABOR TOOLS Anvil Lopper with Compound Action
- MOST VERSATILE: T-MAI Extendable Anvil Lopper
Key Shopping Considerations
At first glance, loppers all look pretty much the same—two handles that open wide to manipulate their scissor-like blades, but there are important differences between models.
Anvil Versus Bypass
A lopper’s cutting blades are either anvil or bypass, and each type works better on different types of branches.
- Anvil: The cutting head on this type of lopper features a stationary base (anvil) with a groove. It also has a movable sharpened blade that presses into the groove when trimming branches. Anvil loppers are good for cutting dry, brittle branches—snapping them in half with ease—but they’re not optimal for trimming soft green branches. This is because they tend to crush and tear soft branches rather than make a clean cut. If you need to trim out dead stems, an anvil lopper is a great choice.
- Bypass: Bypass loppers work much like scissors; two sharpened blades overlap one another to make a clean cut. Bypass loppers are best for making sharp cuts on soft, green branches, but cutting through hard, dead branches with bypass loppers can dull their sharpened blades. Choose a bypass lopper when you’re trimming back green growth, such as shaping a supple overgrown shrub.
Lopper blades are made from steel, but all steel is not the same.
- Stainless steel: Nothing looks better than a silvery shiny pair of new loppers, and nothing resists staining and rust quite as well as stainless steel. But stainless steel isn’t as tough as carbon steel, and it tends to bend if used on hard, dry branches. In addition, stainless steel blades aren’t easy to sharpen once they become dull.
- Carbon steel: The toughest lopper blades are made from carbon steel, and they do the best job of cutting thick branches. They also tend to rust more easily than stainless steel, so it’s a good idea to wipe the blades clean with a dry cloth after every use. You can sharpen carbon steel blades with a basic sharpening stone when the blades become dull.
- Non-stick coating: Coated carbon steel blades, featuring either a Teflon or titanium coating, offer a measure of rust protection. They also make it easier to clean away sap residue that can form on the blades when trimming small tree branches. Coated blades hold their sharpness longer than uncoated blades, but they too eventually dull with use. The coating doesn’t cover the sharp portion of the cutting blade, so sharpening should not remove the coating.
- Manual: The simplest loppers feature a single screw at the fulcrum (the support on which a lever turns) where the two blades attach, which allows the user to open and close the handles to cut branches. These loppers work best when cutting narrower branches, because the user’s strength is solely responsible for the cutting force.
- Ratcheting: This type of lopper is designed to make trimming a bit easier. As a home landscaper squeezes the handles together, the blades latch in place partially through the cut, allowing the user to reopen the blades to get a wider and stronger grip without releasing pressure on the branch. Depending on the ratcheting mechanism used, you might be able to reopen the handles two or three times, which makes it easier to cut thicker stems.
- Compound action: A lopper with compound action features one or more pivoting arms located at the fulcrum between the two blades that are designed to increase cutting force. Compound-action loppers are great when you need to cut through thicker branches, but because they contain extra steel, they’re also heavier, which can increase arm fatigue.
Lopper Length and Weight
The shortest loppers measure about 15 inches from the end of the handles to the tip of the cutting blades and they can weigh as little as 11 ounces, making them a good choice for pruning narrower branches. Lengthier loppers, up to 40 inches or more, are handier when you need to reach high branches without having to stand on a ladder. Longer loppers also are heavier, however, with some weighing more than 4 pounds, so they’re more likely to cause arm fatigue than lighter-weight loppers. The trick is to know your own strength and cutting needs. A long lopper offers more reach, and often more power if it uses compound action—but if you can’t make clean cuts with it, it’s better to opt for a shorter length. Handle the loppers in the store to get a sense of how they feel. Some newer models have telescoping handles that you can extend or shorten as necessary.
Many of today’s loppers come with rubber or padded grips, which are designed to keep the lopper handles from slipping in your hand and to reduce hand fatigue and blisters. The softest foam handles feel great in your hands, but they’re also the most prone to nicks and tears. If you’re going to be using the loppers extensively, consider a pair with molded rubber grips that will hold up to the extra duty.
Our Top Picks
1. BEST FOR LIGHT DUTY: Corona Super-Duty Bypass Loppers
For trimming green branches with relative ease, consider Corona Super-Duty Bypass Loppers. Measuring 32 inches long, these manual-mechanism, forged-steel loppers are great for reaching branches overhead, and users can re-sharpen the loppers’ tough carbon steel blades as necessary. Weighing 2.8 pounds, the Corona loppers are best for small branches less than 3 inches in diameter.
2. BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: TABOR TOOLS Anvil Lopper with Compound Action
For enhanced cutting force, check out the TABOR TOOLS Anvil Lopper with Compound Action. This tool features a compound gear that delivers a cutting dynamic you can’t get with manual loppers. Weighing under 4 pounds and topping out at 30 inches in length, this option feature sharp, hardened, carbon steel blades and come with rubberized grips to minimize hand fatigue. The cutting blade sharpens with a sharpening stone as needed.
3. MOST VERSATILE: T-MAI Extendable Anvil Lopper
When you need the convenience of a mid-length lopper most of the time, but the reach of a longer tool some of the time, T-MAI Extendable Anvil Loppers are a worthy pick. Its telescoping handles adjust all the way from 27 inches to 40 inches—handy in those instances when you need to cut an out-of-the-way branch. In addition, the anvil-type carbon steel blade of the T-MAI can be re-sharpened with a cutting stone.