What is the difference between loppers and secateurs?

A pair of secateurs cutting through a thin branch.

Confused about what the differences between secateurs and loppers are? Don’t worry – you’re not the only one!

If you’ve spent any time chatting to green-fingered friends or perusing the aisles of your local garden centre, you’ve probably heard of secateurs and loppers.

However, as with any new hobby or pursuit, maybe you’re still finding your footing. Or perhaps you’re relatively green-fingered yourself, but not quite sure of all the horticultural nuances!

Whatever the case is, we’re here to help.

Specifically, in this article you’ll find out what loppers and secateurs are, the differences between them, the two main types of blade design they use, and some tips on usage.

If you’re new to gardening, loppers, and secateurs, we’d recommend going through the entirety of this article in order. It has been structured to make sense being read from start to finish.

On the other hand, if you don’t need the basics covered and want to check something specific, click the question relevant to you below. You’ll be taken straight to the corresponding section.

We hope that our article is useful to you – and, most importantly, we hope that you have fun in your garden!

Contents

What are secateurs and loppers used for?

Secateurs and loppers are two of the most common gardening tools.

Whichever blade design is used, secateurs and loppers are both essential tools for pruning.

For the uninitiated, pruning refers to the reduction or removal of branches and stems. This is done for one, two, or all three of the following reasons:

  • They’re not aesthetically pleasing
  • They’re not necessary for the growth or production of the plant or tree
  • They’re harmful to the health or development of the plant or tree

The main difference between secateurs and loppers is what they’re specifically used to cut.

To put it in simple terms:

  • Secateurs are used for small branches: those up to 0.5 inches thick
  • Loppers are used for large branches: those 0.5 to roughly 1.5 inches thick

Commonly, both tools will have one of two blade designs: anvil or bypass. We’ll cover what these designs are, how they differ, and when and where they should be used later in this guide.

What are secateurs?

Secateurs are known by a number of names. You might have heard the term ‘pruning shears’ or, if you’re an American, you probably know them as ‘hand pruners’. In Britain, the word ‘secateurs’ is the standard.

Secateurs were first mass-produced in Europe during the late-1800s as a means of hand pruning for gardeners who did not want to use their shears on woody stems.

A pair of Professional Anvil Aluminium Secateurs cutting through a branch.
Secateurs are the perfect tool to prune branches and stems up to 0.5 inches. Pictured are our Professional Anvil Aluminium Secateurs.

You can think of them as scissors used for cutting through stems and thin branches – those up to 0.5 inches thick, to be specific.

Like scissors, secateurs are designed to be used one-handed. They’re great for quick pruning jobs where you don’t need a lot of force or leverage.

Secateurs are lightweight and easy to use, but they don’t offer much leverage when cutting – which means they can’t be used on thick branches.

They have two handles at opposite ends of the blade, with one handle being shorter than the other. This allows you to apply pressure on the longer handle while pulling against the shorter handle so that you can cut through (relatively speaking!) thick things without having to exert too much strength.

How are loppers different to secateurs?

Loppers first appeared in Europe during the 1800s, when people began using them as an alternative to saws or axes. They wanted a tool that would allow them to cut branches from larger trees without causing damage or having to cut them twice.

They have a longer handle and a lever action that allows you to cut thicker branches with more force than you’d be able to use with secateurs alone.

They’re also good for cutting off branches that are too large for secateurs to handle on their own, as well as for cutting small branches off tall trees that would otherwise be unreachable.

Power Cut Vario Loppers cutting through a branch.
Branches are the perfect tool to prune branches thicker than 0.5 inches. Pictured is our Power Cut Vario Lopper.

Some loppers have telescopic handles, which allow you to get to branches which are even further away.

Others offer various cutting functions to give you extra flexibility when pruning trees.

Keeping up? Good. But before you start thinking that you’re a secateur and lopper whizz, you need to know the difference between anvil and bypass designs.

What is the difference between anvil and bypass and which should I use?

There are two main types of secateurs and loppers: anvil and bypass.

When you go to buy a pair of secateurs or loppers, it will say anvil or bypass in the product’s name – or, if not, somewhere else obvious!

Anvil designs use two jaws with blades set at an angle to meet each other when clamping down on the material being cut.

Bypass designs have jaws set parallel to each other (one above the other) so that material being cut passes through both jaws at once instead of being squeezed between them.

A bit too technical for you? Don’t worry – we know that most of our readers aren’t engineers!

In practical terms, bypass blades are kind of like big scissors and cut straight through, whilst an anvil blade crushes rather than cuts.

Anvil blades have the advantages of exerting more power and being much less likely to jam, but they are also more likely to crush than to cut and are a lot less precise. This means they leave untidy wounds, which are more susceptible to becoming infected.

A man using Power Cut Vario Loppers to cut through a branch above his head.
Bypass loppers and secateurs are the preferred type, unless you’re dealing with dead wood or particularly tough branches.

For these reasons, anvil secateurs and loppers are best used on dead material and particularly resilient branches that bypass blades just can’t manage.

In any other situation, it’s advised to go for an anvil.

So, now that you know all the theory, let’s get to some tips on how to use your tools!

How do I use secateurs?

Thankfully, using secateurs is pretty simple.

Once you’ve identified the branches and stems you want to cut (up to 0.5 inches thick), follow this process:

  1. Place the secateurs’ blades around the branch or stem
  2. Move the secateurs’ blades to where you want to cut, making sure you’re aiming with the fulcrum
  3. Close the secateurs’ handles in one smooth motion
  4. Open the secateurs’ handles and repeat steps 1 to 3 on the next branch or stem

In terms of technique, make sure not to operate your secateurs with your fingertips, but rather with the ball of your preferred hand and the base of your fingers. Doing so will lead to less hand fatigue, meaning you can get more work done in the garden in one session!

A pair of Professional Anvil Aluminium Secateurs cutting through a branch.
Always aim to cut at the fulcrum for the best cut, maintain blades, and to lessen hand fatigue.

Aiming with the fulcrum has already been mentioned – but it’s worth reiterating. As well as keeping your secateurs in good condition, doing so will also be easier on your hands compared to cutting with the tops of the blades.

We’d also recommend investing in a tool belt or gardening apron. In addition to making you look pretty cool, doing so will make it less likely that you misplace your new favourite secateurs whilst you’re working away!

Before and after every session, make sure to clean your secateurs. Doing so will lessen the likelihood of spreading diseases to your plants and trees.

Also, you should also make sure to sharpen the tool when needed (i.e., when it’s becoming dull and you’re finding it difficult to cut) and store them away safely. We’d recommend investing in a gardening tool sheath.

Finally, if you’re struggling to cut a branch with your secateurs, it’s time to switch to your lopper.

How do I use loppers?

For branches 0.5 to roughly 1.5 inches thick, you’ll need a lopper.

The steps for lopping (our personal favourite verb) are much the same as pruning with secateurs:

  1. Place the lopper’s blades around the branch or stem
  2. Move the lopper’s blades to where you want to cut, making sure you’re aiming with the fulcrum
  3. Close the handles in one smooth motion
  4. Open the handles and repeat steps 1 to 3

In terms of technique, much of the same advice from the previous sections is relevant. Although, your loppers are unlikely to fit into an apron – so avoid that gardening fashion crime. More relevant is keeping your tools clean and sharp, as well as aiming with the fulcrum.

Power Cut Vario Loppers cutting through a branch.
Lopper cutting technique is the same as with secateurs – everything’s just a little bigger!

In addition to this, you’ll be dealing with trees when lopping. In which case, make sure to cut away from the trunk, and don’t cut through the collar (the fleshy nub where the branch meets the tree), cut just above it.

What do I use for even thicker branches?

As you get towards branches around two inches thick, you may need to start thinking of moving to an axe or a saw.

Obviously, always follow your product manufacturer’s instructions and guidance.

A pruning saw being used to cut through a thick branch.
Is the branch too thick to use a lopper? Time to switch to a saw or an axe. Pictured is our Pruning Saw.

Conclusion

So, there you have it. You now know the basics of secateurs and loppers.

The biggest takeaways are:

  • For stems and branches up to 0.5 inches thick, use secateurs
  • For branches from 0.5 to roughly 1.5 inches, use a lopper
  • Use bypass designs for live stems and branches
  • Use anvil designs for dead stems and branches, as well as for particularly difficult cuts that require extra power
  • For a branch approaching 2 inches in thickness, consider switching to a saw or an axe

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