Secateurs, pruning shears, anvil pruners, or just plain pruners are a small hand tool, used for cutting stems, stalks, and branches. They are popular with gardeners, arboriculturists, plant nursery workers, farmers, flower arrangers, and conservationists who require a sharp, precision cutting tool.
What You'll Learn Today
What are Secateurs Used For?
Secateurs are used for trimming plants such as rose bushes, herbs including Rosemary, Thyme, or Mint, or small shrubs such as Lavender. They are also indispensable in the orchard or vegetable garden for cutting thin branches, ripe squashes, tomato plants, and so on.
Their blades are sharp and usually have a curved edge. Some varieties are sprung in different ways, which can help to make them easier to use for people with weaker hands.
Where Did Secateurs Come From?
A French aristocrat, Antoine Francois Bertrand de Molleville, is claimed to be the inventor of the secateur in the early 1800s. However, it is more likely that the original concept stems back far further than this, as topiary practices in China have existed for thousands of years, and unique cutting scissors were used.
A variation of secateurs known as Anvil Pruners were designed in Kiel, Germany by Walther Schröder in 1923.
In 1800s France secateurs were not a mass-produced item; they were a treasured, specialist tool of some worth.
A newspaper article from 1840 tells of a riot happening in Beziers, Southern France when an agricultural committee could not agree if secateurs were superior for cutting vines than the more traditionally used pruning knife.
What is important to understand here is that the growing of wine grapes in that region of France was a massive industry that gainfully employed much of the population.
It is still one of the largest producers of wine in the world today. The workers feared that a device such as the secateur would rob them of work trimming the vines, as fewer people could do it.
Exactly when they first arrived in the United States is unclear, but there are newspaper advertisements for them in the UK from the late 1800s and in Australia by 1911, so it is reasonable to suspect they would have been imported into the US around the same time.
How to Sharpen Secateurs?
Secateurs are an essential tool for anyone who has a garden or grows vegetables or fruit trees. Like other bladed hand tools, they are only really worth having if they’re sharp.
Cutting through sappy stems not only clogs up the blades but also blunts them over time. It’s essential when cutting plants that the cut you make is always clean and sharp; otherwise, disease can get in.
To sharpen your secateurs, you will need:
- Cleaning fluid such as WD-40
- Wire wool, a scouring pad, or fine-grit sandpaper
- A sharpening stone or preferable several in different grades
- Lubricating Oil
- Cotton cloths such as old sheeting
- Start with cleaning the blade by spraying on a good coating of WD-40. I prefer to leave it on for several minutes to really work its way into all the cracks and joints.
- Once the WD-40 has been on for around 15 to 30 minutes using the wire wool, scouring pad, or fine sandpaper to clean the blade thoroughly on both sides, then wipe off with a rag.
- Next, take a fine sharpening stone and wet it as necessary. Start by running the stone along the angled side of the blade at the same angle. Simply stroke it over the beveled edge for a couple of minutes until you have worked your way to the end a few times.
- Then turn the tool over and, carefully holding the sharpening stone flat to the blade, run it along the inside. Don’t try to put any angle on this side; all you are doing is removing any burghs of metal produced while you were sharpening.
- It is often possible to dismantle the secateurs to make sharpening and cleaning more accessible, and you will usually get better results if you can do this. Just don’t forget what went where!
- When you’ve finished sharpening the secateurs, clean them off with a little more water, dry thoroughly, put them back together if necessary and give them a good oiling, wiping any surplus oil away with a dry rag.
- You can wrap the head of the secateurs up in the dry, oily rag to keep them lubricated and rust-free.
Here is a handy video to watch to help you see precisely how this process is done:
Should your secateurs blade be damaged or broken, you can sometimes buy new ones and will be able to simply replace them.
How to Clean Secateurs?
As with any bladed tool, keeping them clean, sharp, and rust-free is essential if you wish them to last for many years.
My father had a favorite pair of secateurs for as long as I can remember, and I know he had them for many years before I came along. He always took very great pride in the appearance of his magnificent gardens and ensured all of his tools were always well cared for.
It’s unfortunate that we have become such a throwaway society, as hand tools can last a lifetime if looked after well.
To clean secateurs, you can again turn to WD-40 and give the head a good soaking, leave it for a while before coming back and wiping the blades clean.
Alternatively, you can use soap and water with a scrubbing sponge or some wire wool. It is, however, vital to rinse and dry the secateurs thoroughly as not doing so will cause them to rust.
Once clean, you can add a drop of oil to the joints to keep them running smoothly and then wrap them in an oily rag to help prevent rust from taking hold.
What is the Difference Between Secateurs and Pruners?
There is not actually any difference between secateurs and pruners, but there are different types. There are Bypass pruners, Parrot-beak pruners, and Anvil pruners.
Bypass pruners work just like scissors, in that the two blades pass one another while cutting. One or both of the blades can be curved, and sometimes there is only one actual blade with the bottom being a flat plate-like in an anvil pruner, that passes the top blade as it cuts.
The action of the bypass pruner is to make a clean cut. It doesn’t crush the stem, which makes them suitable for cutting live wood.
Parrot-beak pruners have two concave blades which pass each other, just like bypass pruners. They are only suitable for the cutting of slender stems.
Anvil pruners have a single top blade that bites down onto a flat plate. They can be used to cut through thicker branches than bypass or parrot-beak pruners as they have a stronger action. However, because they crush the stem before they start to cut, they are really best reserved for use on dead wood as they may damage live branches.
Here in the US, we are more familiar with the name pruners than secateurs. They are, however, the same item. The word secateurs is just a European variant.
Although pruners are the common name in countries with an American English influence, the name secateurs is used more often globally.
Where to Buy Secateurs?
Secateurs or pruners can be purchased from any good hardware or gardening store as well as places like Home Depot. You can also find them on the internet at Amazon, eBay, and other gardening supply retailers.
A good pair of secateurs, or pruners, are an invaluable tool for any gardener; although having the right kind for the job is important. Bypass-style pruners are best for working with live wood, while anvil pruners are stronger and deal better with dead wood.
Keeping your secateurs clean and sharp will ensure many years of reliable service and help you maintain your plants and keep them looking neat and tidy.
There are more articles about tools available on our website. Why not take a look at this hoe guide?