5 Best Tree Trimming Tools

Updated: Jan. 29, 2024

These five tree trimming tools help you prune just about any kind of tree in your yard, no matter how small, tall or overgrown.

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Hand Shears

Also known as hand pruners, pruning shears or pruners, these glorified scissors cut through branches between one and two inches thick. Lou Meyer, an arborist for Davey Tree Company in greater Baltimore, calls them the most basic starter tool for tree trimming.

Bypass hand shears work like traditional scissors, with one blade bypassing a blunt side to slice the branch off the tree. Meyer prefers these to anvil shears, which have one straight blade that closes onto a flat edge. Meyer says an anvil shears sometimes crushes the branch. Bypass hand shears take the branch off in one clean cut, allowing the tree heal faster.

The Felco F2 bypass shears are the longtime gold standard in hand shears, Meyer says. They cost around $70, but will last a lifetime with some TLC — a little bit of WD-40, steel wool for cleaning off sap, and a flat hand file for occasional sharpening.

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Loppers work like hand shears, but with longer handles and blades to cut through branches up to three inches thick. You need both hands to work the handles, which are about two to three feet long. This extra length is helpful for trimming branches above your head or in awkward spots. Again, Meyer prefers the bypass blades over anvil blades for a cleaner cut.

Meyer’s go-to brand for loppers is A.M. Leonard. Their Lifetime Loppers , with two-inch cut capacity, have 34-inch handles that are lightweight yet durable. And the blades are replaceable.

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Pole Pruners

Pole pruners are handy for reaching two- to three-inch-thick branches that are well above your head. The pole averages about eight feet long, but Meyer says you can also buy telescoping pole pruners or connect multiple pole pruners to reach as high as 30 feet.

The pruning blades are at the top of the pole, and a string or thin rope runs the length of the pole. With one hand on the pole, you pull the string with the other hand to make the blades snip the branch. You should be able to trim the branch with one cut, or one pull of the string.

If you need more than one person to operate the tool, or are exerting a lot of energy to make the cut, Meyer says you need different pruners or your blades need sharpening.

Some pole pruners come with attachments to convert them into pole saws, which work well for high branches up to five inches thick. This pole saw kit from Jameson includes two six-foot poles to double your reach.

Don’t stand directly under the branch you’re cutting to avoid a good bonk on the head. Meyer says you can also use a grab pole to methodically lower the branch to the ground.

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Hand Saw

Hand saws are helpful for tackling branches up to five inches thick whether you’re standing on the ground or aloft. They come in inexpensive folding versions, or you can spend as much as $150 on one, Meyer says. This Fiskars hand saw is highly rated and a best seller.

Hand saws can cut on the push stroke, the pull stroke or both. A push saw makes the cut while you’re pushing the saw away from you, and a pull saw makes the cut while you’re pulling the saw toward your body. Meyer says a pull saw is safer if you’re going to use it on a ladder or in a tree so that you’re not pushing your body away from the tree.

On the ground, plant your feet and use a push saw or a saw that cuts on both the pull and push strokes, like the Fiskars hand saw mentioned above. Check out this tree-trimming trick to remove a branch that’s just out of reach.

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For branches and limbs thicker than five inches, it’s time to turn on the power. Chainsaws have gas-powered engines and a cutting bar that holds the chain.

Chainsaws can have cutting bars as short as six inches or as long as 20 inches. The smaller chainsaws may also be electric instead of gas-powered. Meyer says electric chainsaws (which use a power cord or a rechargeable battery) are much quieter and vibrate less than gas-powered chainsaws.

To figure out what size chainsaw you need, add two inches to the thickest branch or limb you need to cut. So if that’s a six-inch limb, you’ll need at least an eight-inch chainsaw.

Meyer likes Stihl and Husqvarna chainsaws for professionals and homeowners. Stihl Farm Boss chainsaws come with a cutting bar up to 20 inches long and earn top marks for their power. Stihl chainsaws are only sold through select dealers though, whereas Husqvarnas are available at Lowe’s.

Meyer says wearing closed-toe shoes and hearing protection are musts when using a chainsaw, which can register up to 130 decibels. (Anything higher than 80 decibels can cause hearing loss or damage). Foam ear buds or headphones should do the trick.

Chainsaw chaps are also helpful. The material is stringy so if a chainsaw cuts through it, the fabric jams the chain and stops the saw from inflicting a potentially life-threatening injury.

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