Cutting back overgrown shrubs and trees can be a difficult job, but using the right tools is guaranteed to make it a lot easier.
Pruning saws can be used to tackle a variety of branch sizes, often capable of cutting wood up to 15 cm in diameter. They cut through branches that loppers can’t manage, and can be used for some fairly heavy-duty tasks.
There are a variety of pruning saws available, and some are better suited to certain jobs than others. The following information outlines why pruning saws are useful, what they can be used for, and how to select the best pruning saw for your garden.
The Benefits of Using a Pruning Saw
There are a number of benefits to using a pruning saw, but here are a few of the most significant:
- Pruning saws can cut through branches that are too thick for secateurs or loppers. Trying to force tools through branches that are too thick can damage them, so using a pruning saw on branches thicker than 4 cm is recommended.
- Sharp pruning saws protect the health of your plants whilst pruning. Using low-quality tools, or tools that aren’t intended for cutting through such thick branches, can result in the branch getting ‘chewed’ as its cut. This can make it easier for bacteria and infections to get in. Using a quality pruning saw is a good way to create a clean cut, which is what we want!
- With the help of a pruning saw you should be able to cut down most of the branches that you need to in the garden. The next ‘option up’ is to use a chainsaw, and most of us don’t want to do that on a casual Sunday afternoon.
- Thanks to the foldable nature of many pruning saws, they are easy to transport. This makes them practical not only in the garden, but also when camping or hiking.
Different Types of Pruning Saw
Whilst most pruning saws can be used for more of less the same jobs, there are a few different styles that are worth mentioning.
Foldable/Non-Foldable Pruning Saw
Most of the pruning saws featured on this page are foldable, but there are also non-foldable saws available.
A foldable saw tends to be the more popular choice because they are more versatile; they’re safer to carry, store and transport, and they can therefore be easier to use for different applications (eg. on camping trips). However, because of their folding mechanism, the blades of folding saws can sometimes have more flex in them than non-foldable saws.
Non-foldable saws may feel sturdier than foldable saws, but there isn’t much between them in terms of performance. A non-foldable saw will require a blade sheath, as the blade will otherwise be exposed when the saw is in storage.
Type of Cutting Action
Whilst the term ‘sawing’ tends to conjure up images of a standard ‘back and forth’ action, saws can cut in a couple of different ways.
There’s the classic sawing action, as mentioned, which cuts on the forward stroke, and not on the back one. But there are also saws which only cut on the ‘backward’ stroke. These are often referred to as draw saws or pull saws.
A ‘standard’ saw has teeth that are angled slightly towards the top end of the blade, whilst a pull saw’s teeth will angle towards the handle.
Whilst both methods will successfully cut through wood, a pull saw is considered to require less effort during cutting, and give more accuracy. However, standard saws generally tend to be easier to sharpen, whilst the entire blade may need to be replaced on a pull saw when it goes dull.
Extendable Pruning Saw
It’s worth being aware that extendable pruning saws exist, although they may not be useful for all applications.
These saws have extendable handles, making it easier to prune higher branches. Anyone with a lot of tall trees and bushes in the garden will likely find it useful to have an extendable pruning saw in the gardening armoury; however, having a standard pruning saw will likely be necessary as well.
This is because extendable pruning saws are often over 1 metre long even when they aren’t extended, which can make them harder to use on close-range jobs.
Nevertheless, they are an invaluable tool for gardens with taller trees and hedges, and can make pruning jobs faster as there’s no need to move a stepladder or raised platform around.
How to Use a Pruning Saw
A Note on Safety
The first thing to consider when using a pruning saw is safety. Pruning saws are capable of cutting through thick branches, which means there’s the potential for big branches to fall to the ground when cutting through them.
It’s therefore necessary to wear appropriate protective safety equipment when using a pruning saw. This may include goggles, gloves, steel-capped boots and a hard hat.
Extra care must be taken when using extendable pruners because the branches are likely to fall from a higher height.
Here are some general pointers when it comes to branch cutting, but you should always make sure that you are sufficiently trained before embarking on tree surgery:
If you are cutting back whole branches you should start by reducing the branch gradually from the end. Large branches are heavy and can fall unpredictably, so break the job down into safe sections.
If branches split due to the weight of the rest of the limb, this can lead to a tear rather than a clean cut (not what we’re after!). A tear can be bad for the health of your plant. This is therefore an additional reason to steadily reduce the weight of the branch by gradually cutting it back.
Particular care should be taken when using an extendable/pole saw as heavy branches falling from a height are potentially very dangerous. Again, reduce the branches gradually.
Before making each cut, check that you have room to make the cut without damaging nearby branches.
Wherever possible cut from the top to the bottom so that you have gravity on your side. Make sure you can make the cut keeping the blade straight so that it does not get stuck halfway through.
Position yourself securely with a wide stance, ensuring your feet or on secure ground. If you are using a ladder, make sure it is securely positioned.
When using a manual saw, make a groove by drawing the blade back several times in the place you want to make the cut. This will prevent the saw from slipping.
When you have removed the branch, tidy up any splintered branch ends to leave a clean finish.
When the whole job is complete, clean your saw (see maintenance below) and store it in a dry place well out of reach of children.
Pruning Saw Maintenance
Sap, resin and sawdust can build up on your pruning saw.
Therefore, it is important to clean your saw regularly, otherwise it may become corroded and less efficient. This will make future work harder and also cause damage to your plants. It becomes more likely that diseases will spread if pruning tools aren’t kept clean.
If you are pruning diseased plants, or even just as a protective measure, keep a container of rubbing alcohol or disinfectant handy. Dip the blades in this between cuts and then wipe dry.
To remove the sticky sap residue from your pruning saw after use you can use a wire brush along with paint thinner or white spirit.
You should clean your saw every time after use and finish off by wiping the blades with a rag dipped in light-grade machine oil to prevent rust.
Sharpening the Saw
Not all saw blades can be sharpened, which is something to check when buying the saw. For example, impulse-hardened blades can’t be sharpened. These blades should stay sharp for a very long time with general home use. However, when they do go blunt, replacement blades should be purchased and fitted.
Other manual saws can be sharpened. It is a bit of a fiddly process, but worth doing as a sharp blade makes sawing much easier. It is also better for your trees and shrubs – a sharp blade will make a cleaner cut.
Here’s a general guide on how to sharpen a saw blade:
- Wear thick work gloves and clean the blade of your saw with soapy water and a stiff brush and wipe it dry.
- Secure your saw with clamps or a vice so that it doesn’t slip.
- For best results, use a Cant file. This is a triangular-shaped file that makes the job a little easier and more precise. This file fits between the teeth of the saw enabling it to sharpen each tooth. If you don’t have a Cant file, you can sharpen the saw blade with a small, round file.
- Start from the rear of the saw and work toward the tip. Sharpen the edges of the teeth pointing away from you one-by-one. This will be alternate teeth and you will be sharpening the flat side not the bevelled edge.
- Give each tooth the same number or strokes of the file to ensure even sharpening. A very blunt saw might need 10 or more strokes on each tooth, but if you do it regularly a few strokes on each tooth will be fine.
- Once you have reached the end of the saw, turn it around, re-clamp it and do the same to the other side.
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