The author has worked in conservation and woodland management over many years.
Why Choose a Manual Pole Pruner?
Seven reasons to choose old-fashioned muscle power and the superior reach of a pole saw, when you are pruning a tree:
- Manual pole pruners are often the best choice for pruning smaller or higher branches. They are lightweight, easy to handle, and will not leave you with a sore back (if you are careful).
- They can be found in much longer lengths than powered saws. Professional pole pruners can reach up to 21 feet, and you don't need to be Hercules to use one.
- You do not need to run cables or struggle to start a gas engine that has been laid up for too long.
- Some trees have dense growth patterns and tangled twigs that can jam chainsaws. I would never use power tools on an old, gnarled apple tree, for example.
- Working with a pole allows you see the overall shape of the tree as you work. You can make better pruning decisions as you sculpt it to thing of beauty.
- Ladders are downright dangerous.
- The long reach keeps you clear of thorns, ants or anything else lurking in vegetation.
- A manual pruner offers the genuine satisfaction of working in a quiet, relaxed way.
Pretty much any work related to tree care has its dangers. Some things to be aware of when working with a pole saw:
- Large branches can fall unpredictably. Hard hats and eye protection are always a good idea.
- Reduce the risk of slipping on wet or uneven ground by wearing work boots with good grip.
- Never work near overhead power cables, especially with long extension poles.
- Modern saw blades are incredibly sharp, thick gloves can save your hands from cuts as well as blisters.
How to Choose
A few things to consider as you choose:
- The blades on a bypass pruner can separate on tough branches leaving them damaged but uncut (see illustration below).
- Anvil pruners will never separate but softer stems can be 'bruised' and left open to infection by an anvil cutter.
- Saws are always going to be the best choice for thicker, tougher branches and you will usually need the option for tree pruning.
- Poles that flex too much can make you feel like you are 'fishing' for branches.
- Cheap telescopic poles can start to twist around each other, or slide up and down, as the friction lock wears out. Oval or hexagonal poles will never twist,
- All pole pruners involve ropes, chains or straps to operate the cutting head. Ropes on the outside of the pole are more likely to get tangled in small branches than chains. Chains or ropes inside the pole are ideal; they will never get tangled up.
Compound pruners incorporate a saw and pruner in one cutting head.
The advantage of a compound pruner is that the tool is immediately available to switch from pruning to sawing.
The disadvantage is that the saw can get in the way, if all you need to use is the pruner. Saw can also be damaged if you are using it in a dense tangle of branches.
Best Home User Models
For occasional, light use.
Fiskars Telescopic Pruning Stik
Fiskars makes the very versatile Telescopic Pruning Stik (pictured above) aimed at home owners. It can be used simply as a pruner or, with the saw attachment provided, it can tackle thick branches.
- The telescopic pole gives you a reach of about 16 feet when fully extended.
- It has an aluminum inner pole and a fiberglass outer sleeve for rigidity and lightness.
- The head can be rotated to provide the best angle for cutting.
- The pruner will cut branches up to one-and-a-quarter inches in diameter.
- The bypass pruner design means a clean cut, the kind that professionals recommend for younger or delicate stems.
- Sturdy construction reduces the problem of the blades separating.
- The 15-inch saw blade can tackle big branches of five or six inches across.
- One of the best features is the internal chain that operates the pruner. There is no rope to wave around in the wind or get tangled up in foliage!
- The pruning blade, the entire cutting head and the internal strap can all be bought separately for replacement.
- There is a smaller, 62-inch version that is perfect for shrubs and smaller trees.
You can find it at Amazon for around $80, here: Pruning Stik
Corona 16-Foot Compound Pruner
Corona compound pruners are valued by professionals as well as home owners.
The Corona TP 6780, has a 16-foot fiberglass pole but weighs only 7 pounds. The pruner will cut branches up to one inch and a quarter, whilst the 13-inch blade can tackle very large branches with razor tooth technology.
A chain drive and pulley system brings real power to the pruner.
Gilmour 16-inch blade Pruner/Saw
Gilmour make products for tree professionals. The pole comes in three, six-foot sections. If you use all three, your reach will be about twenty feet (unless you have very short arms!).
- The whole assembly is very rigid. The hexagonal poles will never twist in use.
- One disadvantage with any kind of telescopic pole—including the Fiskar model above—is that they can flex when you apply pressure to saw. That is not an issue with the Gilmour.
- The blade is 16 inches long and can tackle branches up to eight inches across. It is easily replaceable so you can have a sharp tool at all times. It is curved, so it cuts easily on the pull stroke.
- You can buy a pruning head to go on the same pole. It will cut branches up to one inch across. In this sense, it is more a multi-use pruner/saw than a straight compound pruner.
Best Pro Grade, Ultra Long Reach Pole Saw.
The Silky 179-39 is a professional quality model with a 25-foot reach. This is the most expensive model I recommend. It is aimed at professionals or homeowners with a lot of trees to care for.
Some people worry about a pole that offers such a large reach. Will it be too heavy? Will it be too awkward? This pole saw can cut as easily at full-reach as a cheaper model does at half the height.
- The pole is a rigid aluminum with high-quality construction. It weights around eight pounds. This is lighter than the average gas or electric pole saw with a far shorter reach.
- The poles are oval and snug fitting so they can never twist.
- They have two separate locking mechanisms to keep from moving up and down: a friction lock of the kind most pruners use, and pins which ensure no movement is possible.
- The saw blade is unique. It has four rows of teeth that clear wood quickly, making it difficult to jam. There are also two cutting areas: The lower sickle undercuts a branch to prevent bark tearing back during pruning and injuring a branch. The upper sickle cuts the branch. Hooks at the ends of the saw prevent the blade from slipping off the branch that it is cutting.
Silky pole saws can be found on Amazon from around $175 for an 8-13 feet model to around $250 for a 21 foot model.
The promo video below gives a fair idea of the tool's capabilities.
Best Economy Pole Pruner?
The Fiskars 9301 is fine for light pruning, and, with careful use, should last for many years. The pruner is operated by a cable outside the pole, which can get tangled in branches but this is a small drawback if you are only looking after a few trees.
The pruner shears will tackle one-inch thick branches. A saw blade is included which can tackle branches several inches across.
At around sixty dollars, it is good value.
Best Handle Operated Pruners
Most handle operated pruners are shorter than true pole pruners but are useful for cutting thinner branches on shorter shrubs. They are ideal for dead heading Rhododendron and other intensively blooming species.
This device from Corona does not have the longest reach. It's around four feet long. On the other hand, it is very easy to use and will cope with branches up to a half-inch thick. People like to use this tool to dead-head flowers on shrubs like butterfly bushes, as well as for pruning smaller fruit trees.
- It has a rotating head to get to awkward branches.
- There is no external chain to get caught up in brush.
- You will need some strength in your hands to squeeze the trigger.
The Zenport pruner is an inexpensive alternative to the Corona pruner. It is not telescopic and is only two feet long, but this will suit many people who only have shorter shrubs to tend.
Long Reach Handle-Operated Pruner
The ARS long-reach pruner can be extended from 4 to 7 feet, and is more suited to working on trees than the Corona. The chromed head resists corrosion and the clever engineering makes it surprisingly light for its size.
It is an expensive investment at around $100, but the robust construction and great utility make it a useful tool to have in your arsenal.
It is one of the most popular long-reach pruners around, and if you are mainly thinking of dead heading shrubs, it is a great alternative to the bigger, heavier pole pruners on this page.
For some pruning jobs, a lopper is the best choice. These tools will tackle thick branches. Some are long enough to compete with pole pruners for reach.
Loppers are slower than handle-operated pruners, but have a lot more power. This is partly because you use both hands to operate them, and partly because many use ratchets or gears to increase cutting power.
The Power Drive Lopper, pictured below uses a ratchet system to boost power, making it far less work to cut thicker branches than comparable tools.
- It has lightweight aluminum handles and will not rust.
- Anvil pruner design means that blades will never separate
- Best of all, it easily cuts through two-inch branches.
Power Drive makes a similar, if slightly shorter, lopper. Instead of gears, the Power Drive uses a lever system to boost cutting power. It is not as smooth to use as the Fiskars geared tool above, but it delivers five times the power of a conventional lopper.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.