Pruning saws and garden loppers compared for cutting thick branches

Pruning saws and garden loppers compared for cutting thick branches

As pruning is such an important part of having healthy and fantastic-looking shrubs and trees, it should come as no surprise that there is a wide selection of tools designed for the task.

Each tool, whether it be small secateurs for the smallest branches or even a powerful petrol chainsaw for the really large ones, has a role to play in the pruning process, but two of the most commonly used pruning tools are loppers and pruning saws.

Choosing the right tool for the job at hand is an important part of getting your pruning on point, and can help to avoid unnecessary damage to the tree, keeping it growing healthily and safely, the way you want it to.

Our focus today will be on loppers and pruning saws. We will compare them to see which is better for cutting thick branches, and while we are at it, compare them for ease of use, and give you some tips on good pruning techniques as a bonus.

I would also like to share this person’s secret pruning tool- good old bambi, always ready to help out 😁

Why is it important to prune your tree’s branches?

There are numerous reasons why people prune their trees and shrubs, from mainly aesthetic reasons to public safety.
Let’s say you have a tree whose branches have now grown very close to one of the windows of your house, over the neighbour’s fence, or out of your property and are now hanging over a public footpath. In these cases, you would have to deal with that wayward growth by pruning some of the branches.

If you are growing fruit, such as on a cherry tree or plum tree, pruning the right way will lead to an increased yield the following season and can even improve the quality of the fruit produced. The same is true with some flowering plants, where a person skilled in the correct pruning techniques can cause them to blossom in spectacular style.

One of the main reasons people prune trees is to keep them healthy by removing diseased, pest infected, or dead branches and this helps the tree to recover and thrive where it would otherwise likely suffer from those problems spreading.

You don’t have to take our word for it either, there are lots of videos on YouTube that offer the same advice when it comes to pruning trees, just like this one-

Tree buds and why they are important for correct pruning

On any tree branch, there are three different types of buds, and they are terminal buds, lateral buds, and latent buds. Terminal buds are the ones found at the very tip of your tree’s branches and they encourage the branch to grow in that direction, usually upwards and outwards. Because of the hormones they produce and send back through the branch, terminal buds repress the growth of lateral buds, and so letting them remain untouched with your pruning tools will result in the tree growing taller, but less thickly or bushy.

Lateral buds are located along the sides of the branches and are responsible for making the tree grow bushier and giving it a thicker overall aesthetic. By cutting the terminal bud from the end of the branch, you can promote the growth of these lateral buds, and transform a shrub into a hedge, if you wish.

Latent buds are what are used for repairing and regrowing. They lie dormant, not doing much until you cut away the branch just above their position, which then should spark them into life and new growth.

This video is meant for school education purposes by the look of it, but I think it does an excellent job of explaining tree buds in an easy to understand way-

When and how often should I prune my tree branches?

This all depends on what you are trying to achieve with your pruning. If you are looking for regrowth, or to get your fruit trees producing optimally, I would suggest pruning in late winter, just after the last frost.

If on the other hand, you are trying to thin out your trees and shrubs, it would be better to prune them in summer as the tree will naturally not have any growth spurt through autumn and winter.

Try not to give your trees a full pruning more than once per season or you can reduce the risk of healthy recovery. It is ok to cut away the odd branch if you think it will help the tree, such as in the case of infection, but don’t do heavy pruning more often than what we just advised. Your tree might survive like the one below did, but there’s a good chance it won’t.

Pruning saws and garden loppers compared for cutting thick branches

Overall cutting performance
When people ask me ‘which is better for cutting thick branches, loppers or a pruning saw?’ I always reply by asking them- what do you consider a thick branch?

For any branch up to 2 inches or so in diameter, I would probably grab my large loppers and have at it. The reason being, that for that particular size of branches or smaller, loppers just get the job done faster.

For branches thicker than that, up to around 6 inches, I will get my pruning saw out to play as the loppers can’t really handle that thick of a branch, certainly not without damaging the tree itself and leaving a messy cut.

For the largest branches, I suggest using the pruning saw attachment of a garden multi-tool, or get yourself a cordless chainsaw and save a lot of time on the job, and aching shoulders and arms later on.

Loppers and pruning saws compared for overhanging branches
As long as the branches aren’t thicker than a couple of inches, I like to use loppers to cut the ones that hang down or overhang the fence. This is because I don’t like using a sawing motion overhead and find that it causes me stress in the shoulder area. I realise this could just be from old injuries in my case, and lord knows I’ve got more than a few of those, but nevertheless, I prefer loppers for cutting these kinds of branches. Some people out there use their loppers for some quite interesting things, like this guy in the USA and grabbing snakes! I think I’ll stick to branches, thanks.

Loppers and pruning saws compared for cutting branches at heights
It is often the case that we need to get up on the tripod ladder or stepladder to cut a branch off that is high up. In these circumstances, I suggest getting a folding pruning saw that you can carry on your person easily, pop it open and saw the branch off, and then pop it back in your pocket or belt. loppers are large tools and trying to use them atop a ladder can be quite awkward, especially if the branch you are trying to cut is in a tight spot. here’s a photo of a foldable pruning saw, for those of you who don’t now what I’m referring to-

Final thoughts

So, to sum up, this comparison of pruning saws and loppers for cutting thick branches, I have to say that the former is the better choice for any branches over a couple of inches in diameter.

Loppers are great for smaller jobs than that because they are quick and convenient, and I prefer to use them for low-hanging branches, if possible, but trying to cut through thick branches with them isn’t the best way to utelise them.

A good folding pruning saw is my weapon of choice when having to work on a ladder of some kind, but some people prefer to use pole pruning saws for cutting those hard-to-reach branches instead, so it’s a matter of personal preference really.
That’s all from us on this subject, but please check out our other articles that compare different types of gardening tools, and also our how-to and review pages, if you have the time to spare.

About Terry Smith

I’m Terry Smith from, a professional landscape designer, hobbyist gardener, and barbecue fanatic with 20 years experience building and restoring. So as you go through my site you'll watch me document some of the professional garden installs I make as well as the major projects I take on at home. While sharing those experiences and guiding you, I'll be recommending some great tools I use to enable this along the way so you can really buy in confidence. Always feel free to pop me a message:

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