Do You Need Bypass Or Anvil Pruning Loppers?

If you’re wondering about the difference between bypass and anvil pruning loppers, let’s explore their advantages and disadvantages.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson

I can’t begin to imagine how many branches and small trees I’ve trimmed or cut down with pruning loppers. It’s probably tens of thousands, because loppers are my preferred tool for all applicable jobs. They’re simple to use, quiet (unlike a chainsaw), and quick and effective when tasked with cutting through branches and stems less than 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.

I was recently shopping for a new pair of pruning loppers, since I have a large amount of winter storm debris to clean up this spring. Historically, I’ve always used bypass loppers. But for this particular job, I’m thinking of switching to anvil loppers.

If you’re wondering about the difference between bypass and anvil loppers, let’s explore their advantages and disadvantages.

Read more: Quality loppers are the way to go for keeping a neat tree line.

Bypass Pruning Loppers

Bypass pruning loppers operate much like a pair of scissors, with a cutting blade slicing past a stouter lower blade in side-by-side fashion.

There’s a lot to like about this design. For example, it’s relatively delicate on live growth and leaves a clean cut behind. That makes it suitable for removing or shortening individual branches on valuable trees.

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Bypass loppers can also leave behind very little branch stub, allowing the tree to heal quicker. Since much of my tree trimming through the years has involved removing branches from live trees, bypass pruning loppers have been the perfect choice.

Read more: You need these 6 tools for pruning fruit trees.

Anvil Pruning Loppers

Unlike bypass pruning loppers, anvil loppers don’t cut like scissors. Instead, a single cutting blade presses down against a relatively flat (but perhaps grooved or serrated) anvil. This creating more of a crushing cut.

It is a powerful way to quickly slice through tough materials, including dead wood, which I’ve found bypass loppers have a harder time cutting. For heavy-duty work, anvil loppers are ideal.

But of course, this power comes at a cost. And that cost is cleanliness. Anvil loppers don’t leave behind as clean a cut (causing more damage to live growth). And the anvil makes it harder to cut branches close to their origin point, so you’re more likely to leave behind branch stubs.

Anvil pruning loppers aren’t the tool of choice for the delicate pruning of valuable trees. But for dealing with the debris of a dead tree, they’re a powerful and effective option. You’re only concerned with quickly getting through the job and don’t have to worry about the quality of the cuts.

Since my goal this spring is to clean up the crowns of a couple dozen windthrown conifers, anvil pruning loppers offer a lot of appeal.

Of course, the performance of individual bypass or anvil loppers can vary depending on their precise specifications. High-end models can outperform overall expectations. For many years, I’ve used a pair of Fiskars bypass loppers with PowerGear technology that increase the leverage I can apply through the handles. I find they’re capable of slicing through thick branches (even dead wood) quite nicely.

But broad guidelines still apply. And as much as I like bypass pruning loppers for most tasks, anvil loppers might be the tool I need this spring. I’d better keep shopping!

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