Choosing the right tool for a cutting job mostly hinges on the size of branches you'll be pruning. Cutting smaller branches is always ideal because a tree can seal a small wound more easily than a larger one.
You'll have an easier time pruning if you tackle intentional pruning when trees are young.
Grab hand pruners when you're cutting branches with a diameter of 1 inch or less. For the cleanest cuts, choose bypass pruners, which cut like a pair of scissors, with a curved cutting blade that slides past a lower broad blade.
Also called lopping shears, a lopper is the tool of choice for cutting branches 2 inches in diameter. The lopper label should specify the branch size it will cut. Again, bypass cutting blades yield a cleaner cut without crushing plant tissues. Some lopper designs include a gear-like feature that increases cutting power, essentially multiplying your effort. Look for loppers with handles in varying lengths, including ones that telescope to extend your reach.
Most pruning saws are designed to cut branches with a diameter of 3 inches, although with more effort you can use them to cut slightly larger branches. Blades are tempered metal and remain sharp for many uses. Unlike many saws, pruning saws cut on the pull stroke as well as on the push stroke, so that every movement of the saw produces a cut.
A rope saw uses a chain-type cutting blade and is ideal for cutting branches 5 inches in diameter, although it will cut through thicker limbs with more effort. Most rope saws allow you to stand on the ground and cut limbs up to 25 feet high. Simply add extension ropes to increase the reach.
A chainsaw provides the cleanest cut when you're dealing with limbs thicker than 3 inches. If your pruning job requires a chainsaw, it's recommended that you contact a certified arborist.
A pole pruner allows you to cut branches that are beyond your reach. Most pole pruners cut limbs up to 2 inches in diameter. For the cleanest, healthiest cuts, choose a bypass-style pruner. For versatility in tackling larger branches, purchase a pole pruner that includes interchangeable cutting tools for the pruning head: a bypass pruner and a pruning saw.
Sharp tools produce the best cuts and reduce cutting fatigue. Use a sharpening stone or device to hone cutting edges of hand pruners, loppers and pole pruners. For dull pruning saws, have them professionally sharpened or install a replacement blade. Learn to sharpen rope saws and chainsaws yourself, or have them professionally sharpened.
Sanitize tools between cuts, especially when you know you're dealing with a diseased tree. Pruning cuts provide the perfect entry point for disease organisms such as bacteria, fungi or other microorganisms. You can reduce the need for sanitizing tools between cuts by pruning during the dormant season, when disease organisms are inactive.
To disinfect tools between cuts, immerse blades for 1-2 minutes in rubbing alcohol, Lysol or Listerine. Bleach and Pine-Sol also sanitize tools, but corrode metal. If you use these items, clean tools with soap and water after immersing them in the sanitizing solution. Dry thoroughly before using.
After use, clean cutting blades. Remove sticky sap by wiping blades with a rag dipped in some type of solvent (mineral spirits, turpentine, etc.). Rub blades with lubricating oil to prevent rust. Lubricating joints and moving parts keeps tools operating smoothly.