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Walk into the gardening section at your local big box and you’ll to notice two different kinds of cutting tools — bypass and anvil.  You’ll see these two options for everything from pruners to clippers to loppers to hedge shears.  So how do you know which one is right for you?  Learn more after the jump.

With a bypass cutting tool, you draw a curved or straight blade past another blade — this creates a scissor-like motion that works well for cutting live green plants.  The spongy, firm outer wall surrounding the stem yields easily to that bypass motion.

With an anvil cutting tool, you bring down a straight blade against a wide anvil usually made of steel or hard rubber.  Anvil pruners are better suited for dead and dried-out plants — the crushing motion causes the brittle stem to kind of explode and separate.

Choosing the wrong tool for the job can frustrate your pruning project.  A bypass cutter used on a dead plant causes the brittle stem to bend and get caught between the two blades as they glide past each other. This can damage the bolt mechanism holding the blades together, reducing the tool’s cutting effectiveness. And when you try to cut a live plant with an anvil, the spongy stem tends to crush, even with a sharp blade, resulting in a jagged cut and causing damage to the live plant.

So next time you need to do some pruning, ask yourself: Bypass or anvil? That is the question.


16 Responses to Tip: Bypass Or Anvil? That Is The Question

  1. pjamestx says:

    Good to know, I recently bought a pair of clippers and wasn’t sure which type to get. Now I want to go home and see which ones I ended up with. Thanks for the info!

  2. Michael says:

    This is funny, because I just bought the one on the left this last Saturday. Works on both live and dead stuff pretty well – the smaller stuff. I’ve used the anvil in the past, and only had problems on bigger live stuff and really wet stuff.

  3. Jim K. says:

    I’d second the Felco recommendation. They’re probably not for everyone (definitely not cheap), but they do have replaceable parts and my pair of Felco Number 2 anvil style pruners have lasted me about 8 years without any troubles. In the same period of time I’ve gone through about 3 other cheaper pairs.

  4. Jereme Green says:

    I think they are both great ideas dot I really like the one on the left I bought some just like that one not to long ago

  5. kdp says:

    This is the kind of article I read Toolmonger for.

    Oh, I love to drool over out of budget tool pr0n, but this is info I can take home and use today. Thanks!

  6. Kevin Pace says:


    This is good to know because it also just so happens to be the kind of article I really like to write. I’ll see if I can dig out a few other useful tips from my memory and write another few over the next week.

  7. David Bryan says:

    Tell ’em about left-handed tape measures and crescent wrenches.

  8. MeasureOnceCutTwice says:

    Well said kdp! A great tidbit that I didn’t even know I didn’t know!

  9. Rich says:

    What I’d really like to know is how to sharpen the buggers. Bypass and anvil.

  10. Dave says:

    Bypass all the way, especially if you’re buying the cheap versions. A $3 anvil shear won’t cut through anything at all – it just crushes the stem but leaves it connected by a thread. A $3 bypass shear will actually work in the same situation.

  11. pruitt says:

    Bypass may be better with live plants, but I keep an anvil on the workbench for cutting small pieces of stock when I just need a scrap to stir paint or something.

  12. hussain says:

    i recently purchased anvil type pruner ,for cutting my garden branches ,but now i feel i my selection was wrong ,but any how ,i got knowlege from ur artical thx

  13. Don says:

    I’m a grape vine hobbyist needing to buy a pruner. What’s the better tool to cut last year’s canes?

  14. azej says:

    I understand the bypass shear is the appropriate one for olive pruning. It’s right?
    Thank you for the advice.

  15. Harold says:

    I only cut branches for the purpose of “Clearing Brush”. I have always suspected that Home Cheap-o and Lowers primarily sell bypass type sheers because they FAIL so quickly. I know how to use sheers, loppers, Tin Snips, Scissors. Was a sheet metal worker for 16 years but have never had such a bad problem with anything getting sprung as much as bypass loppers. They are made to fail, and they do a great job at that! My two pair of Anvil type have lasted me over ten years. Just as bypass sheers you can’t twist off branches or make a cut at any angle one or two degrees out of 90°. One of my anvil sheers wore through the anvil side and I welded on a piece of steel in it’s place and it has been the best anvil sheer I ever owned. Still cutting clean with no sharpening. I am very careful not to cut rocks, dirt, or wires. They will probably last the rest of my life. NEVER had a pair of bypass that could come close to that.

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