Anvil or Bypass Secateurs

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Robert Pavlis

There are two types of secateurs, also called pruners; bypass and anvil. If you are using an anvil pruner for most of your pruning needs – you are using the wrong tool.

anvil secateurs (pruners)
Anvil secateurs (pruners), ref #1
bypass secateurs (pruners)
Bypass secateurs (pruners), ref #1

Anvil or Bypass Pruners

Anvil pruners work similar to a knife where a blade is pushed through the plant material onto a cutting board, ie the anvil. Bypass pruners work more like scissors where two blades pass by each other. At first glance there does not seem to be much of a difference between these tools, but the difference is significant. Anvil prumers tend to crush soft plant tissue. When you use a bypass pruner correctly (see below), you will do almost no damage to the plant.

Anvil pruners do work a bit better than bypass pruners for cutting up old dead wood but for most of us, that is not a very common job in the garden. You are usually pruning live plant material or wood that has recently died.

Using Secateurs Correctly.

Think about cutting back a branch to a fresh bud.The diagram below shows the correct cut, which is just above a bud.

Compost Science for Gardeners by Robert Pavlis
Right way to make pruning cuts
Right way to make pruning cuts, Ref #2

In order to make the cut this close to the bud, the pruner needs to be held very close to the bud. With the anvil pruner there is a risk that the bud or the tissue around the bud sits on the anvil and gets damaged during the cut. Using bypass pruners, you can hold the pruner so that none of it touches the bud during the cutting process.

The diagram below shows the proper way to hold the pruner to cut off a branch from the trunk. The right side of the diagram – the wrong cut – will result in a stub and the metal parts of the pruner will touch and damage the stub – neither is good for the plant.

proper way to hold pruning shears
Proper way to hold pruning shears, Ref #3

The important point to understand is that the secateur should be held so that only the blade touches the wood or stem that will be left on the plant. This does mean that you might need to turn your hand depending on your relative position to the bud. If you follow this rule, you will have very little damage to the plant.


1) Photo Source: Centurion Prunners

2) Photo Source: Virginia Tech

3) Photo Source: University of Kentucky – Agriculture

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

25 thoughts on “Anvil or Bypass Secateurs”

  1. That is very clear including pics. The guy in the garden center unfortunately knew no difference between anvil and bypass pruners.

  2. I don’t know how to open the Aldi Gardenline anvil lopper. Looks like you need to take out a bolt….that doesn’t see right. Tightly closed now. Thanks

  3. Thank you. No one in the garden centre knew the difference between a bypass and anvil secateurs. Now I understand what I’ve bought to replace the cheap bypass ones that broke. Probably because I needed a set of anvil ones!

  4. I’ve been wondering about this for awhile. I was using an anvil pruner and recently bought a set with both anvil and bypass pruners. Thanks for the clarification. Now I know which to use.

  5. I’m not understanding – ‘.. no metal part should touch the wood or stem..’ The bypss cutters I use have metal blades. There is some sort of coating on the blades (teflon?) but the sharp edge is bare metal.
    If this really means ‘don’t touch the bud’, never mind a reply.

    • Not sure why I wrote that. I reworded it. Only the blade should touch the stem that remains. The pruner should be held so that non-blade part does not touch the stem.

      Thanks for pointing out the mistake.

  6. Robert, Your blurb re this topic is the BEST on the web!! Keep at it. I’ve been looking for clarification on bypass vs anvil for too long. Love your pics too! Karen

    • i love your explanations, but I still need one clarification. You say to use he Anvil pruners when cutting dead wood. BUT my understanding was that when you have dead wood on a tree, you always cut back to the live wood,fully removing the dead wood (as well as perhaps 1/8 or 1/4 inch of live wood). Is this not correct? (If it is, it essentially says you never need to cut dead wood and therefor never need Anvil pruners).

      • The reference to dead wood is wood that is no longer attached to a tree. If it is attached to a tree, you should use bypass pruners.


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