The Right Saw for the Task

If you've ever spent a few hours pruning trees and shrubs, you know that having the right saw makes all the difference in doing the job properly, safely and efficiently.

It results in easy, clean cuts that help the appearance and health of prized plants. And it helps you get the job done in record time. The key is choosing the right saw for you and for the task.

Size Matters

Use the diameter of the branch to determine which cutting tool to use:

Less than ½ to ¾ inch: Use hand shears, also called pruning shears. Check the package to find out the largest branch they can handle.

½ to 1½ inches: Use long-handled loppers.

1½ inches to about 7 inches: Use a curved hand pruning saw or bow saw. Avoid using what is generically called a wood saw (the kind you use to cut lumber). It’s hard to maneuver and the thin, flexible blade tends to bow as you work.

7 to 9 inches: Use a small chain saw—one with a bar 14 to 18 inches long. As a rule of thumb, the bar should be at least twice the thickness of the branch.

More than 9 inches: Use a larger chain saw with a bar at least 18 inches long.

How High?

The branch’s height also determines which saw you should choose. Pole saws, also called pole pruners, are great for branches as far as 12 feet above your head. However, you need adequate arm strength to use a pole saw. When buying a pole pruner, be sure to handle it and carry it around the store.

Power pole pruners weigh about the same as (and sometimes more than) their hand counterparts, but they do the job more quickly, causing less strain overall. Electric models tend to be cheaper and lighter, and gas-engine types are powerful but heavier and more expensive. Power pole pruners are often sold as attachments to power trimmers.

How Much?

How much pruning you have to do also plays a role in what type of saw you’ll use. If you have more than a few smaller branches to cut each time you go out, consider investing in a chain saw. For about $40, you can get a small corded electric chain saw that is light and easy to use. It will make quick work of a wide variety of tasks, and you might not have to reach for the aspirin after a day in the garden.

How to Buy

When purchasing a power tool, hold it up over your head for 30 seconds. If you can’t do this easily, the tool may be too heavy for you. (Safety note: Never operate a chain saw higher than your shoulders.) If you’re looking at cordless models, check the batteries’ run life. You may want to get two batteries so you can use one while the other is charging.

When shopping for hand saws, choose one with a handle that feels good in your hand. Think about whether it’ll still feel comfortable after several minutes of sawing. Look for hand saws that cut on both the pull and push—you’ll get the job done in half the time.

With a bow saw, blades are interchangeable. Each blade is meant for a different purpose. Look for a saw(or blade) designed especially for cutting branches.

A good pruning saw is a great addition to your arsenal of garden tools. You may not need it every day, but when you do need it, you’ll be grateful that you have just the right tool for the job.