Looking for a holiday present for your gardener? A high-quality pruner is a valuable tool for any gardener. The repetitive motions of actions like hedge pruning can aggravate hand and wrist injuries. Your gardener will appreciate tools that are easy to use and reduce the amount of work and energy required to use them.
Hold your hand out in front of you, palm facing down, as though you were going to shake someone's hand. That is the neutral hand position. Without moving your arm, tilt your hand down so your fingers point down and to the right at a 45-degree angle. This is called the ulnar deviation position.
When you squeeze your hand in the neutral position, you get the most strength. Tools that cause you to squeeze your hand while in the ulnar deviation position cause you to lose up to 25 percent of your grip strength and work harder.
Tools with molded finger grooves will fit some people's hands just right. But they cause everyone else to work harder. If your hand is too large for the grip, your fingers will overlap the ridges, which can cause pain and calluses. Hands that are too small for the grip need to spread out more, which reduces grip strength and again causes more work.
Gloves are great tools and very necessary for many gardening tasks that involve thorns, mud, bugs and other dirty stuff. But gloves that are too thick can cause the fingers to be spread out too far, again causing reduction in gripping strength.
All of this extra work of squeezing too hard or having to repeat tasks because of improper tools can cause or aggravate tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
When looking for gardening tools, look for ones that have soft handle grips that any hand will fit. Try the tool to see whether it can be used in the neutral hand position. And buy a tool that fits the work to be done. Many people do extra work by trying to cut big branches with small tools.
The pruner is usually a scissors-sized tool with a blade only 2 or 3 inches long. Pruners occasionally come with long 2-foot handles for reaching into the middle of thorny shrubs or up to higher branches. They are designed to cut branches as big as about 1/2-inch in diameter. Newer ones employ gears or ratchets that boost hand power and reduce effort needed to make a cut.
Loppers almost always have long handles. Some even have telescopic handles for hard-to-reach places. The blade is usually less than 2 inches long and meant for larger branches. Some are designed to cut 2-inch-thick limbs. Again, newer models often have gears or ratchets to increase the ease of use.
In both pruners and loppers, the style of cutting blade known as "bypass" has blades that pass each other like scissors. They are designed to cut living branches. The '"anvil" blade style has one flat blade and a cutting blade that presses down on the anvil. It is meant for cutting dead branches. But the bypass style will also work on dead branches, and it is more convenient to carry only one pruner around, so most gardeners don't need an anvil-style pruner.
Hedge trimmers have long scissor blades ranging from 6 inches to over 18 inches long. They are designed for hedge trimming but can be used to prune some individual branches. They can also be used for occasional lawn cutting or cutting back perennials, like ornamental grasses or liriope. Longer blades make for better hedge trimming because they require fewer cuts, and each cut makes a larger area smoother. Blades that overlap when closed are preferred because they will cut all the way through the whole range of motion.
Know that all cutting blades should be tempered or double tempered for longer-lasting sharpness. A Teflon coating will protect the blades from rust, create less friction and not let as much sap stick to them. Lopper handles that will have a lot of pressure applied oval-shaped for extra strength.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.