Hedge shears come in hand and powered models. Both are designed to shape bushes and hedges. Normally, power shears will cut only up to 1/4-inch-diameter branches; hand shears will trim branches up to 1/2 inch thick. Some hand shears also have a pruning notch near the pivot point for effectively grabbing and cutting 1-inch limbs. For thicker branches, use lopping shears so you don’t risk damaging the hedge shears.
The traditional problem with hand shears was that the heavier branches tended to slip ahead of the blades as they closed. However, two innovations have remedied the situation: one has wavy blades so that the branch is caught and held in one of the waves, and the other has serrations on one or both blades to catch and hold the branches. If you are planning to buy hedge shears, get those with one of these innovations.
Whether handles are made of wood, steel, or another material, a small but important detail to look for is rubber cushions between the handles. Then, when the blades snap shut, it’s these cushions, not your arms, that absorb the shock.
In addition to hand shears, there are also electric and gas-engine hedge shears. These are useful if you have lots of hedges to trim, but they don’t equal hand shears for cutting heavy branches. As a rule of thumb, considered power shears if you have more than 50 feet of hedge to trim.
The overall length of these shears generally runs from 12 to 28 inches; the blades are between 6 and 12 inches long. Smaller models are less tiring to use, but they are more time-consuming; longer blades cut level or vertical sides of hedges more accurately.
The best shears are made from stainless steel, but forged steel is nearly as good and markedly cheaper.
When selecting shears, check that the blades come smoothly together along their entire length as they close. If they don’t, they will not cut properly. It takes some skill, or at least a lot of care, to use them properly, but it’s worth it—hand shears let you prune your hedges more selectively.
Shears powered by electricity and those powered by a small two-cycle engine work on the same principle: A reciprocating cutting blade runs back and forth beneath a stationary blade. Both blades are notched to catch and hold the small branches as they are cut. Some models have two notched cutting blades and the stationary blade. Most are designed to handle up to 1/4-inch-thick branches.
Electric models are convenient, but you are limited by the length of the power cord. On smaller models, this cord may be no longer than 25 feet long. The longer the cord, the more resistance, which diminishes the electrical power. The cord has a tendency to get in the way, and you must take extra care not to slice into it while you are pruning.
Gas-powered models are run by small, efficient, two-cycle engines and allow you unencumbered movement. These engines have carburetors designed to work in all positions. Most of them have a centrifugal clutch, which means that the blades do not start working until the engine speed is increased enough to engage the clutch.
The cutting blades are generally from 12 to 30 inches long (an average user needs only 16 to 20 inches). Blades are treated with a dry lubricant such as graphite powder rather than oil to prevent plant material from sticking to them.
In selecting hedge shears, look for one with enough power to do the job efficiently. And consider the blade length. If you have an average lawn or garden, you don’t really need a long blade. It costs more and may unbalance the power hedger. A 16-inch blade is generally adequate.
Do not sharpen blades for power hedge shears. When they become worn, replace them.
Before putting away hedge shears, remove any tree bark, leaves, or other debris that is caught in them. Debris caught between the blades not only impairs the cutting action but will, if left there, invite rust.
While you are cleaning the tools, check for any loose nuts or screws, and tighten them if necessary.