All About Felco Pruning Shears
by Bob Martin, ARS President
You are no longer new to roses. Or, maybe you still are. You have a small rose garden or maybe it’s getting bigger – a lot bigger. And if it’s a lot bigger, or maybe on its way, you need to up your game in taking care of your roses. So how do you do that? If you’re like me, you need TOOLS. Not just tools, not just run of the mill garden tools, but real tools, tools like those that are described in the catalogues as “professional” tools.
But you have more questions than answers. Where do I start? What do I buy? Where do I find them? Do they work? Will I need award-winning tools to get award-winning blooms? (Of course). To answer these and other guy-type questions I begin this month a series that I am titling “Tool Tales”. It is not, however, just for the guys, but should also be useful to the gals and any rose gardener who like me believe (with apologies to Dean Hole):
“He who would have beautiful Roses in his garden must have beautiful Tools in his shed”
Of all of the tools of the rosarian the most important are pruning shears. The purchase of pruning shears is not a place to cut corners or attempt to save money. Good pruning shears can last nearly a lifetime and viewed in terms of their years of use, they are quite inexpensive. They also make a nice gift for your favorite rosarian.
Although there are other pruning shears of merit on the market, a survey of rosarians will reveal that the most preferred pruning shears are those manufactured by Felco. Felco is a Swiss company that has set the standard for professional pruning shears for more than sixty years. I have used Felco pruning shears for more than 30 years. The Felco line of shears is, however, so extensive that confusion exists as to the differences between each model. The purpose of this article is to introduce the entire line of Felco pruning shears and related products.
*Felco #2 The Felco #2 is often called the “original”. This is not, however, entirely accurate since the first pruner made by Felco was the Felco #1. Very similar to the Felco #2 but with a smaller blade, it was produced from 1945 to 1950 and its production stopped with the introduction of the model #2
The Felco #2 – like the entire Felco line of pruning shears – has a replaceable, precision ground forged cutting blade, with sap groove and soft wire cutter. The handles are a tough forged alloy that are easy to grip while rubber shock absorbers between the handles cushion the impact of cutting. When not in use the handles are held closed by a locking mechanism on a pivot bolt. The pruners are 8 ½ inches in overall length, have a 1-inch diameter cutting capacity and retail for about $53.99.
The Felco #4 is often called the “basic pruner” and is basically a stripped down Felco #2 without the locking mechanism or shock absorbers. The pruners retail for about $47.99; the small cost savings of $6 is clearly not worth the difference in features. A more economical stripped down model is the Felco #5 described below. These economy pruners are designed for large-scale operators and make little sense for a serious rosarian.
The Felco #5 is the downscale pruner in the line containing little more than the replaceable cutting blades. They are 9 inches in overall length and retail at the “bargain” price of about $36.99.
The Felco #6 is a smaller scale pruner with shorter blades that are good for those with smaller hands, including women. These are the pruners I bought for Dona and I also use them for more precision pruning of miniature roses. (Truth is that Dona rarely uses them, preferring the Slimmer Trimmers that I will describe in a later installment.) The pruners are 8 inches in overall length, have a smaller 0.8-inch diameter cutting capacity and retail for about $54.99.
The Felco #7 is the top of the line shears with all the features one can imagine. The blade design is angled for close pruning; there is also a sap groove and a wire-cutting notch. The handles have ergonomic grips with little curves that fit well in the hand. Of particular interest is a rotating lower handle that is said to allow fingers to move naturally, reducing hand fatigue and the chance of blisters during prolonged pruning. There are many rosarians who swear by this feature, however I personally I find the action of the rotating handle to be weird and disruptive to speedy pruning. I therefore recommend you actually test these shears in your own hands before buying so you can be comfortable with the action. The pruners are 8 ½ inches in overall length, have a 1-inch diameter cutting capacity and retail for about $76.99.
The alert reader will notice a missing number in the above lineup. The Felco #3 was in fact the first pruner with a rotating handle. This was originally a model #2 with an added rotating handle. Felco concluded this tool was not very ergonomic and stopped its production with the introduction of the model #7
The Felco #8 has the same ergonomic grips as the Felco #7 without the rotating handle. These are my pruners of choice as I do not like the feel of the rotating handle and am also suspicious of additional moving parts. But I do like the ergonomic design of the grips and believe this pruner is well worth the slight $2 increase in price over the original Felco #2. The pruners are 8 1/4 inches in overall length, have a 1-inch diameter cutting capacity and retail for about $55.99.
The Felco #9 is the same as the Felco #8 with reversed blade, anvil and locking catch for left-handers. They retail for about $55.99.
The Felco #10 is the same as the Felco #7 reversed for left-handers, complete with rotating handle. They retail for about $82.99. I find it curious that the left-handed model, which is but the reverse of the right-handed model costs $6 more. Left-handed rosarians may have a reason to feel discriminated against.
The Felco #11 is similar to the original Felco 2, with a more narrow, pointed anvil blade for extra close cutting. It has ergonomic grips, is 8 1/4” in overall length, has a 1-inch diameter cutting capacity and retails for about $58.99.
The Felco #12 is a compact pruner like the Felco #6, designed for small hands, with the rotating handles. It is 7 ¼ inches in overall length, has a 0.8-inch diameter cutting capacity and retails for about $76.99.
The Felco #13 features extra long handles to give better leverage and for two hand use on heavy branches of up to 1-¾ inches in diameter. It is 13 ½ inches in overall length and retails for about $72.99. These may be of value for individuals with large hands who do a lot of heavy pruning. I personally prefer loppers if I need extra leverage.
The Felco #19 is a Felco #8 with a 1-liter single nozzle spray applicator that attaches to your belt and is synchronized with the blade lock to “spritz” each time you cut. This is intended to disinfect the blade to prevent the spread of disease in one quick motion. I have little idea what use this might be for a rosarian unless you were engaged in large-scale pruning of roses all infected with crown gall, a bacterial disease that actually can be spread by pruning shears. If you are, the recommended disinfectant is 70 ethanol (denatured alcohol) and the shears retail for the astounding price of $289.99. Contrary to popular fiction, there are no other diseases of roses that are spread by pruning shears and no reason at all to disinfect pruning shears between cuts. This is clearly a product for the plainly stupid and if I were a Felco executive, I would be embarrassed to continue it in the product line.
The Felco #31 are anvil shears that I do not recommend for roses since anvil pruners crush rose stems and do not make a clean bypass cut. They are somewhat novel in appearance – looking like the T-Rex of pruning shears. They are 8 ½ inches in overall length, have a 1-inch diameter crushing capacity and retail for about $51.99. An earlier version of the anvil shears was known as the Felco #30. I have no idea why it was renumbered or what difference there is in the newer model.
*Felco Pruner Cut & Hold Model 100
The Felco Model 100 is a newer introduction to the line with a blade set with attached grips that hold onto cuttings. It has ergonomic handles with vinyl coating, shock absorbing spring action, and a blade with wire cutting notch and a sap groove. Basically it is the Felco #8 with cut and hold blades that permit one handed cutting of rose stems. Like the sound of one hand clapping, I personally do not find this feature of interest but others who cut blooms for the house might find it of value. They are 8 inches in overall length and retail for about $69.99.
*Felco Shear Stainless Steel Model 300
The Felco Model 300 is a newer downscale model of small ultralight shears with stainless steel cutting heads. It features spring action, easy locking and unlocking, ergonomic handles, and a loop strap. These might be of value for light work, perhaps at a rose show to trim stems. They are 7.5" overall, have a small 0.4-inch diameter cutting capacity and retail for the bargain price of about $27.99.
*Felco Pruner Stainless Steel Model 310
The Felco Model 310 is very similar to the Model 300 but a half-ounce lighter and a quarter inch shorter. It is also intended for very light use with a small 0.4-inch diameter cutting capacity and retails for about $24.99.
*Felco 160S Small Hand Pruners
A newer addition to the Felco line, these are light, ergonomically designed pruners for smaller hands. They have distinctive black and red composite handles paired with hardened steel blades with a 0.8-inch cutting capacity; and retail for about $39.99.
*Felco 160L Large Hand Pruners
Another newer addition to the Felco line, these are the large hand version of the 160S Pruners above, with a larger 1-inch cutting capacity, also retailing for about $39.99
To sum up, my Felco pruning shears of choice is the Felco #8 with the ergonomic grips. If you prefer a more narrow blade, the choice would be the Felco #11. For smaller hands, I recommend the Felco #6. Many rosarians recommend the Felco #7 because of the rotating handles that put less pressure on the wrist. For those with smaller hands who may want the rotating handles, the choice would be the Felco #12. If you are left-handed (and cut with your left hand), the choices would be the Felco #9 or #10 – again with the rotating handles.
In addition to the pruners, Felco offers a shear case that attaches with a metal clip to your belt. Retailing for about $13.99 it is a scabbard that is made of very heavy-duty molded leather that is neither soft nor supple. I do not like it and prefer a softer holster that can be threaded on to the belt.
One of the best things about owning Felco pruners is the wide availability of replacement parts that can be used to extend the life of the shears. These include the following at approximate prices:
Cutting Blade ..................... $18.99
Hook Blade ................. $18.99
Replacement Hand Grips ..... $18.98
Pivot Bolt & Nut ....... $8.99
Spring (2-pak) ........... $6.69
Repair Kit - (All parts not listed above) ....$8.99
Felco also sells a proprietary brand of lubricant spray that is useful in keeping your tools clean and oiled. It comes in a small can and retails for about $17.49.
The Key to Felco Disassembly
The use of replacement parts, as well as cleaning and sharpening requires that you learn to disassemble your Felco pruners. This is not as hard as it first appears and can be mastered with but a little practice. The key to learning how to disassemble your Felco pruners is contained in the box itself, typically in a slot in the molded plastic. This key serves as both a screwdriver and wrench and is actually all you need in order to disassemble and reassemble your pruners. It is easily misplaced – I keep one on a key ring on my tool bench and another in my grooming kit. I also have one on a key ring with house keys.
Although some local nurseries carry Felco pruning shears it is rare to find a wide selection and sometimes you have to ask since they are often kept under the counter. Accordingly the best place to purchase them is usually online or by mail order. The entire line is carried by A.M. Leonard, who I recommend as a reliable source of fairly priced tools (www.amleo.com). The prices indicated above are taken from their 2017 catalogue.
Loppers, Power-Assisted Pruners, Saws, etc.
Felco also carries a line of loppers, power-assisted pruners, pruning saws and other pruning products. We’ll talk about those, the Corona line of comparable tools and other related subjects next time. Until then here’s a point to ponder:
“Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them.” Steve Jobs
Felco photos, submitted by Bob Martin