The secateurs, a revolutionary invention

The secateurs, which was invented between the French Revolution and 1815 by the Marquis Bertrand de MOLEVILLE, was a pruning tool much criticized  by both amateurs and professionals.  And for just reason, if we are to believe the numerous reports at the time, as the tool tended to leave scars on the plant if it wasn’t used properly.  Photo no. 1 shows an example of an early pruning shears or secateurs.

Most mid-nineteenth century winegrowers refused to use the secateurs.  In 1887, Louis HENRY wrote of his reserves about the secateurs in his work  ‘Eléments d’Arboriculture Fruitière’ : “it has the disadvantage of always compressing or slightly crushing  one of the sides of the cut.  When using this tool, make sure to keep the lower blade above the stem in order to reduce the risk of scarring the plant.  Some tree-growers refuse to use this tool, but this seems to me too drastic a measure.  I would refuse to use it only on extensions, in which case you should always use a pruning knife.

As cutlers refind their art, the secateurs gradually became an essential tool for wine-growers, tree-growers and gardeners.  In order to convince certain sceptics, some cutlers added a pruning knife or a small hatchet, or sometimes even both, to the blades (see photo no. 2).  Winegrowers especially, being quite traditioinal, tried these big scissors, while still using its appendices which ressembled the pruning knife.  These “transitory” tools, though often clumsy, allowed for a slow adaptation to the pruning technique of today, an adaptation which lasted to the end of the 19th. Century and up to the mid-20th. Century in certain regions.   In 1898, Paul COSTE-FLORET confirmed in ‘Les Travaux de Vignoble’ : “in the South, cutting is done by experienced men who use the secateurs, which is more efficient, easier to use and less dangerous than the pruning knife of old, which is no longer used today.

This tool being new on the rural market, manufacturers try to create many different models : cast and toughened steel is a guarantee of solidity and gives a clean cut.  If you want a stylish tool, there are some available with bone, horn or exotic wooden handles.  There is also a wide range of different spring systems.  Photo no. 2 shows different old-fashioned models.  The biggest one, on the right, measured 30 cms. and the smallest one, for women, measured 15 cms

But let’s get back to modern times.  Though maybe not as quaint as the old models, today’s tool, made from new materials such as carbon, is more efficient, easier to use and can cut a diametre of up to 3 cms..  Choose your tool according to its main use.  The most common version, with “crossd blades”, also known as the “counter blade”, “clean cutting” or “pulling blades”, is suited to dry or green wood.  The basic technique is to position the cutting blade on the remaining branch

The “anvil” secateurs, though it tends to crush the wood tissue, is suited to cutting hard or dry wood, or rosetrees.  It is recommended to have both of these types of secateurs

Ergonomic models, which have angular handles, one of which can rotate, are supposed to improve the grip on the branch to be cut, thus making the job easier.

A secateurs with cogs, which makes several movements before the cut, demands less force.  “Assisted” secateurs, pneumatic or electric, are an option for professionals who have intensive pruning to perform.

Besides all these technical arguements, before buying your tool you should manipulate and compare several different models.  Make sure to check the opening angle, which is sometimes adjustable,  in order to adapt it to the size of your hands.

Be careful to clean and sharpen the blades regularly.

If, in many gardens, “the rose is king”, the same can also be said of the secateurs.

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