Shears are among the most versatile tools for lawn and garden care. Though similar to garden scissors, they differ in several important ways - ways that make life easier for home lawn care workers. Ordinary scissors produce a shearing force by holding material between two hard, sharp edges. That's where shears get their name. But a modification of this scheme results in a tool called 'bypass shears'.
Bypass shears have blades that are designed to bypass each other, applying a shearing force as the cutting edges move past one another. They come in a dozen varieties, each with its own ideal use.
The largest type are grass or hedge shears. Very long-handled, they provide a long cutting surface to cut the maximum amount of material in one clamping.
Long blade shears are most like heavy duty scissors, about 8 inches total, often having rubberized grips around the straight handles for easy grabbing. Perfect for snipping flowers or fruit.
Pruning shears, by contrast, typically have two moon-shaped blades, one with a convex crescent, the other concave. The enlarged-oval handles and the blade design allow the user to apply a large force, needed for cutting the woody stems of herbs and small fruit tree branches. A variation has a set of circular, saw-toothed, metal blades that are great for grabbing or cutting larger branches.
Either long blade or pruning shears are often complemented by a handy spring and latch mechanism. The spring separates the blades when the user eases pressure on the handles, saving him or her the effort of opening the blades when wearing gloves. The latch is there to keep them clamped shut, and the blades together, when stored away. That added safety feature has a side-benefit: it makes them easy to hang on a hook.
Garden scissors are sometimes confused with shears, but they have very large open handles and shorter straight blades. They're used not for pruning, but for cutting twine, opening packages, cutting weed cloth, etc. An ordinary pair of house scissors could do the job in a pinch, but garden scissors are typically stronger and more durable. The blades are very tough and sharpen up well.
Though we often look on these tools as 'merely' useful, which they are, our ancestors regarded them as highly prized possessions. Often referred to today as 'ordinary garden tools', two hundred years ago they would have been worth a great deal.
But one thing is still true today that was true then. A good pair of shears, properly maintained, can last for 20 years or more. Tempered, forged steel, an adjustable screw to tighten loose blades and high quality plastic or rubberized grips that last are all essential. Look for quality, spend a little more and you'll be rewarded with a generation's worth of value.