Powered pole pruners make for quick work

The advent of gasoline-powered pole pruners has virtually revolutionized tree-trimming and -pruning operations. Not only have they taken the "elbow grease" out of limbing the old-fashioned way with manual pruners, but they have removed the electric cord as well as the hydraulic or pneumatic tether from the equation.

Operators with a hand-held gasoline-powered pruner can quickly and easily dispatch limbs and branches up to 17 feet or more in the air while standing safely on the ground. And they can do so in virtually any location. These machines are one of the more exciting inventions to come about in the power-equipment industry over the last decade. But before you go out to purchase a unit or comparison shop, you would do well to acquaint yourself with their basic features. These units may look alike, but they don't all prune alike. By reviewing features, you'll be better equipped to find a pruner that suits your application.

Gasoline-powered pole pruners have gone through relatively few changes since hitting the marketplace 10 years ago. The basic configuration consists of a power source, a shaft and a cutting head. The engine transmits power through the shaft to the cutting attachment, which turns a saw chain or causes a reciprocating motion in a saw blade. The choice between a chain-saw cutting head and a reciprocating cutting head is really a choice between speed and size of cut. A chain-saw cutting head is faster than a reciprocating head and will cut through larger-diameter limbs. Albeit slower and with less capacity for cutting, a reciprocating head delivers a smooth cut that is ideal for more sensitive pruning applications.

Because chain-saw cutting heads have a broader range of applications than reciprocating heads, we'll limit the following discussion to them.

Vital statistics Gasoline-powered pole pruners feature engines from 21 to 24 ccs and are equipped with cutting-bar lengths of 10 to 12 inches. These machines feature either fixed-length or telescoping shafts and are generally available with shaft extensions to extend the factory reach. Look for shaft length to vary from slightly less than 8 feet for models with fixed-length shafts to upwards of 17 feet with telescoping-shaft units equipped with an extension.

Because the cutting heads are attached to the far end of the shaft, weight and balance are key to operator comfort. Throttle-handle design and a shoulder strap should work in concert to allow you to support the pruner in part by your shoulders and body. A fiberglass-shaft housing and the use of polymers in place of die-cast metal for gearboxes and other key components work to keep weight down, somewhere in a range of 12 to 14 pounds (dry weight). Vibration-reduction devices, low-tone mufflers and easy-start engines with all-position carburetors add to ease of operation and overall operator comfort.

Thanks to thoughtful design features, these machines are easier to operate than one might first think. Automatic oilers, for example, keep the bar and chain lubricated for long pruning sessions.

Look for units with cutting heads that are easily visible from the operator's perspective. The use of a narrow kerf chain on the cutting head is important, as well, in helping to reduce potential snagging and to enhance the speed of the cutting operation. For users with a variety of applications, the telescoping shaft is well worth the extra cost. In some models, a simple turn of a knob will give operators an additional 3 to 4 feet of reach. Returning the shaft to its original length not only allows easier trimming of lower branches but makes for easier transport, as well.

Options and more Having the ability to extend the reach of a gasoline-powered cutting head provides interesting possibilities for attachments. One such attachment is a circle saw that features a 6.5-inch blade designed to cut through limbs up to 2.5 inches in diameter. The saw is designed specifically for cutting off delicate limbs and branches quickly and accurately, without tearing and bruising.

Another option is a hedge-trimming attachment that allows operators to easily shape, prune, trim and thin hedges, brush and limbs up to 1.5 inches in diameter. This accessory especially is ideal for tall hedges and other trimming applications that are unusually difficult to reach.

For operators pruning or trimming near high-voltage power sources, one manufacturer has long touted a non-conductive model. Municipal and utility workers are particularly keen on this pruner, reportedly capable of withstanding 100,000 volts per foot of length for 5 minutes.

These accessories-in combination with the more traditional chain-saw cutting head-have made gasoline-powered pruners indispensable tools for professional tree-care people, arborists and landscapers. Municipalities also use them to clear highways. RV parks keep campers and campsites safe from falling dead branches. Even farmers have no trouble finding a use for them, keeping aggressive hedgerows and wood lots from encroaching into fields.

The key feature to all of these tools is their ability to extend reach. Standing on the ground gives users a better perspective of the cutting area, and it allows you to stand away from falling branches. By design, they also keep operators away from the cutting chain-at least 5 feet away depending on the brand and model, further minimizing the chance of injury.

As always, when buying any piece of power equipment, match the machine to the anticipated application. In other words, know what you want to use it for before making a purchase. Lower-end models with fixed-length shafts may be perfectly well-suited for limited use and applications. But professionals in the tree-care business should focus on more power and more reach. Even a bump from a 21-cc engine to a 23-cc engine, for example, can provide 20 percent more power, and that adds up in a hurry in terms of speed and productivity.

Remember, too, that quality design will always pay off in the long run. Look for pruners equipped with commercial-duty engines and heavy-duty gearboxes and that come with at least a 1-year warranty for commercial applications.

Robin Pendergrast is responsible for marketing for Echo Inc. (Lake Zurich, IL).

Before using any piece of hand-held power equipment, including powered pole pruners, keep these safety rules in mind: *Protective clothing. Anyone operating power equipment needs to wear protective clothing. The list of necessities includes sturdy work boots, snug-fitting clothes, gloves and eye, ear and head protection. Make sure eye protection is stamped Z87 to signify it meets ANSI Z87.1 requirements. * Pre-use checkup. Before operating any piece of power equipment, set it down on a clean area. Give it a "once over" to make sure fasteners are tight, the saw chain is at the proper tension, the air filter is clean and in place and the spark plug is secure, just to name a few. Then add fresh, clean fuel with the proper fuel:oil mix. Remember that 2-cycle oil can separate, so you should thoroughly shake your fuel container before filling the tank. * Fuel precautions. Always handle fuel with care. Avoid overfilling the tank, and wipe up spilled fuel before startup. Move at least 10 feet from the refueling point, and make sure the gas cap or fuel system is not leaking before starting the engine. * Dos and Don'ts. Always follow these easy-to-remember-but often ignored-dos and don'ts about refueling: Do fill the fuel tank outdoors. Don't pour fuel indoors. Don't refuel the engine when it is hot or running. Do use approved, safe fuel containers. And never smoke or allow flame or sparks near fuel.

Remember, too, that operating any hand-held product requires a fair amount of skill and experience, as well as the practice of safe operating techniques to accomplish the required task successfully and safely. No matter what hand-held tool you're using, always keep a firm grip on the unit with both hands, carry the unit only when the engine is stopped and never overreach or stand on unstable surfaces. Always stop the engine before inspecting the machine, and never remove hands from the unit when the chain or other cutting device is moving.

One final word of caution: The operator's manual contains important safety and operating information. Read the manual in its entirety before initially operating any piece of power equipment. And routinely review the manual.

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© 2020 Penton Media Inc.

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