Pruning shears (see our top picks here) are great tools for cutting through stems and branches up to about ¾-inch thick. Beyond that, you’ll need a lopper or pruning saw.
We’re continuously testing loppers, pruners and saws to see which ones perform best in different situations. This week, we report on our experience with the LPB-30M Professional Lopper from ARS.
Loppers are basically pruning shears with long handles. They come in all shapes, sizes, cutting capacities, blade configurations, etc. The major differences come in the type of cutting head:
- Bypass Heads: These are the most commonly-used loppers, consisting of two blades that slide past each other like scissors. They typically provide the cleanest cut on live wood, allowing the plant to heal more quickly. However, they tend to get jammed when cutting dead, dry branches, which can bend the blade.
- Anvil Heads: These have one straight blade that cuts as it closes onto a flat edge or ‘anvil’ (think about it like a knife on a chopping board). Because the blade often crushes stems when cutting (unless the blade is extremely sharp), these are best used on dead wood or to trim back live wood before making a final, clean cut with bypass loppers. Because of their design, they can often cut thicker branches than bypass loppers.
The blades of the LPB-30M are made from high carbon steel and are extremely sharp. And here’s an interesting factoid – the company name, ARS, actually stands for “Always Really Sharp”.
When we first opened the package, spread the handles apart and touched the blade portion of the cutting head, we found the ARS acronym was spot on. They’re so sharp in fact that you should take care to keep them closed when not in use.
Another great feature of the LPB-30M blades is that they’re replaceable and can be re-sharpened – a definite plus.
The ARS Professional Lopper (LPB-30M), also known as the “Tree, Orchard, and Vineyard Lopper,” is constructed as a bypass lopper. It has a single bolt that passes through the center of both blades (the top blade is the cutting blade and the bottom blade is known as the counter blade). The bolt is secured by a hex nut on the opposite side.
The ARS LPB-30M lopper also has a unique “screw retainer” that acts as a secondary locking and adjustment mechanism. This unique feature gives the option of “fine tuning” how tightly the blades are attached to one another.
As an experienced arborist, I’ve discovered that finding the “sweet spot” between how tight the cutting blades come together, by how tight you tighten the nut and bolt, is more of an art than a science. All too often the blades come together too tightly or too loosely. This affects both the human power necessary to operate the loppers (too tight) or produces imperfect pruning cuts (too loose).
The ARS “screw retainer” design is a pruner’s dream come true. It keeps the main nut and bolt tight and yet gives the flexibility to tweak this tightness either up or down by adjusting the “screw retainer”.
There are some other nice features of this lopper.
- The bottom counter blade has a metal crown or “step” (about half way down the blade) that acts to stabilize and strengthen the blade, and minimizes friction and clogging.
- The counter blade is also longer than the cutting blade. This feature is designed to facilitate cleaner pruning cuts.
- The cutting blades are made with a non-stick coating.
- It has a cutting capacity of 1.4”
So much of any lopper’s success is the cutting head design and functionality. The ARS LPB-30M gets very high marks for this.
The tubular, oval-shaped handles are made from aluminum. ARS has used a heavy-duty grade handle material that make them very strong while reducing weight (some lopper brands use steel handles that make them heavier, but invariably stronger as well).
For me, the handles were plenty strong and took on even the most demanding cuts. An additional benefit to the tubular handles was their comfort when using them vs. the handle grips. In tight pruning situations where the full length of the handle (about 18”) was cumbersome, I used the aluminum handles alone. This made the lopper into more of a hybrid, somewhere between a hand pruner and lopper. This method is only applicable to pruning smaller material, but in those cases, a tubular handle grip worked perfectly.
Of concern were the 4 bolts that attached the handles to the cutting head. There are two bolts/nuts per handle. Due to the protrusion of the nut/bolt fastening system, you have to be careful not to nick the live remaining wood after a pruning cut. This type of bark tissue damage is detrimental to the plants health. BUT, once you become familiar and mindful of these nut/bolt placements, and apply proper pruning techniques, then this becomes a non-issue.
Bumpers (Shock Absorbers)
Also known as “shock absorbers” are the rubber or synthetic material underneath the cutting blades, but before the handles. These buffer the slamming together of the handles once the pruning cut is finished.
Shock absorbers are particularly important when pruning deadwood, as the force being applied to cut through this hard material can be substantial. The shock absorbers really pay off here.
ARS advertises that they have improved the shock absorber in the LPB class of loppers. They do an adequate job, but I must admit that they’re manufactured from a pretty hard material that could increase shock and fatigue after several hours of pruning. I would’ve liked to have seen a little softer material, but the shock absorbers performed adequately and did what they were intended to do. Plus, the ARS LPB class shock absorbers are replaceable, a nice feature for sure.
Lopper grips come in a wide variety of materials, from wood to foam, and rubber to plastic. Some companies have added gel components to their grip material to make them softer.
ARS uses a hard plastic handle grip. It’s a rugged design and holds up well to the abuses that most gardening/landscape tools undergo. I’ve tested and reviewed many lopper grips and can’t say that any one particular material is better than another. Ultimately it comes down to a personal choice.
The ARS LPB-30’s handle grips have a matte finish that makes them easy to hold securely with both dry and sweaty hands, and gloves as well. If you want a tough and functional grip, then ARS is a good bet.
I made test cuts on both live and dead hardwoods. It should be mentioned (see our Best Lopper recommendations) that bypass loppers are best suited and designed for live wood (anvil loppers are better for deadwood). I was able to cut through the ARS-specified maximum 1.4” cutting capacity for live wood but was only successful in cutting ¾” deadwood.
In live wood, the ARS LPB-30 series made beautiful clean cuts. And the extended tip counter blade, an ARS design feature, made a huge difference. True to their marketing materials, this extended tip yielded precision lopper cuts on both a bias and straight across.
The ARS LPB-30 is a top quality lopper. From tip to tail you’ll be hard pressed to find a better lopper for general pruning work. With the strong aluminum handles, it’s light enough for extended pruning sessions yet tough enough for heavy-duty work. And the blades are incredibly sharp. My minor critiques of the shock absorber and handle nuts/bolts issues were of lesser concern than its overall performance. When I looked at all the plusses this lopper has to offer, I feel that this great tool deserves our highest rating.
Where to Buy
ARS pruning shears can be hard to find; they’re generally not carried in hardware stores or local garden centers. Your best bet is to buy the ARS Professional Loppers (LPB-30M) through Amazon for about $85. They’re well worth the price.
Now over to you – Have you used ARS loppers? How did they work? Let us know in the comments below!
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Disclaimer – GPReview would like to thank ARS for giving us a free lopper to review. There was no expectation that it would be a positive review and we received no compensation for writing it. All opinions expressed here are those of the author based on personal experience using the product.
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