USDA Forest Service  logo Table of Contents

Back | Next | Home
Forest Service Technology & Development logo

Page Header: graphic of tools

Tools for Brushing

Lopping Shears and Pruning Shears

Bank Blade and Bush Hook

Clearing Knives and Swedish Brush (Sandvig) Axes

Machete and Woodsman's Pal

Corn Knife


Sickle and Grass Hooks

Weed Hook

Weed Cutters (Grass Whips)

Photo of a man using lopping shears.

Lopping and Pruning Shears

Image of lopping shears.

Lopping and pruning shears are similar in design and use, although lopping shears have longer handles to improve reach, and gear drives to increase leverage for thicker stems. Cutting edges vary, but generally one blade binds and cuts a stem against an anvil or beveled hook. We recommend the hook and blade shear for overhead cuts because the curved blades transfer the weight of the shears to the limb. Quality shears have rust–resistant steel blades. Handles are wood or aluminum. Handles range from 26 to 36 inches long. Limbs up to 3 inches can be cut with shears.

Image of hook and anvil cutting blades.

Transport shears with the blades closed. Grip the tool on one handle just behind the blade and carry it by your side. Clean moisture and sap from blades after use. Keep metal parts lightly oiled to prevent rust. Frequently check nuts and bolts for tightness, and always carry replacements in the field.

Image of lopping shears cutting.

To sharpen, spread the handles apart, resting one or both ends on a flat surface. Use a mill bastard file on the cutting blade only; neither hooks nor anvils are sharpened. Maintain factory bevels while filing toward the cutting edge. Use a whetstone to remove the wire edge.

Image of sharpening lopping shears.

Examples: (Skip pictures)

Image of heavy–duty lopping shears.
Heavy–duty lopping shears give a 3–inch diameter cut.
Ash handles. Ideal for the forester. They are 37¾ inches long and weigh 5½ pounds.

Image of heavy–duty brush cutters.
"Forester" heavy–duty brush cutters give a 2–inch diameter cut for heavy–duty
jobs—hardwood, dead wood, branches or brush. Rugged steel construction, strong
enough to even dehorn and clip cattle. Both blades cut to reduce bark damage. The shears
are 27 to 34 inches long and weigh 4 to 8 pounds.

Image of snap–cut professional lopping shears.
Snap–cut professional lopping shears make a 1¾–inch diameter cut.
A gear–driven lopping shear with tremendous cutting power—10 pounds force applied to the
handles gives 300 pounds cutting power. The shears are 30 inches long and weigh 5½ pounds.

Image of true–temper lopping shears.
True–temper lopping shears give a 1½ diameter cut. Tubular steel
handles for extra strength. Rubber cushion grips, absorb shocks. Used by biologists to remove
deer jawbones. The shears are 26 inches long and weigh 2¼ pounds.

Image of hi–tork lopper.
Hi–tork loper gives a 1½–inch diameter cut. Designed for hardwood,
frozen wood, brush, and dead wood. Shears are 27 inches long and weigh 3 pounds.

Image of point–cut pruners.
Point–cut pruners give a 1¼–inch diameter cut. Blades
open wide to cut suckers or sprouts at blade point. Weighs 3 pounds.

Bank Blades and Bush Hooks

Bank blades and bush hooks are designed specifically for cutting through thickets of heavy brush or saplings. Their long handles and heavy heads will add momentum to the force of your swing, but their curved blades also pose extra safety hazards. Always maintain a firm grip with both hands on the handle. Cut with a slicing rather than a hacking motion. Remember that bank blades have cutting edges on both edges of the blade. Stay clear of other workers. Be aware of the increased possibility of glancing blows, and always control the swing to avoid cuts to the legs or feet. Wear shin guards when operating these tools. Blades are available in 12– to 16–inch lengths. Handles are 36 inches or 40 inches long. The tool weighs from 3½ to 5 pounds.

Image of bank blade and bush hook.

Carry bank blades and bush hooks with the head forward like a shovel. Grip the handle near the head and hold the hook away from the body and down.

Sharpen bank blades and bush hooks with a mill bastard file and finish with a whetstone. Always wear your gloves and use a file guard. Stroke along the straight edges of the blades and swing the stone or file in an arc to maintain the factory edge bevel on curved sections.

Examples: (Skip pictures)

Image of true–temper and council bank blades.
Bank blades for clearing thick undergrowth and brush. Blade sharpened on
both sides. Blade lengths available; 12 inches, 16 inches. Hickory handle lengths
available; 36 inches, 42 inches. Tools weigh 1 to 5½ pounds.

Image of council single and double edge, and true temper single and double edge bush hooks.
Bush hooks for clearing work that is too heavy for a scythe
and not suited for an axe. Available with single, edged, eye and strap blade
or double edged, axe eye blade type. Hickory handles, 12 to 36
inches long: weigh 2 to 4½ pounds.


Clearing Knives and Swedish Brush (Sandvik) Axes

Image of long–handled clearing knife.

These clearing tools work well in brushy thickets or when clearing in rocky or confined areas. Clearing knives look like small, short, brush hooks, so use, carry, and sharpen them accordingly. Handle length will determine if the tool is operated one– or two–handed. Use and carry a short–handled clearing knife like a machete.

Image of Swedish brush (Sandvig) axe.

Brush axes have different blades than clearing knives. The replaceable Swedish steel blade has a 5½–inch cutting edge. The ax has a 27–inch long handle. It weighs about 2½ pounds. They have removable blades held in a C–shaped frame under tension. Tension may weaken and cause blades to pop out. Bend the frame outward slightly to increase tension. The blade can be removed for sharpening. Avoid overheating the blade and losing the temper. Replace badly damaged blades.

Image of sharpening brush axe.

Machetes and Woodsman's Pals

Machetes and Woodsman's Pals are used to clear weeds, brush, and small trees along a trail. Machetes became commonly used in Forest Service work after World War II when surplus knives were used extensively for brushing. Machetes have blades from 17 to 24 inches long and weigh up to 2 pounds. The Woodsman's Pal is shorter and sturdier than the machete and includes a cutting hook and a knuckle guard. It is used for cutting, chopping, digging, hacking, and pulling. It is 16 inches long and weighs about 1½ pounds.

Image of machete and woodman's pal.

Because these are single–grip tools, a worker must always maintain a firm grip while swinging. Also, be aware of the location of fellow workers. The hook on the end of the Woodsman's Pal can slip as it is pulled toward you and cut legs or hands, or it may strike the back of an operator's head on the back swing. Both tools come with belt sheaths that make them easy and safe to carry.

When sharpening, use a mill bastard file or whetstone to maintain the factory edge bevel. Sharpen the hook of the Woodsman's Pal using the procedure described for the brush hook. Protect sharpened edges at all times.

Examples: (Skip pictures)

Image of collins, barteauz and sons, and seymour machetes.
Machetes for cutting heavy weeds, brush, vines, grass, shrubs.
Heavy–duty, hand–forged Swedish steel blade. Poly–propylene safety handle.
Handles 17 to 24 inches long. Tools weigh a few ounces to 2 pounds.

Image of woodman's pals.
Woodman's Pal axe used for cutting, chipping, digging,
hacking, pulling. Sixteen inches long; weighs 1½ pounds.

Corn Knives

These tools, also called tobacco knives, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are commonly used for hand brushing on tree and tobacco plantations.

Corn knives are single–grip tools, so hold tightly to the handle while operating. Stand well balanced and bend at the waist. Use your free hand to steady the stems you intend to cut. Wear a glove to protect your free hand from scratches or burns from weeds.

Image of a corn knife.

When carrying, grip the knife on the handle near the blade. Carry the tool by your side with the blade pointed away from your body and down. When sharpening, maintain factory edge bevels. Corn knives may have curved blades that are sharpened on only one side like brush or weed hooks, or they may have straight or adjustable blades that are sharpened on both sides like machete.

Image of a tobacco knife.


Scythes efficiently mow open areas of weeds or grass. Grass or weed scythes have 24– to 40–inch blades and long handles. Brush scythes have shorter, sturdier blades and handles and are often preferred by trail crews.

Image of a scythe.

Operate the scythe by grasping the handles (nibs) projecting from the bar (snath) and rhythmically sweeping the blade low to the ground across and in front of you. A "grass nail" placed between the bar and the blade keeps vegetation from catching in that junction.

Carry scythes by your side in one hand, blade forward and handle behind. Keep control of the blade by grasping the handle near the blade and pointing the blade away from your body with the tip down. Stop and change hands if the tool becomes too heavy. Transport scythes well behind a line of workers, and work only in areas clear of others.

Before sharpening the scythe, stand the handle on its end so the blade is horizontal and the tip points down. Use a whetstone or scythestone to hone the blade from back to front (tang to tip) on both sides. Maintain the factory edge bevel. If the blade is badly chipped detach it from the handle and reshape it with a grinder or file. Return the edge to a bevel of 10°. Although some argue that the wire edge facilitates cutting light vegetation, we recommend removing it. A lesser known method of sharpening involves beating the blade with a special hammer to shape and sharpen it without grinding. Finish with a whetstone.

Sickles and Grass Hooks

Sickles are curved knives used to cut weeds or grass in limited space. The single grip handle angles upward so the blade cuts parallel to the ground while the operator stands bent at the waist. The blade is 12 inches long and the handle is 4 to 5 inches long.

Carry the sickle by your side with the cutting edge away from your body and pointed down. Maintain a firm grip on the handle when carrying or using.

Image of a sickle and grass hook.

Maintain sickles with a whetstone or scythestone. The blade is beveled on the top side only. Remove the wire edge by working the stone flat against the backside.

The grass hook combines features of scythes and sickles. It can be operated like a scythe from an upright position, but the small blade is maintained like a sickle.

Weed Hooks

Workers can easily trim annual vegetation along a trail with a weed hook. These tools have a curved inside blade that cuts by pulling through stems toward the operator and a straight top blade that cuts by pushing. Long handles allow the operator to remain upright.

Image of a weed hook.

Since these tools are light enough to operate with a single grip, carry them by the handle with the head away from the body and down and weed as you walk. Always maintain safe distances between workers. Remember that the tool has two cutting edges and that swinging it could be especially hazardous. Sharpen weed hooks with a mill bastard file and finish with a whetstone. Use a curving stroke on the pulling cutter that follows the inside edge around to the tip. Sharpen the pushing cutter on the top side only.

Image of a weed hook head.

Weed Cutters (Grass Whips)

Weed cutters are used for cutting light growth like grasses and annuals that grow along trails. They are lightweight and durable and usually swung like a golf club. The sharper the blade, the less energy needed to cut. Both edges are serrated and cut on the forward and return strokes. When sharpening the edges of these tools, remember that different models have the blade bevels on different sides. The frame may interfere when sharpening top–beveled blades. It may be best to remove the blade and screw it to a block of wood for sharpening. Maintain a 25° bevel on both serrated and straight blades. Cutters usually have a 9– by 2–inch blade and a 40–inch long handle.

Image of a weed cutter.

decorative graphic

USDA Forest Service  logo

mailbox icon  E-mail:

Back | Next

Table of Contents
Forest Service Technology & Development logo
Missoula Technology &
Development Center

This page last modified August 1, 2002
Visitorcounter 1 counter 2 counter 3 counter 4 counter 5 counter 6 since August 1, 2002