Depending on your specialty, the power pole pruner or pole saw might be one of the most used cutters on a tree care truck.
“I’ve heard of some climbers who climb with (power) pole pruners and that’s all they use, because they can work in one tree and prune three trees around it,” says Jack Easterly, product manager for Husqvarna, a 28-year TCIA corporate member company based in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It depends on the creativity of the operator, I would say. With a resourceful, creative and skilled operator, pole pruners can be one of the most important tools in the toolbox.”
Note that, while some manufacturers differentiate between pole saws and pole pruners, or loppers, some companies use the word “pruners” for their pole saws as well. In this article, we’ll try to differentiate where it matters to the point being made.
If you’re a tree care professional, says Jerry Morgan, there’s an excellent chance you’ll buy your powered pole pruner from the same company you bought your chain saw from.
“Most of the professionals in the tree care industry are pretty brand loyal,” says Morgan, saw and product manager for the Chain Saw Division at Echo, Inc., a 20-year TCIA corporate member company with U.S. headquarters in Lake Zurich, Illinois. “If they have a certain model of chain saw they are using regularly and they like it, they’re probably going to stick with the same brand.”
Which doesn’t mean they won’t do their due diligence before making a purchase.
“I think a lot of them do comparisons,” says Morgan. “They look at weights, they look at fuel capacities. They look at things like the auto dust-boat oiler on the bar and the chain. They look at air filtration. If it has a nice air-filtration system, one that’s going to keep that engine cleaner longer or need fewer maintenance intervals, that might come into play, but it seems like those users are pretty brand loyal. A lot of times they stick with the brand, unless that brand has failed them in some way or caused them problems.”
In addition to brand, some arborists may also be swayed by the power source, as states adopt new regulations about battery- vs. gas-powered tools. Also, with the amount of use a pole saw gets, arborists put a premium on both durability and dependability of the tool, according to those spoken with for this article. They also consider length of the pole it sits on and the bar length at the end of that pole, to determine reach.
What should a commercial tree care company owner consider when it’s time to think about a new power pole tool? Five leading manufacturers weighed in with their observations about what tree care company owners prioritize and what should be considered. Not surprisingly, their preferences ran to their own products, but many of the things they cited were universal.
“It really depends on their needs,” says Mike Poluka, product manager for battery products at Stihl, a 28-year TCIA corporate member company with its U.S. headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “We have pole pruners that are fixed length. We have pole pruners that telescope, the longer lengths. And then the power source is really the big thing to look for. Do they desire a gas piece of equipment? Do they desire battery? Secondly, I would say, you’re looking for durability. These are pro users. Their paycheck depends on the service the tool offers. So when they go to a job, the product needs to do the job and do it completely and minimize their downtime.
“Then there’s also the service behind it,” Poluka adds. “Any time you buy a piece of equipment, having that service network to support the product after the sale is also important, in my opinion. Whether it’s replacement parts such as spark plugs, fuel filters or air filters, extra chains, bar and chain oil or the right personal protective equipment, that’s all supported through the Stihl dealer network. And those are the things I would think are important when considering your purchase.”
Not surprisingly, size matters when it comes to these tools. As Morgan describes it, tree care professionals consider the length of the handle and the chain saw on the end, as well as the size of the motor and the fuel tank (to do multiple jobs without stopping), along with features to determine durability and dependability.
Echo offers four models of its power pruner, a trademarked term for its pole saws, three in the 2620 Series (25.4 cc powerhead with a 12-inch bar) and one in the 225 Series (21.2 cc powerhead with a 10-inch bar). The company offers fixed-shaft lengths, starting at 94 inches, and telescoping shafts.
“Our telescoping one, when you extend it, gets you about 146 inches,” he says. “Just over 12 feet of reach there. Another 4 feet of reach is, obviously, important. It depends on how broad your tree care business is and maybe the area you live in, things like that.
“I’m looking for fuel-tank capacity, so I can fill it up and have long run times,” Morgan says. “Our 2620-series models right now have fuel tanks on them that hold just under 21 fluid ounces, which is about 40% bigger than our biggest competitor’s models.”
Quite often, as with automobile or truck purchases, customers will make a choice based on reasoning, but also because they are drawn to it for reasons of touch and feel. In the case of powered pole saws or pruners, one tool might feel better in their hands or they might like the sound of the engine, or one might remind them of a tool they liked or disliked.
“I think prior experience comes into play a great deal,” Morgan continues. “That’s why it’s very important to us to make sure we’re keeping current customers. We’re confident in what we’re doing in pruners and all of our products. We have a product that can go toe to toe with anybody else’s in the market right now.”
New regulations, new technology
As some states consider or adopt new clean-air regulations, some tree care companies are changing power sources – to batteries.
“In the field right now, you have government organizations or local municipalities putting restrictions on the use of gas-powered equipment,” Poluka says. “When you have an outside factor such as that driving the change, then the user really doesn’t have a choice, and they have to seek alternatives, such as battery-powered equipment. That’s what we’re seeing now. (Clean-air legislation is) going to drive a lot of change in California in the coming years. And then, of course, you have states that tend to follow suit.”
Stihl boasts a wide array of pole saws, including both gas-powered models and battery driven, which launched in 2021.
“We have two telescopic ones really for the pro user; the model name is BHTA 135,” Poluka says. “If you look at an HTA 135 (battery-operated), it uses the same drive shaft and cutting components as the truly professional gas-powered pole pruners. Same gearbox, same bars and chains. So Stihl is recognizing this trend in the market, this initiative to electrify things. And we are investing in new product development as it relates to battery equipment.
“When you talk to a lot of pro users, they recognize the change and the legislation that’s driving it. But there’s also part of the market that wants to make the change. They recognize the benefits that battery equipment offers. It’s lower noise, it’s less disturbing. If these tree care users are working in a neighborhood or near a hospital, college or university, they don’t want to make a lot of noise. Yes, battery powered has zero exhaust emissions, but it’s also low noise. And for the user, it’s easier to use. If you think about it, they don’t have to worry about flooding the machine; they put the battery in the unit and it’s essentially ready to go. So the learning curve is far less than for that of a gas-powered piece.
“We’re adapting, and we’re still supporting the gas side as well. We have options. From my perspective, that’s what makes Stihl an attractive supplier for the pro user for their needs. If they want gas, we have many gas-powered models. And if they desire to have a battery piece, we have several models, and that battery product portfolio continues to expand.”
At times, a company has to resist the market’s push for new technology.
“Anybody who buys anything for their business wants to invest in something that’s going to last,” says Gerry Barnaby, who carries the whimsical title of director of excitement for EGO, a two-year TCIA corporate member company based in Naperville, Illinois, that specializes in battery-operated outdoor power tools. “A lot of our devotees are like, ‘Come on, we need one of these.’ We’re just like, ‘OK, we’re working on it.’ I mean, just to develop the battery for our tools took us eight years.”
That battery, which fits any outdoor tool, is a source of pride for EGO. Its patented, 56-volt ARC Lithium battery is shaped like an arc instead of a brick. The design of the battery and its “Keep-Cool Cell Technology” is intended to keep the battery working or recharging.
“It’s Consumer Reports’ top-rated line of what they call cordless OPEs (Outdoor Power Equipment),” says Barnaby. “We have the longest-running, fastest-charging and longest-living battery on the planet at this point when it comes to OPE.
“We fan the battery cells out,” Barnaby explains. “The second you pull the trigger and put a tool under load, be it a drill, a saw, whatever, it’s going to generate heat, because there’s work being done. With a human, you start to heat up and then you would perspire, and that’s radiating heat. What happens with a brick battery, all the cells are stacked up one on top of another, so they heat up very quickly. That’s why sometimes batteries stall, because they overload. Then you have to let them sit and cool down, and then they’ll start again. Or before you charge them, you have to wait for them to cool. With ours, they’re fanned out, so they have access to air all the way around the battery.
“(Keep-Cool cell technology) is essentially a phase-changing jacket that goes over each one of the cells,” Barnaby says. “It softens, if not liquefies slightly, under heat, so that allows ‘perspiration,’ if you will, of the batteries, (passing) heat out to the vents, whereas others are just trapped and they just sit and get hot, and that’s bad for batteries. We also have a great power-management system that will always manage the loads inside the battery. It’s going to give you a longer run time and, importantly, a faster charge time, because they’re always ready to charge. They’re never hot to where they need to sit and cool. If time is money, you want to have a battery that cools.”
The powered pole saw works with fewer fumes and less vibration, he says, and the battery stays charged for a long time. It telegraphs to 13 feet, 2 inches, and the bar length is 10 inches.
“With the run time on it, because everybody wants to know how long it’ll last on a single charge, you can cut 230 limbs the size of four-by-fours on a single charge,” Barnaby says. “Because they charge faster than any other battery, you can take one battery off, put it on a charger, then continue cutting with a second battery. By the time this second one is done, the first one will be fully charged, so it’s endless run time with two batteries.”
Battery-powered technology isn’t the only advancement in the world of powered pole saws.
“This is a good topic for us because we just launched the industry’s first dielectric pole pruner, the MADsaw,” Easterly says. Husqvarna’s MADsaw (minimum approach distance saw) made its debut in 2021. “It is individually tested to meet the OSHA standard, which is OSHA 1910.269.
“Whether it’s storm cleanup, everyday tree work or performing tree trimming for line-clearance or utility workers who may need to trim trees or branches around power lines, this is the tool designed exactly for that,” Easterly says.
“The (alternative) tools on the market right now are either the manual pole pruners, which are extremely tiresome to use, slow cutting and can be potentially dangerous – but are dielectric, or non-conductive – or the hydraulic saws, which are generally all dielectric, with fiberglass shafts and dielectric hydraulic fluid,” Easterly says. “So you’ve either got this expensive, fast-cutting tool that’s not versatile at all and has to stay in the bucket of a bucket truck, or an extremely tiresome manual pole pruner. We’ve made what we think is the most versatile tool; we’ve improved productivity and safety by making a more versatile, dielectric pole pruner.”
Easterly is cautious in his assessment of how much safety can be improved by the tool, but also is optimistic about enhancing safety for workers, as much of a worker’s safety depends on the worker themselves and their training.
“Storm cleanup is the number-one application for this tool,” he says. “This allows operators to work faster and further away from the strike zone. They’re able to stay far away with a dielectric tool and do it quickly, instead of a manual pole pruner, for example. So there’s a lot of different applications for this. Storm cleanup seems to be number one.
“Anything out there that could improve safety is a win,” Easterly adds.
In addition to gas and battery power, commercial tree care companies, particularly those involved with line clearance, turn to hydraulic pole saws and pruners. There’s nothing new in hydraulic saws, but the demand is strong, according to Sharon McCarty, vice president of sales and marketing for Arrowhead Aerial Products, Inc., a 14-year TCIA corporate member company based in Hermantown, Minnesota, and a distributor of hydraulic pole pruners and pole says.
A hydraulic pole saw is tethered by a hydraulic hose to a truck, usually right in the bucket of an aerial lift, or a generator, which cuts back slightly on their versatility but not their effectiveness, McCarty says. And since they’re connected to a truck that’s passed state emission standards, they’re not impacted by regulations on power equipment. McCarty calls them versatile tools that are easy to use.
“The biggest advantage is that you plug them into the truck, they’re ready to go, they don’t need to warm up nor are they tough to get started when you’re up in the bucket trying to work, because they run right off your truck,” says McCarty.
Arrowhead Aerial Products had a good year in 2021, moving products particularly at trade shows, including TCI EXPO.
“I had one guy come up to me, he said, ‘I went to running gas saws up in my truck, and I’m switching everything back to hydraulics because it’s a lot cheaper with the price of gas going up,’” she says. “You have to buy special gas for a lot of these gas-powered saws. You can’t just choose regular, plain old gas. He said it would be a lot cheaper to run a hydraulic saw.”
The poles are placed in the boom-holder in the bucket when not in use.
A hydraulic pole saw has three different lengths, 62½, 75 and 88½ inches, the longer one being McCarty’s biggest seller. “It’s all in what they want to handle. It’s all customer preference.”
To review, here are some things to ask yourself when buying a new powered pole saw or pruner.
- What length of pole do you want?
- What type of pole do you want, fixed or telescoping?
- How much cutting power do you need? How long a bar on saws?
- How does it feel? How does it sound?
- Is it durable and dependable, or just durable?
- Is it easy to use?
- Do you need to consider additional regulatory or safety issues?
- Are you happy with the warranty and the service provider?
One thing manufacturers agree on is that, once they’ve captured a customer, they don’t want to let them go.
“We want to continue to maintain and keep their confidence in the products we’re launching,” says Echo’s Jerry Morgan.