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Kutnkill Shears

My holy grail for shears is a method of cutting and judiciously applying a little dose of herbicide to the cut branch in a single action. The Klip-Kleen shears do not quite measure up to my hopes, and perhaps my desire must stay forever unrequited. The Kut-N-Kill pruners, however, try to combine shears and herbicide application in a novel way. Essentially, the Kut-N-Kill pruners are normal shears, but with an herbicide cartridge attached to the handle for convenience.

The device
The developer of these pruners, Earl Akehurst, made them to help him on his blueberry farm in Michigan. Akehurst found a sturdy little plastic bottle that he could attach to a pair of ratchet shears. This is not a trivial feat---the bottle holds 15 ml of herbicide, yet does not interfere with the operation of the shears. Akehurst says the bottle withstands solvents, too. (It looks like it may be Nalgene.) Akehurst attaches the bottle to the shears by some kind of heavy-duty heat-shrink tubing. With the possible exception of the nib on the bottle cap, the whole assembly is very sturdy.

How it works
Assuming you have herbicide in the cartridge, you use the shears to snip through the plant stem. Next, you hold the cut stem in one hand and rotate your other hand (holding the shears) so the shears point skywards. Hook the little nib of the cap against the sharp edge of your cut stem, and open the spout of the cartridge. A drop or two of herbicide will dribble out. If not, a quick flick of the wrist will encourage the flow. Close the cap by pushing it against the stump.

I know the whole procedure of hooking the cap's tip on the stem sounds a little bogus (I was certainly dubious) but it works much better than I expected it would. Not hi-tech, but the right-tech.

Notes on ratchet shears
The cool mechanism
If you do not know about ratchet shears, you are missing out on one of life's simple pleasures. Ratchet shears have a special trick that normal bypass shears do not. They use a clever system so if you are unable to slice through a thick stem, the shears automatically engage ratcheting gears. Each time you pump the handle, the shears close a little more. The model in the Kut-N-Kill ratchets up to four times for really thick stems, so even 2.5 cm (1 inch) stems are comfortably sliced through. My (sharp) Felco bypass shears could not cut a stem 3/4ths this thick. (It was a cured, dense, and woody stem!) Even if the user of bypass shears can muscle through a thick stem, ratchet shears can make life easier. Horticulturists do not always like ratchet shears, by the way, because they can sometimes make for an uglier cut. This is not an issue in our trade (in any event, sharp blades make fine cuts).

Herbicide bottle
Field tests
I tested the Kut-N-Kill on some unsuspecting Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven) saplings for an hour or so. I was predisposed against the herbicide cartridge aspect, because I thought the whole notion of the opening/closing cap-trick was a little unsatisfactory. However, I found after about 20 minutes that I had figured out the method, and could indeed open and shut the black herbicide cap easily. It is one of those manual dexterity skills like putting the cap back on the toothpaste (while holding the toothbrush) that you quickly figure out on your own. The system was very straightforward, and after a while I found I would cut several stems, then open the cartridge, herbicide them all, close the cartridge, then resume cutting. It went very fast and it was nice not having to switch tools around.

Proper handling of the herbicide requires a little extra care. The herbicide sits close to your wrist, so appropriate clothing should be used to keep herbicide from getting on your skin. I learned that if you fill the bottle too much, the herbicide did not dribble out as easily. Also, the manufacturer noted that temperature changes can cause pressure changes in the bottle. When opening the bottle for the first time in a long while, point the bottle skyward to de-gas it. You do not want to squirt out herbicide.

1)The construction is slim, and the device easily fits in your pocket. This means it is a device that will be taken along. In contrast, the Klipkleen applicator is more likely to sit in a bucket in the back of your truck.

2)The Kut-N-Kill does not apply herbicide with each cut, unlike the Klipkleen. This is useful because many times you may be trimming back a big weed just to get at the trunk. There is usually no need to apply herbicide during each of those preparation cuts.

3)The ratchet design lets you use these shears against larger plants than hand shears usually can attack.

4)The price ($40) is pretty good, and you do not need to use the shears as herbicidal shears if you do not want to.

The weak link?
My only reservation about these shears is the bottle cap. The little nib must be flexed open and closed every time herbicide is to be used. The operating instructions have you pushing the little nib against plant stems over and over again. I think it will only be a matter of time before the cap is broken, and that will kill the entire herbicide nature of the tool. I have written to Akehurst about this, and he says that he can supply replacement caps for $1 each. If I were you, I would order a few extra caps when I order the shears. Akehurst says that caps from "Buck Lure" (available at hunting stores) will also work as replacements. Just be careful about how you dispose of all that concentrated Buck Lure, especially during deer mating season. (It could get ugly if you are alone in the woods, covered with many ounces of concentrated Buck Lure.)

In terms of herbicide shears, these are actually the best I have seen so far. The Klip-Kleen system will stay in the truck---I will bring the Kut-N-Kill with me.

Purchasing information
Kut-N-Kill shears can be bought directly from the originator, for $40 each. If you get five or more, they cost $35 each. Consider buying a few replacement caps, at $1 each.
Earl E. Akehurst,
E Cubed B Squared Farm Services
74 Clinton Street
South Haven, MI 49090
Phone: 616-637-5303
Email: vmcguire(at)btc-bci.com (more reliable), or eakehu(at)vbisd.org.

--Barry Rice, TNC/GIST, April 2001

Updated January 2005
©The Nature Conservancy, 2000