When it comes to choosing garden shears, the first thing you should do is consult T3's best manual garden tools buying guide. The other thing you should do is always spend a bit more than you were planning if possible because more dosh equals better steel, a sharper blade and a better scissor mechanism.
With that in mind, we’ve chosen two sterling contenders that are on the market today: the Niwaki Garden Shears from, er, Niwaki and the Sophie Conran Hedge Shear from Burgon & Ball. Both of these garden shears are top class, but one may pip the other for your specific needs, and that is what this comparison feature is designed to reveal.
Let’s see which snipper snips best.
Niwaki Shears vs Burgon & Ball Sophie Conran Hedge Shear: design
When it comes to cutting implements, few countries are able to compete with the Japanese whose history in high-quality blade production goes back centuries. It’s why so many professional chefs and discerning amateur cooks have Japanese knives in their kitchens. Well that same level of craftsmanship extends to garden tools which is hardly surprising since gardening is another discipline the Japanese are renowned for.
Contrary to what the brand name suggests, Niwaki is actually British and the brainchild of Jake Hobson, who visited Japan in the late 1990s and immediately fell in love with its gardens and also the tools its gardeners used. Consequently, everything the company imports today is sourced directly for the manufacturers in Japan.
Take the Niwaki Shears, for instance. Here we have one of the finest shears you can get your mitts around. You can’t see it in the images, but the Niwaki’s Japanese white oak handles have an imperceptible bulge about half way down their length that your hands gravitate towards. It’s a small detail, granted, but it’s a detail that makes them just as desirable as the blades they’re equipped with.
At 185mm in length, the Niwaki’s SK steel blades are cast in Sanjo, Japan, and sharpened to a staggering degree of accuracy. The whole package measures 561mm in length and weighs just 626g, which means you can go on snipping hither and thither till the cows come home.
Although Niwaki also produces a longer version of this model for just £6 more, for the purposes of this comparison we’re going to pit them against Sophie Conran’s Hedge Shear from Burgon & Ball. Both of these names are synonymous with high-end contemporary design and top quality materials. Indeed, Burgon & Ball is one of our favourite garden tool manufacturers. We’ve reviewed a lot of their products and they’ve never sent us a duffer – every tool to date has been well made, comfortable in the hand, efficient and extremely pleasing to look at.
At 810mm in length, the Sophie Conran Hedge Shear is perfect for those of shorter stature and for reaching the top of tall hedging. Like the Niwaki, these shears also have a bulge in the FSC-certified ash handle that’s much more noticeable though not necessarily more comfortable. The 220mm blade is cast from high carbon steel that’s extremely sharp, at least for a pair of shears. The whole shebang weighs in at 1.1kgs.
Niwaki Shears vs Burgon & Ball Sophie Conran Hedge Shear: performance
The Niwaki’s blades are so sharp they snip though stalks normally considered too thick for shears. Believe me, with these shears it’s like opening a box of Pringles – they’re so addictive that, before long, you might not have any hedging left. Equally impressive is the impeccably smooth nature of the Niwaki’s scissor action and the perfectly dialled way the blades meet each other – any tighter and the action would have been considered too stiff for extended use. The supremely comfy handles and general lightness make these shears a perfect choice for long stints at hedging or vine. Just be sure to always store them in a dry place and never leave them where you last stood, even accidentally. Incidentally, Niwaki's Mini Shears are also worth consideration for those who you don’t shear too regularly.
In many ways, the Burgon & Ball Sophie Conran Hedge Shear looks better built and, if we were to be pedantic about it, better looking too. This writer loves the feel of the finely sanded ash handles and the feel of the rubber stopper between the two blades. However, I’m not as keen on the bulge on the handles which feel a bit too portly for comfort. In terms of sharpness, the blades perform really well, indeed better than some of their similarly-priced competitors. However, I’d be careful not to attempt to snip branches that are too thick or the pressure required could cause the handles to snap; it’s a physics thing!
Niwaki Shears vs Burgon & Ball Sophie Conran Hedge Shear: verdict
When it comes to lightness and snip-ability, the Niwaki is definitely this writer preferred choice. These shears are simply astonishing in every way – their ability to cut through tougher stalks as if slicing through butter never ceases to amaze. Yes, at £79 a pop they are more than twice the price of the Sophie Conrans, which are also well worth investigating, especially if you have tall hedging. But in this particular instance, the Niwaki Shears takes gold. They are simply in a league of their own.
Looking for something less physical? Dip into our guide to the best hedge trimmers that money can buy.