When getting into any new hobby or endeavor the amount of tools, supplies and “crap” that are thrown in your face can be intimidating and downright confusing. Bonsai is no different, but this post should simplify things for you a lot….hopefully 🙂
What matters when buying any tools is that you are confident in the tools reliability and that they get the job done. Period. The price, where you got them and what they are branded does not matter.
Granted there manufacturers that are much more refined and have better manufacturing processes. But keep in mind at the same time they can be very expensive. But that doesn’t mean cheaper tools won’t work well either. Even if you are on a budget, you can still get good quality tools. But never buy the cheapest anything!
There are a few key aspects that your tools should have and we’ll go over them. These tool “traits,” if you want to call them that, are not specific just to bonsai tools, but many other tools as well. This will ensure a longer life and a better job performed by your tools.
Edge Design on cutting tools:
Most of your bonsai tools are cutting tools. You want the edges staying sharp for two reasons. First, it’s going to make cutting easier on your hand and the tree. Second, the longer it stays sharp, the less you’ll have to sharpen it.
Now, regarding edges staying sharp, you already know the more you bang the edge of a knife on anything the duller it becomes. The same goes for your bonsai tools.
So what are you supposed to look out for when purchasing things like concave cutters, and knob cutters?
Well it’s all about the point where your tool’s edges meet when you close them (completing a cut). In poorly made tools the cutting edges meet edge to edge, head to head…..not good in most situations in life! This results in the edge dulling and being flattened. Another side affect of this type of production is not getting a clean complete cut every time due to the edges being flattened. Scissor blades run side by side for just this reason.
On well made bonsai tools the cutting edges will overlap. You need to look for this. If the tool edges don’t overlap, don’t buy them! Now, even if they are “cheaper” tools as long as the edges overlap you should still keep them on your list of considerations.
The picture on the right shows how overlapping looks.
Here you’ll have 2 choices: stainless steel and carbon steel. Each have their pros and cons. The biggest selling point on stainless steel is that it resists rust much better than carbon steel. There is less maintenance with stainless.
The pros to carbon steel is a much sharper edge, and longer lasting edge. Yes they rust easier, but if you don’t leave your tools out in the rain, dry them off while working, and you lightly oil them every now and then, your carbon tools won’t rust either.
When it comes to the material of the tool it’s really a matter of preference. If you’re wondering…I prefer carbon steel. It’s sharper. I also like the feel and look much better.
Country of Manufacture:
Now you are going to run into tools made in China and tools made in Japan.
I highly recommend tools made in Japan, if they fit your budget. They are a significant amount more expensive than their Chinese counterparts however well worth it in the long run.
Japanese steel is better than Chinese steel, thus they last longer and perform better. The quality control is also better in Japan. So if you are buying Chinese made tools online, do understand that you are taking a risk on the quality. Each piece will be different. It may come blemished, the edges not straight, not sharpened, rough function, etc.
However, there are well made Chinese bonsai tools. If you can hold and see the actual piece you are buying and make sure it’s made right…..they are not a bad choice. Unless you can afford better.
Should I buy a whole kit?
If buying good tools means that you have to buy one tool at a time instead of a kit of all the gadgets out there, then so be it! You are better off buying one quality tool instead of 5 low quality tools just to have them.
Now if your budget can handle it and you can buy a high quality tool set as a whole (which will run you at least $400) then go for it!!!! And send me a set too!
Building your tool kit slowly with quality pieces one at a time is definitely the best approach.
This becomes especially important if you decide to stick with it and you start having more trees. More trees = More work.
You don’t want half-ass tools slowing you down due to constant sharpening needs, or not cutting the right way. Also a bad cut on the tree means it will heal bad. Keep that in mind.
Again, take your time and buy one good tool at a time until you have everything you need.
Other Necessary Tools
Watering Wand/Can – Water is the most important aspect of Bonsai. A good wand/can will help you water correctly. It should have a rain like flow. Wands with flow adjustment are preferred as water distribution needs will change depending on your trees and season.
Root Rake – You cannot repot correctly and efficiently without a root rake. They are cheap and make the job easier on you and on the tree’s roots. Get one with a spatula on the other end. You’ll need it to help remove trees from pots.
Tweezers – Not technically necessary but they make certain jobs easier. They should have longer handles and a bent tip. Helps to remove leaves and debris from pots and grabbing small things like twigs and leaves in your day to day work.
Which tools should I buy first?
A watering wand or can should be your first purchase for the reasons mentioned above. Hopefully you already have one, but if not, then forget the rest of these tools and go get one!
Shears are probably the most used out of all my cutting tools, so my suggestion is shears next. They don’t have to be bonsai specific but they do have to be sharp, correct for the job and not too small or big.
Soon after you should definitely get a branch or concave cutter. This is basically a must have. Try getting this and the shears at the same time. Make sure you get the right size for the trees you have. The branch you are cutting should be no thicker than half the length of the cutter blade.
A root cutter should also be on your list. Even if you are not repotting now, you will eventually have to and this is a must.
Up next should should be a knob cutter. Same thing as always, make sure the size is appropriate to your trees. Really get used to the concave cutter first, then move on to this tool.
As your tree collection grows in number, and also as you start to have larger trees, you will need even more tools. Things like trunk spliters, branch benders, etc.
There are many other bonsai tools that are available. Your trees and your actual needs are really what is going to dictate what you have to buy and when.
I know there are many tools I haven’t mentioned like wire for example but by the time you are at the point in your bonsai journey to wire…..well you shouldn’t need a guide on what wire to use 🙂 !
Hope this has helped and if you have any questions contact us!
Also be sure to check out our Resources Page where you’ll find links to a few places to start looking for tools!