Which Bonsai Tools Do I REALLY Need and In What Order?
While you could work on bonsai with just any old pair of garden pruners and little more, The quality of your bonsai and the enjoyment of creating as well as maintaining them will grow along with your tool collection.
These are the bonsai tools in the order which I would purchase them in if I were just starting out in bonsai. It is of course just my personal preference. It's based on the usefulness of the tools, how often I use them and how hard it would be for me to live without them.
Also please note, low quality tools will more often than not leave you disappointed and frustrated. Some cheap tools can be O.K. for a beginner working with small materials but it's a gamble. A good way to assure you are getting quality tools is to buy Japanese made tools. Because of this, many sellers go out of their way to give the impression their tools are made in Japan. Even if they are “from” Japan, it doesn’t guarantee they are made there so do your research! It’s worth the time and money.
I have imported professional quality (made in Japan) "Yoshy" brand tools. They are the same high quality and grade as Fujiyama, Kaneshin and other Japanese brands. They are built by Japanese craftsmen to provide a lifetime of service and enjoyment with proper care.
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If I could have only one tool, the concave cutter wins hands down. An excellent gift for the new bonsai enthusiast.
The concave cutter, like the knob cutter, makes an indented cut which heels over evenly leaving no raised spot or trace of the removed branch. Bonsai judges take off big points for poorly healed cuts. The concave cutter is just a bit easier (in the right situation) to line up at the correct angle for the cut although in certain places a knob cutter will reach the proper angle more easily than a concave cutter.
Though it’s not the intended purpose I find myself often using it to nip off branch ends and twig tips rather than switching back and forth with a shear.
Rounded Concave Cutter
Rounded concave cutters are a newer tool which effectively combines the benefits of the knob and the concave cutter into one useful tool.
When you need to make a lot of small leaf or twig cuts you need the accuracy of the twig cutter as well as the ability to reach deep inside the structure of the tree. they are also valuable for candling pines.
Larger branches are usually cut concave with a knob or concave cutter so I mostly use these on small branches and twigs that are just a bit to big for twig cutters. If your shearing back an entire trees exterior you almost have to have them.
Now we have some the tools for pruning a Bonsai broom makes it a lot easier to properly clean up your pruning mess from the soil surface. A clean soil surface gives a bonsai tree a quality apearance. A bonsai broom does an excellent job, it's an inexpensive tool and it gives you the accuracy to get in under the branches and around the trunk without beating up your bonsai's bark the way you might with an ordinary shop broom.
A turntable makes for easily spinning of your bonsai to different positions. The first thing I want to do, after cleaning up the roots a bit to get the full story, is take a good look at every angle of the tree to decide where the front will be. A bonsai turntable makes the job a breeze. Also when pruning I am constantly spinning the tree not only to see it all but to better position for the perfect cut.
While you can use a household pruner to cut branches off your bonsai tree, It's not recommended. A regular pruner will leave ever so little of a bit of the branch that's been cut off. When the scar grows over it will leave a permanent raised spot where the branch once was. The knob cutter Also knows as a "Wen cutter" works much like a concave cutter only at times you will need to take a branch in several cuts to get the angle right for the final cut against the trunk. The knob cutter can occasionally make the necessary cut where a concave cutter can't properly line up. It also makes a good tool for roughing out wood when carving jin or shari.
Large Knob Cutter 8"
A professional grade quality tool made in Japan by "Yoshi"
Most potting can be performed with some basic tools scrounged up from the average household. Of course the right tools for the job make things a lot easier. It's a good idea to collect bonsai pots so you have somewhat of a selection for the tree you want to pot as it's important to the overall appearance of the "finished" bonsai tree. If you bought your bonsai already potted, it will need to be occasionally root-pruned and repotted even if it's back into the same pot again. Besides that, once you buy an ordinary nursery stock or a pre-bonsai in a ordinary nursery pot or collect bonsai material from the wild, you will eventually sculpt it into a masterpiece and pot it into the perfect complimentary bonsai container, at which point, you will be forever hooked. Once this hooking takes place, you will be doing a lot of potting and so need the proper tools for the job.
Pot screen, second only in importance to the pot itself, is placed over the holes of a bonsai pot to keep the soil from washing out. You don’t need expensive pre-cut bonsai screen, you can find rolls of it at your local big-box store for cheap. Just be sure what you buy will not rust or rot. See the Bonsai Training page for screen instalation how-to.
At the very least, you need a roll of small gauge bonsai wire to secure your pot screens. Once you start to get used to your bonsai, you’ll want some different gauges of wire to try your hand at branch & trunk wiring. You can make an ordinary bonsai extraordinary with some well performed wiring techniques.
A root hook is the ideal tool for combing out and untangling roots without damaging them.
A bonsai rake is a multi purpose tool it's used to remove twigs and wood from the surface of the soil before sweeping with a broom. They often have a flat on the opposite end which is useful for freeing a bonsai from its pot and also works as a potting trowel. It works great for removing soil from the rootball and straightening the roots like the root hook.
Soil scoops make adding the soil to the pot a lot easier without them, it’s not so easy to get in around the trunk and under the branches. Some soil scoops have a screen for one last shake out of the extra fines that can clog a bonsai's drainage hole screens.
Creating your own bonsai soil as opposed to buying it may not only save you a lot of money, it may save your tree! Soil sieves are used to separate the different sizes of soil components and remove the fines that can clog a bonsai's drainage and eliminate valuable oxygen supply to the roots.
A tool designed not only for the purpose it’s name implies but also to save your sheers and and other tools cutting edge. In other words, root cutters do the dirty work keeping your other purposed tools razor sharp.
At this point you will probably want to be able to further refine your bonsai tree. Wiring your bonsai can produce incredible effects and instant gratification.
Bonsai wire comes in several gauges or millimeters for use on different sizes of branches and trunks. There are two varieties to choose from. Annealed copper which is the more expensive option. The annealing process makes the wire soft and pliable for easy bending but once it's been bent it hardens holding it’s shape. The other option is aluminum. Aluminum bonsai wire is colored to be non-obtrusive and works much like annealed copper except you need to use a bit larger gauge to get the same results.
A bonsai wire cutter is used to properly remove wire from a bonsai without harming the trunk, branches or bark.
Small Wire Cutter
Measures 6-1/4" A professional grade quality tool made in Japan by "Yoshi"
If you're looking for some serious awe factor, a Jin or Shari is a guaranteed way to get it. The tools below are used for carving bonsai trees into living art.
A bonsai saw is a fine toothed saw for making larger cuts or ones no other tool can reach. I use the "Silky 170" saw with medium teeth made in Japan and it's amazing. It wont let me link to it but this ones similar although I haven't personaly used it. Or you can search "Silky 170" through the link.
Power Dremel Tool
A high-speed bit turning machine for deep carving trunk hollowing and drilling bonsai wood.
A bonsai plier used for loosening, peeling and removing bark from a bonsai tree to create jin or shari.
A rough cut tool used to split branches horizontally and pull the cut wood back creating a deep jin.
Same as branch splitters but larger for creating shari on the trunk.