A sufficient assortment of bonsai tools is important when taking care of our bonsai trees. In this article we’ll take a look at the basic tools and what they can do for our trees.
Beginners are well advised to start small: the first objective is simply maintaining a healthy tree. Eventually, however, more tools may be added for different purposes.
A basic but quite complete list of bonsai tools, could have the following items:
- Concave cutters
- Root hooks
- Root rakes
- Sieving sets
- Bamboo sticks
- Wire Cutters
In a couple of seconds, we’ll dive deep into the details of each type of tool you might need to keep your bonsai healthy and trim. But before we do that, let’s cover the essential tools that you will need to make sure you have before you begin your bonsai journey. But here’s the gist:
Of all of these tools, shears, concave cutters and chopsticks are the most basic ‘starter-pack’ to begin with.
Proper maintenance goes a long way in increasing the useful life of bonsai tools. Using the tools only for the things that they’ve been designed for is also vital.
Japanese bonsai tools have great quality but are also pricey. Chinese bonsai tools, on the other hand, are much more affordable.
Bonsai Tool & Tool Kit Essentials
There are also tons of pre-made bonsai kits that we’ve seen online – some ranging from 2 tools and others up to 34. We won’t cover the tool kits in detail as you can be the judge of which tool kit works for you – but keep in mind the following tool essentials which you definitely can’t miss to have.
In any bonsai kit you decide to purchase, just keep in mind that it’s important to have at least:
- One tool to trim
- One tool to cut
- One tool to measure
A tool to trim is generally a pair of shears to prune your bonsai. Whether they are made from carbon or stainless steel or if they are butterfly shaped or slim a proper set of sharp shears is the tool you’ll need to make sure your bonsai is pruned and healthy.
A tool to cut branches or thicker parts of your tree. Generally, a concave branch cutter will do the work of helping you cut the branch in the proper shape (concave) to allow it to regenerate itself in a healthy manner and more quickly than a regular shear.
A tool to measure water or humidity in your bonsai. There are several tools that will do the trick here, such as bamboo chopsticks to stick into the soil, or a more elaborate 3 in 1 soil monitor, or even your finger. But regardless of the way you decide to go, knowing how much or how often to water your tree can literally save its life.
Ok, now let’s get into the different tools you’ll need depending on the use case you have.
Bonsai Tools for Cutting
Shears are used for cutting, anything from twigs, branches, leaves, roots, you name it. Evidently, they are a very basic and tremendously useful tool for bonsai enthusiasts.
Shears come in different shapes and sizes. Wide shears are robust enough to handle thick branches. Narrower shears are ideal for more detailed work on the bonsai tree. Smaller shears are very handy when we need to do work on special tasks, like removing flowers which have wilted.
Concave cutters are used to remove branches. Some concave cutters feature straight blades. Others have semi-round or knob blades, which are ideal for very deep cuts.
Saws and Knives
Sometimes, when working on our bonsai trees, we need powerful bonsai tools to cut particularly difficult branches or trunks. In this case, we can use a saw and take care of a particularly difficult situation.
Afterwards, it is useful to use a grafting knife to smooth out the remaining cut from the use of the saw.
Bonsai Tools for Repotting
Repotting a bonsai tree is a critical step in maintaining plant health. There are a series of bonsai tools which are very useful for this.
Sickle Knives and Sickle Saws
When removing the root ball in a repotting process, we can use a sickle knife and/or sickle saw, to quite literally cut out the entire potted bonsai.
Root hooks and Root rakes
Maintenance of the rooting and soil, when repotting, requires certain bonsai tools. Root hooks and root rakes are essential here, as we want to trim away excess roots and excess soil. These bonsai tools come in different shapes and sizes. They may have one or several teeth.
When it comes to root pruning, it is quite adequate to use shears, like we would to cut leaves and branches, as explained earlier. If the roots are particularly strong, the use of a saw may be deemed necessary.
Re-soiling a bonsai tree requires using a specific mixture. A typical mix may include things like akadama, gravel and compost.
A good idea is to separate the different particles carefully. To achieve this, it is possible to use a sieve set. There are several types of such sieve sets: some of them are made out of stainless steel. There are also different mesh sizes, which will define the type of particle that is separated and then used as a layer in the pot.
Scoops for Re-Soiling
When it comes time to set new soil inside the pot, there are some bonsai tools which can be useful. One such tool is a scoop, which may be found in different sizes. These can help when pouring soil underneath very low branches and when pushing soil into all the nooks and crannies within the pot.
Chopsticks / Bamboo Sticks
These are also extremely useful bonsai tools when re-soiling. They can help to really get the soil where it has to go inside the pot. Chopsticks may even be used to check on the moisture of the soil. Beware, however, when poking through the soil and be sure not to damage the roots!
Tweezer / Spatula
When repotting, it is ideal to take care of the moss and weeds too. To get rid of them, tweezers are a great and simple way to go.
Bonsai Tools for Wiring
Wiring a bonsai tree is a crucial step towards achieving the desired aesthetics and shape. There are some bonsai tools we can use to carry out such procedures.
The first tool is evidently the wires themselves. For the most part, wires come in either anodized aluminum or annealed copper. It is important to realize that these wires should be bought directly from a bonsai specialty shop; typical wires bought from any store will not be soft enough to be able to work with them.
Wires should be purchased with a wide array of thickness. This is because the larger branches will be wired with the thicker wires. Conversely, the thinner branches will be wired with the thinnest and lightest wire.
Wire Cutters / Pliers
Wire cutters are a vital tool when it comes to wiring bonsai trees. Pliers are also quite useful. As with other bonsai tools, these come in several shapes and sizes.
Essentially, wire cutters will sever the wire. Pliers, on the other hand, are useful to bend the wire itself; this is necessary to finish off a wire with a correct twist.
When bending wires there is sometimes a need for certain protective tools and materials.
Sometimes there will be branches which are simply too heavy and strong. In this case, wiring will be a bit trickier. Certain layers of protection will be of great help in preventing tears and cracks, which we definitely want to avoid.
Raffia (somewhat moist) is quite a popular material to wrap branches with. Some bonsai enthusiasts also use plastic such as transparent rubber tubes (like those used in a fish tank). Such plastic can also provide a much needed layer of protection to branches.
There are also certain specialty bonsai tools which help to protect the bonsai trees. Some of these tools, such as screw clamps and turnbucklers are worth a look.
Bonsai Tools for Deadwood
Some bonsai tools will help us to either get rid of deadwood or to shape it in the ways we want.
First off, we have a branch splitter, which we can use to split dead branches. A jin plier can help to do a similar job, namely, removing things like fibers or breaking particularly cumbersome tiny wood formations.
Slim chisels are also quite useful to deal with wood fibers as well. As usual, these bonsai tools come in different shapes and sizes for added efficiency.
Some bonsai enthusiasts even use a gas torch to get rid of all possible wood fibers. After such torching, the layer is generally brushed off.
Now then, what if we want to preserve deadwood? Many bonsai stylists will keep deadwood and style it in different ways with the use of wood hardener.
Electric Bonsai Tools
Technology makes things easier in the bonsai world too. Ideally, someone looking to use electric bonsai tools should also wear a complete set of protective equipment: goggles, overalls etc. Apart from that, naturally, a lot of care and effort must be put into the work, since these tools are particularly powerful.
Dremel / Makita
Two electric bonsai tools come to mind. First, the ‘Dremel’, which is a small power tool capable of being fitted with a large array of bits with a 3mm shank. The ‘Makita’ is a machine with a 6mm shank and also a large gamut of bits.
These power tools offer the possibility of using a large amount of bits. They can be very useful when working with bonsais, and styling deadwood, amongst other things.
Watering Bonsai Tools
Watering our bonsais is obviously key. There are several tools which can help us do this.
Ball-showers and watering cans are the main way in which we can water our bonsais. As ever, these tools come in different sizes and styles. For instance, if what we want is simply to mist our bonsai trees, spray cans are best.
Automated bonsai watering systems are excellent if watering will not be possible by hand. Although it is possible to craft our own systems, there are systems out there in the market which make this happen. Some of these are the Gardena MDS, Tropf-Blumat and others.
Turntables can help us to work more comfortably on our bonsai trees. They permit moving and turning the table and observing the tree in different ways.
Finally, we must mention wound sealers. These wound sealers or pastes are quite useful when pruning bonsai trees. Basically, they help in the recovery of wounds in the tree. Instead of home alternatives, some bonsai experts find that these are products which speed up the process and are thus quite important.
Conifers, in particular, benefit from the use of wound sealers, since they take long to heal when their wounds are left unattended.
Bonsai Tool Cleaning
How do you clean your bonsai tools?
To clean your bonsai tools, you’ll need to perform 4 basic actions depending on what you are dealing with specifically.
- Periodic Cleaning: As a rule of thumb, clean your tools right after you’ve used them with a piece of cloth to remove excess dirt or other leftover materials.
- Sap: If your tool has a bit of sap on it, resulting from a careful operation you did, use soapy water to remove it to avoid it rusting your tool.
- Stains: If you’re dealing with stains, try to get rid of those pesky or hard-to-take-away stains with a wooden tool like a spatula to avoid damaging it. If things are harder than expected, use Choji Oil (oil for cleaning) to make these stains come a bit loose and repeat the process.
In addition to these practices, remember that as with many sharp or cutting tools, it’s a good practice to oil them up to protect them against rust and corrosion. Use a clean rag to clean it and then apply some Choji Oil (oil for cleaning) to the tool.
Why do I need to clean my bonsai tools?
The short answer to why you need to clean your bonsai tools is to help them last longer. As with many things, the more you take care of anything, the longer it’ll be likely to last. This might seem pretty obvious, but here’s another important point.
Consider the impact of using old, blunt tools on your leafy friend. Think about it. During trimming, for instance, you are performing an intricate and delicate cut on the leaves or branches from your bonsai. If you use clean and precise tools, chances are the easier it’ll be for it to recover.
On the other hand, if you use old tools, you might need to take several tries at cutting the branch properly, and every time you do, the more you’ll hurt it.
Finally, consider the diseases that can be transmitted by using unclean tools. It’s not something people think of at first glance, but your plants (not only your bonsais) can get sick if you don’t clean your tools properly after using it in a less healthy plant.
Bonsai Tool Cost
As with most hobbies, you will be able to tailor your bonsai experience to the level of expense that you wish you have. There are tools that can go up to $125, but these are likely tools for the advanced bonsai gardener.
But on average, you should expect to find a nice tool kit online containing around 5 tools for around $20-$30. If you want to go a little bit more pro, there are some 10 piece tool kits for around $40-$50. We recommend beginners to stick to tools that work, but not the best ones available until your bonsai habit has really cemented.
What are the best bonsai tools?
There is a consensus around the experts that the best bonsai tools you can find are those of Japanese origin since they are associated with high quality and durability.
We, at BigBoyPlants, don’t consider that there is a big difference in quality between the different tools you can find online or at your local nursery. We’ve found that it’s often more important to keep your tools clean and oiled and you’ll have no problems with them regardless of the brand they are.
How do you use a bonsai tool?
There are many ways in which you can use bonsai tools, since there are many tools to begin with. In order to know how to use your bonsai tool, first determine what you need to do to your bonsai with it, and then determine if you have the correct tool to do so. If you have a trimmer, as a brief overview, you’ll need to inspect, then separate, then cut the leaves that you need cutting.
If you would like to learn more about Bonsai Trimming, check out guide