Bonsai is in a way like photography – it is possible to buy dozens of expensive ‘add-ons’ to the basic equipment. Some of these are helpful, others merely give you the feeling that ‘Gee, I’m really an artist’. Tools do not make the artist – the artist uses tools.
Though not essential, the following will nonetheless help you achieve a sculpted bonsai tree. They can make the difference between a ten second task and drudgery. They can also help you perform the task cleanly, without undue risk to the plant.
A folding saw is helpful when you have thicker branches to remove. Trying to remove these with a cutter can put excessive stress on the tree since it requires you to open up the jaws further than you can easily control.
When you open cutters further than about 60 degrees, unless you have very large hands, you will lose some control. Also, cutters are designed to grasp and snip the entire branch in one cut. If you have to make more than one cut, the tool is too small for the job. That results in cuts which are not clean and ragged wounds don’t heal as well as clean ones.
A root rake is used as an aid during re-potting. With it the bonsai artist can clear dirt and rocks from within the roots and comb out any tangled roots for easier trimming. Some novices will be inclined simply to shake the dirt out of the root ball, but this can easily lead to a broken tree.
Tweezers are a good supplement to the thumb and forefinger for pinching off dead or new growth, in order to refine the shape of foliage. Many designed for bonsai work have a small trowel at one end. The trowel can be used as a miniature shovel to compact earth, arrange ground cover and a myriad of other fine-level work.
Small scissors are helpful for another kind of detailed work – snipping off leaves and smaller branchlets where a larger tool would be cumbersome. That kind of ‘fine-tuning’ can make the difference between ‘done’ and ‘well finished’.
Beyond these there are dozens of specialized tools that make the work easier and many different styles of the basic and helpful tools. Jin pliers, for example, are used to strip bark and create deadwood for decoration. Branch benders are a set of clamps used to supplement wire work. Many different styles of gravers exist for carving work.
Grafting tape and cut paste are helpful for healing accidents introduced during trimming and wire work gone awry. Sharpeners come in all shapes and sizes for maintaining tools. Like photography, the list is endless.
But whatever you find helpful, buy quality. Quality counts. Good tools will last years and maintain a sharp edge when re-sharpened. Spend a little extra up-front and you’ll find yourself saving money in the long run and achieving better results on the work of art you spend so much time developing.