The art of bonsai is a measured and patient process and it is entirely appropriate to build a bonsai tool kit gradually as required. Due to the delicate nature of bonsai practice, bonsai tools are small and sharp to enable actions to be precise and accurate. Good bonsai tools are now much more widely available than they used to be.
As a general rule, better-quality tools are to be preferred. They are not always expensive and in some instances, local equivalents to traditional Japanese tools can prove as useful. For example, for holding, gently levering or parting delicate roots, a knitting needle serves the same purpose just as well as a chopstick.
Having planned how the tree is intended to look, the principal activity will be shaping the bonsai tree. Hence the shaping tools are amongst the most essential elements of the bonsai tool kit. These will include shears, which are the tool used most for bonsai and so may be worth a little more time and investment to get the type most suitable for the type of bonsai work undertaken.
Bonsai shears and cutters are used for pruning and trimming. It is very common for a bonsai artist to have several sizes of shears but these can be acquired over time, as the artist’s skill and experience develops. There are several different types of cutter used for bonsai. As a starting point, concave cutters are used most commonly for trimming branches. They indent any cut made to the bonsai tree so that the hollowed-out area heals more quickly and little or no trace is left after a time.
Miniature secateurs and tweezers will also be frequently used. Here again, the type and range can be extended over time if necessary, and by judicious planning, unnecessary expense can be avoided. As noted above, knitting needles or chopsticks can prove useful for some delicate operations such as positioning or, with care, holding roots or branches aside while other areas are attended to.
After some time, the duration being determined by the type of bonsai sculpture undertaken, it will be necessary to shape the tree, more often than not by wiring the tree. Hence wire cutters will be required, and care should be taken to find the most suitable type; they should certainly be sharp and scissor-like in their action.
Miniature saws and larger types, in bonsai terms, of secateurs are useful for heavier pruning. There are some highly specialized varieties. Root rakes can be useful to clear roots of excess soil, without damaging the bonsai tree. Root hooks and coir brushes are also often added to the bonsai tool range. Jin pliers used to cut the trunk of the bonsai tree to simulate an old, weather-damaged tree in some instances, are often used, and some types double as occasional wire-cutters.
Branch clamps are used to hold branches in place both whilst, and after, a branch is wired into the required shape. Sharpeners and maintenance items, pastes, tapes and other repair materials will also inevitably be added to the range of bonsai equipment over time. Not all bonsai practitioners use them, but a turntable or revolving stand is very useful to many would-be bonsai artists, enabling them to reduce the amount of handling of an often-delicate bonsai tree by not having to keep moving it except by turning. It also makes checking the tree’s consistency of shape from different angles much easier.
One could continue adding to a bonsai tool kit almost indefinitely but some tools will be used very rarely and some are only required for specialized tasks and may not be worth the expense. Keeping tools sharp, clean and rust-free both prolongs their longevity and avoids damage to bonsai trees. Some very delicate tools are sterilized after use by experienced bonsai practitioners.