There comes a time where every new bonsai tree owner gets the itch to buy specialty tools. For some, it’s part of the mystic allure of bonsai. Holding a pair of bonsai shears makes us feel like we’re Mr. Miyagi. For others, tools are obtained out of necessity. Maybe their tree is overgrown and needs to be pruned. Either way, you might asking yourself “what are good bonsai tools for beginners?” In this article, we’ll go over the three most popular tools that will get you started.
Bonsai Tools For Beginners vs. Professionals
If you’ve recently obtained your bonsai, chances are, there aren’t many tools that you actually need. You may have watched a bonsai demonstration and noticed a large array of tools available. In the beginning, however, it’s all about learning how to keep your tree alive.
Once you’ve figured this out, you can begin to style the tree. Here are three essential tools that you’ll need to work on your bonsai.
It might come as a surprise that the one of the best bonsai tools for beginners in a simple bamboo chopstick. The kind that you’d find at any restaurant that serves asian food.
When you repot your tree, chopsticks are great to gently remove the old soil from the roots. But for now, we’re going to focus on another use for chopsticks.
Chopsticks are a great way to gauge when you need to water your bonsai tree.
One of the most common bonsai mistakes that beginners make is over watering, or under watering, their trees. It can be tricky, because watering bonsai is different than watering a normal houseplant.
Chopsticks can be used as moisture meters. Simply place the chopstick in the soil. Pull the chopstick out and check it a couple times per day when it’s very warm out (less when it’s cool). When you see the portion of the chopstick below the soil surface begin to dry out, it’s time to water. Never let your soil dry out completely.
When it comes time to prune your tree, a nice, sharp pair of bonsai shears are indispensable. They’re the quintessential bonsai tool for beginners.
Of course, you could run to your local garden store a pick up a pair of garden shears, but you probably want something that looks the part when trimming your tree. Plus, bonsai shears have some special characteristics which make them ideal.
There are a few different types of shears to choose from:
Materials: Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel
You’ll find that there are two types of steel that most shears are made with; carbon and stainless. The former is less expensive but requires occasional sharpening. The latter is more pricey, arguably better looking, and holds a sharp edge longer.
Carbon, being less expensive, is also susceptible to rust, while stainless steel is not.
Carbon steel tools have dark, black appearance, with the exception of the blade, which is silver.
Stainless steal tools are often fully silver.
If you’re a beginner, you’ll want to start with something inexpensive, like carbon steel. As you refine your craft, sooner or later, you may wish to upgrade to a professional stainless shear, but some professionals continue with carbon.
Shape: “Butterfly” vs. “Slim”
There are many variations in size and style, but two general categories of shears seem to be “butterfly” vs. “slim” (or “long).
Butterfly bonsai shears have large, looped handles. On butterfly shears, the handle is very close to the blade. These feel great in the hand, and are great for pruning the outside canopy of the tree. If you were to try trimming an inside branch with these shears, you’ll notice that it’s difficult to reach inside the tree (because you’ll basically have to shove your entire hand in-between the branches).
Butterfly shears are also often used for trimming roots.
For trimming inside branches, slim shears are often used. The design of slim shears puts your hand further from the blade than butterfly shears. They have smaller handles and a long body, allowing you to reach deeper in the tree.
Either will do fine. I find the “slim” versions more versatile for beginners.
Concave Branch Cutters
Bonsai design sometimes involves removing branches. If you choose to fully remove the branch, the goal is to leave the tree in a state where I can heal over the wound completely, and in a season or two, you’ll never knew the branch was there in the first place.
To achieve this, a special tool called a concave branch cutter is used. It’s the next on our list of bonsai tools for beginners.
Why concave? Why not simply use your bonsai shears and cut the branch at its base, or use a saw if the branch is too large for the shears? Because a concave wound heals quicker, and more naturally, than a flat wound.
These cutters leave a small indentation where the branch was removed. As the tree heals, little, if any, scarring will occur.
Concave branch cutters can also be used to remove knobs from the tree in the same way with minimal damage to the tree.
The concave shape of the blade also provides additional strength compared to a straight blade, which enables you to cut thicker branches than you could with shears.
It can be overwhelming looking at the number of speciality tools available to bonsai hobbyists. Most of these tools aren’t necessary for beginners. Our three recommendations for bonsai tools for beginners are simple: a sharp pair of shears, a concave branch cutter, and a bamboo chopstick.
With this trio, you’ll have the ability to style and prune your tree, remove unwanted branches, and monitor the moisture level of your soil to ensure your tree is getting the right amount of water.