Article 14 – ‘TOOLS FOR BONSAI’


Caution – “All bonsai tools are sharp they have to be, a blunt tool is no good to anyone, because it causes more damage.”

A question most often asked is what tools are required for someone starting out in bonsai. Does the enthusiast purchase the very best, second best or the cheapest? If one is in bonsai horticulture as a business, then buying the best is probably the best option due to the amount of usage. But for the beginner there is really no need because, they are not used on a daily basis.

Tools can be costly and it is wise to consider all options, pruning shears are probably the tool most often used; here are 3 examples with prices correct at the time of writing.

Japanese 170mm retails around €39,50

Chinese Ryuga 160mm €24,50

Standard Chinese 195mm at €8,00.

Other high grade metals for making bonsai tools including high speed stainless steel and composites are available, but are more expensive. And when one factors in all the other tools required through time, the cost escalates. It is really a question of needs for example, the type of species and the size factor, because this denotes the tools required.

For example, a beginner will usually start with indoor varieties such as Ficus Retusa ginseng, Carmona retusa (Fukien Tea) or Ficus Benjamina (Weeping Fig) as these are comparatively easy to attain and cultivate. As are young trees and seedlings. Thus the basic tools required are:

‘chop-stick’ (wood or plastic) one end pointed (For teasing out the root ball) the blunt end is used for pushing the soil between the roots when re-potting. This item is usually found in the kitchen drawer hence no cost.

175mm knob cutter for branch removal at the trunk = €17,50

secateurs for thicker branches (depending on the make) = €9,00

standard shears 195mm for medium sized branches = €8,00

small shears 120mm for leaf cutting = €5,00

sharp pointed knife for general purpose work = €8,00

old tooth brush for cleaning = no cost

coated aluminum wire of various thicknesses = €5.50 per 100grm x 2 = €11.50

A turn table is a useful addition because it allows you to remain in a seating position and the tree can be turned around allowing you to work with ease. The turn table shown below was made from a piece of pine board 30cm x 60cm x 1.5cm cut into 2 halves. The two pieces were then clamped together and an 8mm hole was drilled through one half and half way into the other. An 8mm wooden dowel was inserted into bottom half and a turn table from an old microwave oven was used on which the top half can rotate. The top half was painted to protect the wood. (Approximate cost €9,00)

Total cost = €68,00.



Beginner’s tool set

If coniferous species are in the collection then other tools including branch cutters and splitters, a bark stripping knife, root hooks and a bonsai saw may be needed. Added to this are wound healing pastes, Lime sulphur or Jin fluid, grafting tapes, raffia and bending clamps. And if your designs incorporate deadwood appearances including, Sabamiki, Shari, Jin and Uro you will need wood carving tools either manual or power driven. As one can visualize, the cost just keeps going up. Bonsai horticulture can become very expensive if you do not keep a hold on expenditure.

Additional tools
Wire brushes, hand gouges, knife and Jin fluid

However, one can keep the cost down by using basic tools found in the local hardware, department and supermarket stores for example. When wiring cutters, needle nose and blunt nosed pliers used in this practice are relatively inexpensive and will last just as long as the more expensive varieties. A bark stripper can be fashioned out of a horse hoof pick (€2,00) by grinding and filing the edges. A branch splitter can be formed from a pair of pincers (€4,00) by grinding down the surfaces. Brushes steel, brass wire and hard nylon for trunk and deadwood work are inexpensive. (€1,50 to 3,00) A gas burner for used on deadwood to enhance a charred appearance can be purchased quite reasonably and will last long time although much depends on the amount of usage (€25,00) depending on the source.

When shaping or carving bonsai traditionalists often use hand gouges, but I prefer not to use this method because. (a) It can disturb the root ball weakening the trees stability in the container and (b) one slip with a gouge can do irreparable damage. Instead a Dremel 3000-15 power tool is preferred as this machine has a flexible rotary attachment much like a dentists drill. This allows for more precise carving and keeps root ball disturbance to a minimum. The Dremel 3000-15 retails at approximately (€60,00) depending on the retailer and comes with attachments, extra cutters and sanders are also readily available. Of course there are cheaper versions and also more expensive, but for my purposes the Dremel 3000-15 is more than adequate.







Those beginners contemplating modifying or making tools who don’t have a place to work, portability is the answer. The basic tools needed is a small vice, a block of wood to attach it, an angle grinder or small bench grinder bolted to a block of wood and clamped to a table. These tools can be stored in a cupboard when not in use.

Another item used in bending thick trunks or branches where wiring is not possible, is the adjustable clamp, these vary in price and can be purchased on line and a basic clamp retails for about €15,00 = €15,00 + postage €10,00 to 15,00 = €25,00 to 30,00

When studying these clamps there was nothing untoward but they seemed rather basic. My need was to have a selection of at least 3 clamps of different sizes all adjustable therefore, I decided to make my own. Perhaps the reader is now thinking why make them when they are cheap enough to buy?

I will answer this question thus. Many years ago I knew an old gentleman who was busy straightening nails, I asked him why – surely nails are cheap enough to buy; he replied. ‘Why buy more nails when there is a bucket full here, all they need is straightening and can be used again. Furthermore, it is cost productive and keeps my mind occupied’. Taking this consensus on board the cost of materials was researched and the result was that 3 clamps could be made for the price of one. (Shown below) How the adjustable bonsai clamps were made will be in the next issue. Until then B.W. – N. 

3 adjustable clamps, wire, raffia, insulation tape, vaseline and syringe


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