I started bonsai in 1978 with some cheap and basic tools. I had a gardening secateur, a snap cutter, a small saw and a small electrical plier. Total cost not more than $10. I may have taken a longer time to do the job and the finish may not be that professional but these basic tools get the work done. The secateur, if well oil and sharpen, will handle the leave, twigs and smaller branches easily. The saw is for bigger branches. The snap cutter is to level out any bulges on the tree. I find it very good in shaping the area after a major branch has been cut. They are very sharp. So has to handle with care. The electrical plier is to cut and bend wire. Hence bonsai tools need not be expensive. To produce nice bonsai, passion is paramount. Tools are secondary.
Two years later, I came across the first and last bonsai shop ever set up in the prime shopping belt of Orchard Road in Singapore, by a Japanese Master, Suzuki. He has since moved onto landscaping which is a more lucrative business in Singapore with so many hotels and rich homes. I bought a set of Japanese carbon steel bonsai tools consisting of a knob cutter, a branch cutter, a spring assisted shear, 3 scissors, a wire cutter, a plier, a saw, a brush and a tool holder, for Sing $50. I used this set of tools until 2004 when I bought some Japanese stainless steel tools, when I was in Japan on a bonsai tour.This is the best value I ever got out of $50. I did plenty of bonsai works with them and they have gone through almost all of my bonsai. If you can afford it, my advise is to get a good set of tools. They make your bonsai work easier, faster, more fun and professional. It also feels good to be doing bonsai with professional tools. Of course care and maintenance of your tools are essential for them to last and to work well. It is good to adopt a habit of cleaning and maintaining your tools immediately after use. Oil them lightly at the joints and moving parts but don’t oil the cutting edges. Sharpen the straight cutting edges with a diamond coated file. I used to sharpen with wet stones but find the diamond coated file easier to handle. You can pick one up at the kitchenwhare shop or on the internet. Move in one direction. Try to maintain the original cutting angle. Try to sharpen by taking off the least amount of material. 20 -30 passes in one direction on the angle side and 3 – 5 passes on the flat side should do the job. However if the cutting edge has chipped, then you have to file till the chip is removed. It is a little more difficult to sharpen the concave and knob cutter. For these I use a small piece of fine sandpaper. Then I go over the outer surface of the cutting edge which overlap the other edge for about 20 -30 times. Then I go through the inside 3 – 5 times. For the other cutting edge it is the reverse. 20 – 30 times on the inside and 3 – 5 times on the outside surface. The contact surfaces are critical to maintaining a good cut which is why I tried to remove as little material from this surface as possible. Then hold the cutter up against the light to ensure that the cutting edges are evenly sharpened.
This is what remains of my first set of bonsai tools:
Now I have more tools than I needed. Here is the major part of my tools.
As my bonsai experiences widen and deepen, I moved into carving. These are my carving tools. From left to right, a Made in USA Lancelot cutter mounted on a Makita angle grinder. This is fantastic for removing huge chunks of wood. I used this to help Bill Valvanis remove a good amount of wood from a big juniper he was working on when he was in Perth last year. Sharpening the teeth is similar to those of chain saw using a round file attached to a Dremel. Next is a mini Arbortech Grinder with carbid cutting wheel. This is good for small jobs. Sharpen the cutting edge with a flat diamond file. The next is a Makita grinder with cutting bits from Taiwan, Europe and UK. All the bits work equally well except that those I bought from UK has no rust stain. Those from Taiwan are half the price. Last is a Dremel grinder with bits from Taiwan, Europe and Japan. This is very good for the shohin bonsai. These tools are very powerful and thus dangerous. So they must be handled with care. Wear safety gear. Stay alert. Take your time. Do not over stretch. Keep the work area as clear as possible.