Over the last few days when it was cold and raining I stayed indoor to clean and sharpen my bonsai tools.
When I first started bonsai in 1978, I had a general gardening scissor, a snap cutter, a small saw and a plier. These were my bonsai tools. Total cost not more than $10. Today you can still get these tools for under $10. Recently I picked up a snap cutter for $1. The quality is not that good but it works. A plier is about $2. A general gardening scissor and a small saw for a few $ each. So basic bonsai tools are not expensive. I believe many ordinary people in Asia are still doing their bonsai with these basic tools. Where there is passion, good bonsai can be produced with simple basic tools. The passion is primary and the tools secondary.
These were my first bonsai tools:
Two years later, I bought a set of Japanese carbon steel tools for Sing$50, from a Japanese master by the name of Suzuki who set up shop in Singapore. Last I heard he was into landscaping which is a more lucrative business in Singapore, with so many hotels and expensive homes. I have been using this set of tools until 2004 when I went on a bonsai tour in Japan and so took the opportunity to pick up some good stainless steel Japanese bonsai tools. The $50 set consisted of a small branch cutter, a small concave cutter, a regular shear, a long handle shear, a trimming scissor, a wire cutter, a plier, a spring assisted trimming shear and a broom brush. I have misplaced or lost the concave cutter, the regular shear and the trimming scissor. All the other tools are still in good working conditions. That $50 must have been the best $50 I ever spent in my life. Good values and fun over 20 years ! Of course proper care and maintenance are essentials to keep your tools in good condition so that they can last. So if you can afford it, get a decent set of bonsai tools. They not only improve the productivity and quality of your bonsai works but also spur you on. It feels good to be working with professional tools.
What remains of my first set of bonsai tools:
Today I have more tools than I needed. I have three sets of stainless steel tools, including a set of still unuse Masakumi.
Here are part of my current set of bonsai tools:
Should u want to equip yourself with a set of bonsai tools my suggestion is to get
1. A concave cutter - this should handle the branches and all the unwanted bulges on the tree.
2. A pruning shear - to handle the twigs and leave.
3. A trimming shear - for finner foliage works.
4. A plier - for bending wires.
5. A wire cutter.
6. A saw for the larger cuts.
7. A brush for tidying up.
8. A twizzer for weeding.
Of course as your passion grows and your bonsai works get more specialised and complicated then you may have to look into getting tools like:
My recommendation is to buy good quality tools. Where it is made and the price is no indication of quality and reliability. The best is to rely on recommendations from friends who have used these tools before. I bought the following tools blindly and paid for my mistakes. The first was a small Japanese cutter. After a year the spring snapped. The second is a Chinese made stainless steel knob cutter. After 6 months, the cutting edges misaligned. The third is most disappointing. It is an expensive pair of Japanese stainless steel scissor which was supposedly to be made of a new and better material. The cutting edges wore off faster than normal and it rusted. The last is a small "Made in Japan" cutter, bought from an American dealer on the Internet. Less that 6 months, the cutting edges misaligned. I really wonder whether it is Made in Japan as carved onto the tool.
In Part 2 I will cover my carving tools and maintenance and sharpening of tools. CJ