Bonsai adheres to its own aesthetic, which incorporates the theories of Zen Buddhism, making the practice quasi-religious to some and intended to be meditative for all. Over centuries, the Japanese culture has infused the gardening with its influence, particularly the notion of wabi-sabi (beauty in imperfection and transience). Through this, popular forms and theories have gone into guidelines that allow the Bonsai gardener to express their own ideas, emotions and principles through their thoughtfulness in shaping. And then express it again by simply changing the order and shape or contents of the garden according to their own progression on the path to enlightenment.
The choice of trees, stones and shapes parallels a person’s paths, or just their moods. And in practice, many simply like how it looks, but still adhere to certain basic formulations out of respect for Bonsai as a meaningful cultural ideal in Japan. As its own reflective art, a very particular set of skills and tools has been developed in order to perfect and enjoy growing bonsai trees and gardens. Different gardeners and artists use the tools that best serve their needs and imaginations. So not everyone uses all of the tools, but this will be a discussion of all of the most popular tools hat people use in different combinations to make their garden truly reflect their own personality. Once you have envisioned the shape you want your bonsai to take, there are some basic tools to help you achieve your goal.
Bonsai Wire is sold in a number of materials and sizes. Best for beginners would be aluminum. Copper is stronger, but more difficult to use. It is sold in millimeters of thickness and sizes will vary according to the weight of the branch being wired. It is often a trial and error process and will become easier with experience. A 1-2mm wire is usually good to start.
Bonsai Wire Cutters
These are specifically made for cutting bonsai wire. Beginners may try to substitute standard wire cutters, but they will soon see the need for the rounded head of the bonsai cutters. The specially designed wire cutters will prevent damage to the trunk and branches, but still maintain sufficient jaw pressure to cut evenly in precarious spaces or crevices.
Concave Branch Cutters
This tool is extra sharp for shearing away branches all the way to the trunk of the tree. When it is flat to the trunk, it heals almost seamlessly, to minimize scarring. The cutters have to stay razor sharp to prevent marking and must be one of the tools that a beginner invests in before starting their bonsai garden.
Spherical Knob Cutters
This tool has a ball shaped head and is used to cut away roots and knobs on the trunks of bonsai. They make hollow cuts that heal in place without much significant change in space or texture.
Traditional Beginner Bonsai Shears
These large handled shears are an essential tool for all types of bonsai gardeners. The traditional shears are the most multi-functional of the shears and allow trimming of roots, branches and prominent buds or leaves. They allow movement of all kinds and the easy application of strength for roots and large branches. To assist with the large jobs and large number of uses, the blades are very sharp. This is another must-have for bonsai gardeners starting out.
Satsuki or Bud Trimming Shears
These long narrow shears help to reach buds at all angles and deep within the tree or shrub. Their finger rings and length also allow for maximum direction and shaping without collateral damage to adjacent foliage.
Root Rake (also called a root hook)
Its single point, round hooked, steel end is used to separate and disentangle different sized roots, especially during transplanting or moving and repotting, without causing ancillary damage to a larger bonsai.
The Japanese saw is the size of a long knife and have small handles that allow you to maneuver them into smaller places with precision. They cut with little force and allow the removal of branches without stubs, especially important for the initial shaping or any large changes. They are not for use on roots. Not necessary to start, but they will make the beginner’s job much easier.
These are not completely necessary, but are desirable to allow for fast, but precise pruning that scissors won’t allow. They are similar to traditional chopsticks, connected at the base, but with very sharp tips for use on even the most dense foliage.
The hemp brush is a key aesthetic tool for the particular bonsai gardener. It is used to smooth the top of the soil after trimming, pruning or shaping and is helpful when cleaning up a Penjing. The right hemp brush for bonsai is firm but not too stiff.
Bonsai Tree Branch Bender
Essential to manage the training of your bonsai tree, a good quality tree branch bender is a smart investment for any level gardener. Some branches won’t yield to wire and a bender will help you get the shape you are looking for to expel just enough effort to push and pull it into the desired position.