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5 Essential Bonsai Tools for Beginners

August 30, 2021Beginners, Tools & Pots

5 essential tools

It’s possible to get started in bonsai with a minimal investment in tools. Those new to the hobby who choose simple initial projects should be able to get by with just the five bonsai tools for beginners covered in this post. As an added bonus, newbies can substitute common household tools for some of the specialized bonsai tools. This provides time for the beginner to grow into the hobby before making a major investment in tools.

Like most hobbies, the practice of bonsai involves the use of specialized tools. The good news for beginners is that it really isn’t necessary to invest in a wide range of bonsai tools in order to get started.  

Beginners can easily begin with simple projects that require just a few essential bonsai tools. As newbies gain experience and grow committed to the hobby, they can acquire additional tools, tool sets and/or higher quality tools.  

The key to needing fewer tools is to keep the project simple. The five recommended tools should be sufficient for small, container-grown nursery stock specimens that can be styled without wiring.  Nursery stock in half-gallon or smaller containers make ideal starter projects for bonsai beginners. Styles that are work well without wiring for first projects include the formal upright, informal upright and slanting styles.

Before we cover the five essential bonsai tools for beginners, let’s first reveal the best news of all. You probably already own three of the five!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links”. This means if you purchase through our links, we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Bonsai Tool #1 – Concave Cutter

Without doubt, the most important tool in the bonsai hobbyist’s tool roll is the concave cutter. Hobbyists use this tool when removing branches from a tree to promote proper healing of the wound. When an undesired branch is cut flush with the trunk, the tree forms a raised scar where the branch used to be. 

Concave cutter
Using a concave cutter promotes smooth healing after branch removal.

We cut off a lot of branches in the creation of bonsai. A series of bumpy, unsightly healing scars detracts from the tree’s beauty and from our artistic vision for the tree. The concave cutter solves that problem by creating a slightly bowl-shaped wound. The “raised” scar formed by the tree fills in the bowl shape, and the wound heals flush with the surrounding area. 

As with all bonsai tools, concave cutters vary in both price and quality. Beginners may want to start with a less expensive concave cutter of decent quality, then upgrade to nicer tools as they become more committed to the hobby long-term.

Bonsai Tool #2 – Long-handled Bud Shears

The second essential bonsai tools is a pair of bud shears. Bud shears are tools with small scissor-like ends designed to snip small branches, sprouts and buds. They help shape the tree and direct growth through strategic pruning. 

Bonsai bud shears
Long-handled bud shears help groom and shape bonsai.

Not all bud shears have long handles, but the long-handled version makes it easier to reach foliage deep inside the tree. The long, thin profile of the tool means hands are less likely to block line of sight while trimming.

As with concave cutters, a good option for beginners is to choose a bud shear that is less expensive but still of reasonable quality. 

Beginners who happen to already own a bypass garden pruner could substitute that tool and purchase the bud shear later. Avoid the anvil type of garden pruner, as its crushing action causes damage to the tree.

Bonsai Tool #3 – Scissors

A regular pair of sharp scissors holds the number three spot in the list of bonsai tools for beginners. You’ll need scissors to prune the roots of your trees during the potting process. Root pruning encourages the development of a compact and fine root system, and happens with each repotting. 

A pair of regular scissors can substitute for bonsai shears.

Specialized bonsai shears made for this job are available for purchase. However, beginners can easily make do with regular scissors and acquire the specialized tool down the road. Be aware that root pruning will dull scissor blades over time.

Bonsai Tool #4 – Wire cutters

Bonsai practitioners use wire in some way for practically all projects. While a pair of specialized bonsai wire cutters are the ideal tool to own, beginners can easily get started with just a pair of regular wire cutters.

Bonsai hobbyists need to cut wire for four primary activities, which are to:

  1. Secure a pot screen
  2. Anchor the tree in the pot
  3. Wire branches of the tree for shaping
  4. Remove shaping wire from a tree

Regular wire cutters work just fine for the first three tasks. Specialized bonsai wire cutters have the advantage of making the fourth task much easier. Unlike the standard wire cutters, they have a rounded blunt shape at the end of the cutting blade. This shape allows them to butt up against the tree to safely snip wire without damaging bark. 

Wire cutters
You can make do with regular wire cutters (left) until you need bonsai wire cutters (right) to remove wire from trees.

Chances are, you may already have a pair of regular wire cutters in your home toolbox, and until you actually need to remove wire from trees, they are all you really need. However, if you have to purchase wire cutters, consider spending a bit more up front to get the bonsai version.

Bonsai Tool #5 – Chopstick

The final essential bonsai tool is the humble chopstick! Chopsticks come in handy during the repotting process. Use them to remove soil from root balls and to work soil in around the roots in the new pot.  

Chopsticks come in handy during repotting.

Many hobbyists also use wooden chopsticks to help gauge when individual trees need watering. Insert a chopstick all the way vertically in each pot. Pull the chopstick out daily and check it for moisture. When the stick starts to dry out, it’s time to water.

I now own a bonsai root hook, but I still reach for the chopstick first. A pencil will work if you don’t have a chopstick – but what a great excuse to go out for Chinese food!

What about a bonsai tool kit?

As we’ve outlined, most newbies will already have three of the five tools necessary to get started in bonsai. However, most will need to purchase concave cutters and long-handled bud shears, and most will want to eventually own the bonsai versions of scissors and wire cutters. Given that, does it make sense for beginners to buy multi-implement bonsai tool kits? 

The answer really depends on two things – the person and the kit. Some folks may be super-enthused about learning the hobby and prefer to invest in a nice set of bonsai tools from the start instead of collecting tools piecemeal. If that’s your preference, then go for it! 

However, be aware that some kits on the market are of questionable quality, and many contain a multitude of tools that beginners don’t really need. Well-reviewed kits such as this one with a thoughtfully planned assortment of frequently used tools represent a better value for a beginner than some of the larger kits. Reading reviews will help in avoiding kits with complaints about quality.

Getting started in bonsai requires only a minimal investment in bonsai tools. Beginners who choose their first projects carefully should be able to get by with just the five tools covered in this post. This provides time for the beginner to grow into the hobby before making a major investment in tools. 

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