Bonsai is in a way like photography – it is possible to buy dozens of expensive ‘add-ons’ to the basic equipment. Some of these are helpful, others merely give you the feeling that ‘Gee, I’m really an artist’. Tools do not make the artist – the artist uses tools.
But there are tools which are essential to creating the work of art that is each individual tree. Shears, cutters, tweezers, rakes and others will help you shape the bonsai tree. They can help you make the difference between a small, scraggly plant and a beautifully sculpted bonsai tree.
The first tools recommended will surprise you: paper and colored pencils, or a good design program. ‘Begin with the end in mind’ is the catchphrase of all thinking artists. You need to envision the final result, which in the case of a bonsai tree may be decades in the making. Your vision needs to be made concrete, in the form of an image that you can refer to over the months and years of shaping.
You don’t have to be rigidly locked into your initial idea – the tree will often resist your efforts. But you should have some specific goal in mind that is consistent with the nature of the individual plant before you.
In order to realize that vision you’ll need a good set of shears. You will use them for cutting, trimming and shaping.
Quality counts. Poor quality tools dull quickly and don’t cut sharply. Spend a little more and get shears specially made for bonsai work. A good pair, well kept, will last many years. A poor quality pair will wear out, rust and be useless within a year or two. In the long run you will spend less by buying quality.
They need to start sharp and to be kept sharp. Ragged edges, which look smooth to your eye but are evident at the tree’s level, will produce poorer results. Have you ever noticed, for example, that a ragged wound heals badly, much more so than one cut cleanly?
Concave cutters are essential to shaping the bonsai tree. They are used to remove branches and produce a concave wound. Paradoxically, that rounded scar heals faster than a straight one. The final result will be one that makes it difficult to see that any branch existed in the first place.
Sooner or later you will want to wire your bonsai to shape the trunk and branches, in order to produce varying styles and variations within a style. Wire is essential for that purpose. But unwinding wire after months or years represents a great risk to the tree. It should be cut off instead.
Cutting wire without damaging the tree requires skill in any case. But without the proper wire cutters it is nearly impossible. Wire is wrapped tightly and often covers a large portion of the tree. It needs to be snipped off in small sections without stabbing or snipping the trained branch.
Obtain a pair that can be kept sharp, that can cut thicker wire easily without shaking or pushing the tree. It will be helpful if they are the sort that can cut wire at the very tip. That will aid the bonsai artist in being precise and avoiding damage to the branch.