Buy good quality Japanese tools and you will be rewarded with a lifetime of service. I have yet to find any Chinese bonsai tools that make me want to switch from 40 years’ ownership & use of my Japanese tools. I’m open to suggestions on this.
Add to your tool kit gradually. You don’t need everything at the outset!
Essential – sharp scissors that close to a fine point.
Long handles keep your hands out of the canopy, but any sharp scissors will do the job. Often called ‘leaf & twig shears’, don’t be confused these are not tailor’s shears with enormous blades. Korbond orange-handle embroidery scissors are a great start for use on small trees. Cut twigs up to about satay stick-thickness with your scissors, but don’t twist or rack the blades. Match the tool to the task. Stainless steel blades can be sharpened again & again.
Essential – powerful scissors for root pruning.
You’ll want something with strong blades and more ‘drive’ than your leaf/twig shears, to get through tough root material. Poultry shears (in any supermarket kitchenware section) are ideal – they go through chicken wing tips & deserve a place in your tool kit. Besides this, they’re inexpensive and you will ruin or at least regularly blunt your root shears courtesy of the gritty material & potting mix still attached to what you’re cutting.
Essential – potting or digging stick.
A wooden chopstick works wonders, for combing out roots on small plants, prodding around the surface soil, weeding, working dry soil mix into the root ball while repotting…. absolutely indispensable. Cheap. Buy a pack of 20. Anything abrasive in the soil mix will sharpen and shorten your stick over time. Also useful for marking the front of the tree while you’re styling. Buy 2 packs of 20!
Essential – wire cutters.
Never cut wire with your scissors! Bonsai wire cutters have a fine point & are either scissor-style with really short blades, or long handled with short blades. Cutting wire before applying it is one thing, but cutting every loop during removal is a chore without decent wire cutters.
Essential – jin pliers.
I’m a bit unusual, in putting jin pliers so high up the ‘basic tools’ list, but I don’t have really strong fingers and find they’re helpful for getting the first or last turn onto heavy gauge wire, for stripping bark (the original intended use), pulling out tough weeds that refuse to yield any other way. With the jaws parallel, there’s a gap between. As soon as the jaws start to close, pressure is applied. Really powerful, I love my jin pliers.
Essential – cut paste.
Brown, like plasticine, in a screw-top tub, I use this one on conifers. It becomes more pliable as you work it between your fingers. Use to plug up wounds made with your branch cutters. Seals the wound to stop sap leaking out, prevents bugs and fungus getting in & from an aesthetic perspective, hides the evidence of tool use.
Green, in a toothpaste-like tube, goes on sticky & pale green, dries clear; fingers or other applicator wash up in water if you do it immediately. Insoluble once it dries. Use it to plug up wounds on deciduous & broadleaved evergreen trees. Use whichever paste suits the colour & texture of the bark.