One of the more commonly heard refrains from bonsai professionals and serious enthusiasts is that beginners in bonsai shouldn’t spend their money on cheap tool sets. They argue that cheap tool sets are worthless. Instead the serious beginner should invest in just two or three better quality tools.
The trouble I have with this recommendation is the ambiguity of exactly which make and model constitutes “better quality” bonsai tools. There are quite a few tool brands. Most of which claim to make good quality tools. Many of whom claim to make some sort of beginner tool set and other nicer lines. My guess is that the question of which tools are “better” would get you quite a few different answers.
Maybe beginner sets in general are what causes contempt? Perhaps they’d advocate skipping beginner sets and going directly to intermediate?
To be frank, I suspect that one particular bonsai tool manufacturer’s company’s “basic” line is the source of the cheap tools on Amazon. But I also suspect the same company’s higher quality lines of goods are being sold under several other names from other sellers, who are reputed to be fine. This all means it’s hard to then give a recommendation on what tools the beginner should use. Because some of that amounts to personal preference, and some of it is combatting what a faceless “people” might say.
“Better” Beginner Bonsai Tools
If you don’t think a bottom of the line entry level tool set is for you, instead you can add one quality piece at a time. In that case the Ashinaga shears and a concave branch cutter may be the two best tools to pick up first.
Below I’m giving some recommendations on solid bonsai tool options. The question I’d have about some of these options is: why aren’t there any reviews?
Bonsai tools seem to be one of those things that people still frequently buy locally. This could be because bonsai hobbyists establish connections. They buy soil mixes and other products from their local bonsai shop. When they’re not using their local bonsai shop or for those who don’t have one, they might use one of two or three major online bonsai shops. That means at any bonsai shop online or in person you’re likely to find only one or two bonsai tool manufacturer options that your shop or reseller has decided to stock.
For those of us who tend to buy almost everything from a few larger shops, it leaves us a bit in the lurch. With the lack of a centralized place to buy there’s also a lack of reviews or comparison-shopping information. Those of us who don’t have the time to ask around are left high and dry for information on how to make this purchase. For my kindred busy web based people left to ask “what’s up with that?”
Below I’ve made a couple recommendations for beginner pieces, and I’ve also published an article that might be helpful called “Who Makes the Best Bonsai Tools?”
Mid Range Quality Beginner Bonsai Tools: Joshua Roth
I’d say a safe middle of the road would be from Joshua Roth. Several bonsai tool manufacturers produce respectable tools, and any of them would work just fine. What I’m aiming for is a low level of criticism and I can say that about Joshua Roth’s products. He also offers tools in the following categories: student/novice, intermediate, professional, and master.
Joshua Roth’s novice line are sometimes called “Joshy’s.” (So you might hear a bonsai hobbyist say “I’ve had my Joshy’s for ten years.”) These basic Ashinaga shears are made of carbon steel in Japan. Know that as I stated above Joshua Roth does four lines, novice, intermediate, professional, and master. Their intermediate version of these shears isn’t much more expensive and could be considered at only $33, they’re also made in Japan out of high carbon steel. Both have 2” blades, with a total of just under 8” in length.
The matching novice concave cutter comes in at about $50. It’s roughly 8″ in length and made in Japan out of carbon steel. Stepping up and going for intermediate will cost you $70 on this one so adding them up it might be a less obvious choice.
Overall Joshua Roth’s pieces generally get a nod of respect or at least an absence of criticism in the bonsai universe. He’s reputed to make reliable, respectable bonsai tools. You can find more information on Joshua Roth at www.joshuaroth.com but you can’t buy his tools there. These links on Amazon are one way, the other is through a dozen or more bonsai shops in the U.S. which sell his products. For those looking for more inexpensive bonsai tools that are made in China, Joshua Roth also sells Ryuga tools. All Joshua Roth tools are warrantied for three years from date of purchase.
Mid Range Quality Beginner Bonsai Tools: Mu-Tian
Another option that’s riskier is Mu-Tian. The company operates several lines, and I suspect their cheapest line is responsible for the plethora of “basic” tool lines out there. But at the same time I’d guess their “professional” tool lines such as seen here are actually reproduced under other names for other sellers, likely at a higher price. These tools are made in China but claim to be under the highest quality materials and craftsmanship.
Whereas my other recommendations here are from respected established companies that are offering Japanese made basic lines, this recommendation is a “professional” line from a company you don’t hear much about.
Aka: “Tian Bonsai Tools Branch Cutter 205 Mm (8″) Staight Edge Stainless Steel Very.” This is the highest grade line they carry. For $40 the price is the same of what you’ll find elsewhere for far lower quality level. These tools are made in China of their finest quality stainless steel. Mu Tian claims a three year warranty on these cutters.
Aka: “Master’s Bonsai Scissors Top Pruning Scissors 200 Mm (7.85″) 500t Forge Made By Stainless Steel” Again with the name indicating a poor grasp on English to the extent where others wouldn’t be able to find these items, they’re here and look pretty fine. Again these are made of high grade stainless steel (they said via 5Cr15MoV stainless steel), made in China. These shears claim a three year warranty.
High End Quality Beginner Bonsai Tools: Masakuni
Last, if you want to be above reproach with people saying you bought poor quality tools, you can always pick up two “basic” Masakunis. Masakuni invented bonsai tools and have been the gold standard for quality for a long time. But if you take this route understand you’re likely to get flack the other way. “People” are just as likely to say that buying Masakuni bleeds toward the lavish and is unnecessary. Granted, Masakuni has several tool grades just like other bonsai tool makers, but the reputation is there.
Here are your basic Ashinaga shears. The number (0002) on the Masakuni listing refers to a numbering system Masakuni has for it’s bonsai tools. It makes it easier to discern, say, between a #10 and a #11 shears when they look almost alike. You’ll see the number 2 on these. That’s because, presumably, this style shears were the second ever style made on bonsai shears. The #1 sometimes called “butterfly” shears are commonly seen as well and can be found in some of the larger tool sets, but most agree these Ashinaga shears are better for all around use.
(0016) Masakuni bonsai tool Concave Branch Cutter (around $144)
So that’s the low down on some different “better” beginner bonsai tool options. Any of these options will get you off to a solid start building a bonsai tool roll that’s well respected.
If you do go for these nicer tool options, you’ll also want to take care of them. You might want to check out my bonsai tool care post.
If these higher end options aren’t your bag, check out the “basic” beginner bonsai tool options.