Although strongly associated with Japan and Japanese culture, bonsai originated in China as a way of creating trees for placement in miniature landscapes for the emperor’s viewing pleasure. Bonsai was transmitted with Chan (Zen) Buddhism to Japan by the 13th century. Many modern bonsai tools are replicas or adaptations of early bonsai tools. Although Japanese bonsai tools are fine tools, less expensive Chinese-made versions can be more than adequate, especially for amateur and hobbyist bonsai collectors. Because many Chinese bonsai shears are made of carbon steel instead of stainless steel, cleaning and oiling your tools after each use can help extend their life.
Sometimes called pruning shears, bonsai trimming shears have small scissorlike blades and large metal handles that wrap around your hands to make opening the shears after a cut easier. There are a number of affordable Chinese-made trimming shears available. Trimming shears are used to cut live branches and are generally available in two sizes. The smaller shears are for branches up to 1/4 inch in diameter. The larger shears are for larger branches. Trimming shears should not be used on dead wood.
Branch cutters are designed to cut thicker branches and roots. A branch cutter is a pinching cutter where the two cutting surfaces meet to “pinch off” the thick branch. Branch cutters can be used on heavier live branches. However, they are especially useful on deadwood. If the branch is thick enough to require two hands to cut, the cutter is too small. Either switch to a larger cutter or use a small saw to remove the branch. Some less expensive Chinese-made branch cutters may need more frequent sharpening. However, fine steel cutters are as reliable as high-end cutters manufactured elsewhere.
Knob cutters look like curved branch cutters. However, instead of having two straight blades that pinch together, the blades curve with the two ends being closer to the handles than the middle of the pinch blades. This design allows the blades to cut off the knob that remains on a tree trunk after the branch has been removed. The cutter works by removing the knob and a little bit of the tree’s trunk. Chinese-made knob cutters may need more frequent sharpening if they are inexpensive carbon steel. However, higher-end stainless steel cutters are as durable as other high-end cutters.