How to correctly care for your bonsai tools

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This guide explains how to get the best performance and longest life from your bonsai tools.

Keep your tools clean!  As with all tools, cleanliness is important and insures the continued proper function of your tools. Shears and knob cutters with built up sap or cut paste will not cut correctly and may even damage the portion of the tree you are cutting.  Jining tools and grafting knives with sap built up will not only stick when cutting but may also cause an accident.  Your bonsai tools are an investment that you have probably spent a lot of money on - keep them clean and they should last you a lifetime or longer.


I have read where one bonsai Master advises to “sterilize your tools” after finishing work on one tree BEFORE your start work on the next. He suggest a liquid sterilizer or even a flame. This is probably going a little overboard, however if you were working on a diseased plant it would make sense but for general trimming, especially when you are trimming dozens of trees throughout the day it is just impractical.
Cleaning your tools at the end of the day is best accomplished with soap and water or mentholated spirits. Wipe any excess sap or dirt off first and then clean and rinse well with warm water.  After I clean my tools I dry them thoroughly then apply a superior lubricant that doesn’t attract dust like Tri-Flow.  This ensures there is no water in the springs or hinges or under the collar that might encourage rust to develop.  If you are using a stainless steel set of tools like Masters Grade then rust will never be a problem.


Your tools should never be left outside over night and should not be exposed to rain or water for any length of time or rust may start almost instantly.  If your carbon steel tools do develop rust, a small piece of steel wool, a little oil and some elbow grease will usually get the job done.  Once the rust has been removed, repeat the cleaning process all the way through to the lubricant stage and then store them correctly.


Dropping your tools does happen, even to bonsai Masters.  If you drop a tool and the worst happens - you break the tip off your trimming shears, don’t panic as they can be fixed. The tips can be ground down using an electric grinder or even by hand with oil and stone.  If you don’t feel comfortable repairing them yourself or don’t have access to a grinder then take your tools to a pro for grinding.


Never wait for your tools to get dull before sharpening. If you have a few trees (up to 20) a little sharpening each week will save you countless headaches later.  If you have hundreds of trees then a little sharpening every 2 or 3 days is best.
The best way to sharpen your bonsai tools is with an oil stone or a hand held blade sharpener.  A quality sharpening tool will save you hundreds of dollars over its life.  Flat oil stones and blade sharpeners are only used to sharpen shears and tools with straight blades, curved stones are available for sharpening branch and knob cutters.  Only sharpen the outside of the blade as the inside is generally flat.
Practice sharpening your general use garden shears or a pair of household scissors before you venture to your expensive bonsai tools.  Sharpening your tools isn’t as hard as it sounds and with a little practice you should be very proficient.  If you get really good give me a call and you can do mine!


Correct tool storage is essential for long term protection. Never throw them in a box or bucket as the blades and tips can be easily damaged. I use and recommend a traditional cloth or leather tool roll.  If you are handy with a sewing machine or know someone who is, a custom made tool roll can be made without too much effort.

Caring for your bonsai tools is like caring for your car.  If you wash it, get it serviced regularly and keep the tires and breaks in top working order it will last you a long time.  Keep your bonsai tools clean, sharp and stored in an orderly matter and they in turn will always be ready to do the job you bought them for.

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Thanks and regards,


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