Bonsai Scissors: Do We Really Need Them?

Care & Tools

 

Are bonsai scissors different from ordinary pruners?

Bonsai scissors are different from ordinary garden pruners.  They are made especially for the purpose of pruning tiny leaves in the dense foliage and cutting off lumps on the branches/trunks cleanly.

Bonsai scissors vs. bypass pruners

Bonsai scissors
Bonsai scissors

Bonsai scissors

The traditional/standard bonsai scissors are for general-purpose bonsai pruning.  They have two thin but sharp, somewhat rounded, and fine-pointed blades with very large and looped handles that fit in your hand and allow better control.

These scissors are used to cut branches up to 1/4 to 1/2 inch (6-10mm) in diameter.  They can prune fine roots as well.  There may or may not be a shank between the handles and the blades.

There is no spring between the blades, unlike bypass pruning scissors.  This is better for long hours of pruning use because you do not need extra power to squeeze the string.

Bonsai trimming scissors
Bonsai trimming scissors

Bonsai trimming scissors

Bonsai trimming/twig scissors have two thin but sharp, straight, and fine-pointed blades which are good for delicate trimming in tight places using the tips of the blades.  They are designed for pruning buds and fine branches of up to around 1/8 inch (4mm) in diameter.

There is no spring between the blades of bonsai trimming scissors as well, unlike bypass pruning scissors.  This is better for long hours of pruning because, again, you do not need extra power to squeeze the string.

Bonsai trimming scissors (long shank)

Bonsai trimming scissors (long shank)

Bonsai trimming scissors are also called Satsuki bonsai scissors or twig scissors (the shapes are slightly different).

They have a long shank (the body of the scissors between the ring handles and the hinge) which enables you to easily reach deep within the foliage to the branch you want to cut without damaging others.

Bypass pruning scissors
Bypass scissors

Bypass pruning scissors

Ordinary bypass pruning scissors have one curved, thick blade, closing onto a less sharp counter/base anvil, creating a scissor-like motion.

Although they are strong enough to prune hardened branches up to an inch thick, they are not for fine pruning because the cut is done toward the hinge and not at the end of the blade.  There is a risk of tearing the branch as well if you cut it by moving the blade side of the pruner up and through the branch, not downward onto the counter anvil.

Also, there is a spring between the blades in bypass pruning scissors, which helps open the handles between cuts.  This spring is intended to reduce hand fatigue but can actually increase fatigue for long pruning, which can last for hours, because you need extra power to squeeze the handles.

Bonsai trimming scissors vs. bypass pruners
Traditional/Standard
bonsai scissors
Bonsai
trimming Scissors
Bypass scissors
No. of blades 2
(2 blades)
2
(2 blades)
2
(1 blade + counter anvil)
Blades’ features – Sharp
– Somewhat round
– Fine-pointed
– Thin
– Sharp
– Straight
– Fine-pointed
– Thin
– Less sharp
– Curved
– Not pointed
– Thick
Shank None/medium Long None
Application All-purpose Trimming/ thinning buds and fine branches Cutting branches
Used for Branches of up to 1/4 to 1/2 inch (6-10mm) Branches of up to 1/8 inch (4mm) Branches of up to 1 inch (2.5cm)
String No (good for long usage) No (good for long usage) Yes (good for short usage)

Bonsai concave cutter vs. knob cutter

Bonsai concave cutter
Bonsai concave cutter

Bonsai concave cutter

A bonsai concave cutter is especially useful to prune the middle branch among the three branches that are grown like a three-way intersection, which is very hard to do using normal scissors.  Thanks to the concave jaws, a concave cutter makes a long, clean cut that fills over itself quickly leaving minimal scars.

It is also used to make/shape a dead branch (Shari) for bonsai styling.

There are two kinds of concave cutters: straight edge and round edge.  A rounded concave cutter is kind of a hybrid of a basic concave cutter and a knob cutter that can also take off lumps.

Bonsai knob cutter
Bonsai knob cutter

Bonsai knob cutter

A knob cutter can scoop off knobs and large lumps close to the trunk.  Its rounded jaws bite cleanly into the tree and make a spherical cut allowing wounds to heal fast.  It is also used to take deeper bites in the trunk to make drastic cuts.

The long handles provide leverage when removing a large chunk out of thicker woody branches.

A knob cutter is used for an aesthetic purpose in bonsai.  Lumps on the trunk or branches have to be removed because they make bonsai trees unattractive.  A knife can be used for this purpose but using a knob cutter is easier and can be done without fail.

Can you use normal scissors for bonsai?

Ordinary bypass pruners can be used for some of the bonsai pruning like cutting off elongated branches in the outer layer of the tree.  But bypass pruners cannot be all-purpose pruning tools for bonsai use because-

  • they are not for fine pruning;
  • they cannot reach inside the dense foliage;
  • the spring between the blades can actually make your hand tired after long usage;
  • risk of pruning wrong branches is much higher; and,
  • there is a risk of tearing the branch.

You need at least one pair of bonsai scissors to take care of your bonsai trees if you do not want to damage them while taking care.

Bonsai scissors/cutters you absolutely need

There are many different pruning tools available in the market.  But the types of tools you need for pruning bonsai depend on the purpose of the pruning and the size of the tree parts you intend to prune.

Quality and price vary dramatically among tools so you need to purchase ones that are proven to be of good quality.

If you ask me, bonsai scissors/cutters you absolutely need are traditional Ashinaga bonsai scissors and bonsai concave cutters.

My first choice

(Link to Amazon)

If I must choose the first pair of bonsai scissors/cutters to buy, I would choose traditional bonsai scissors with a long shank (Ashinaga) because they are for general-purpose bonsai pruning that can reach into the foliage.

(Link to Amazon)

There are also ones made from stainless steel.  These are a bit pricy but they do stay sharp for a long time and are wear-resistant.  Less maintenance is always good.

My second choice

(Link to Amazon)

The next choice would be a bonsai concave cutter because it serves the special purpose of cutting the middle branch among the three branches, which occurs quite often in bonsai pruning.  It can also cut branches clearly from the trunk leaving minimal scars.

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