There is an enormous variety of tools and other bonsai-related items that are available, but you don't need to buy everything when you are first starting out. A list of starting essentials is given at the end of this page and then you can add to your collection as your interest grows.
The majority of tools listed below are available in variety of different makes including Chinese Tools, Japanese Carbon Steel, Japanese Stainless Steel. The price varies with the quality of the tool, but decent tools are essential in creating top-quality bonsai.
Trimming shears - These look like an over-sized pair of scissors. They are used for trimming fine branches, twigs and roots. Many bonsai-growers have two pairs, one for the top of the tree and one for the roots (as they can be blunted by grit and stones in the soil).
Branch cutter - These cutters are angled so that the branch can be cut flush to the trunk. Concave or curved branch cutters are also available that leave a concave cut to prevent the cut healing with a bulge.
Concave knob cutter - This is used for removing stubs on the trunk and also makes a concave cut to allow better healing.
Wire cutters - Used for cutting wire to length and for removing wire from a tree. Many people insist on using purpose-made bonsai wire-cutters, but others opt for ordinary hardware store ones.
Root hook - Used to comb out roots when re-potting trees. Purpose-made ones are available, but a chunky nail or chopstick can work just as well.
Many more tools such as those used to create jins and sharis (areas of deadwood) or for heavy restyling are available, but only the most common ones have been listed here.
Soil / compost
The requirements of a good bonsai soil are that it has good drainage yet retains moisture, and that is has good aeration. Water-logged soil is just as bad as dry soil as it can cause root-rot. However, the soil must also retain enough water to supply the roots. An open texture, as well as allowing drainage, allows air to circulate, which is essential for the roots and micro-organisms to "breathe".
Some garden centres sell "bonsai compost" which is practically identical to normal garden soil or multipurpose compost yet more expensive and so should be avoided.
Many people do use ordinary garden compost as it is inexpensive and does the job. You can add extra horticultural grit to improve drainage and open-up the soil, as well as sieve out the smallest particles which would fill up air-spaces and compact the soil.
Other bonsai enthusiasts choose to mix their own soil using organic matter and grit.
There are also some genuine bonsai soils, though maybe "growing medium" would be a better term. These include akadama, kyodama and kiryu. All are inorganic mixes and consist of large grains of baked clays or grit. Originally they were sourced from Japan, but some are now manufactured in the UK. They are very good for use as a bonsai "growing medium" because the large grains allow free drainage and create air spaces in the soil, but also absorb water which is later released as the tree needs it.
A variety of fertilisers are available, some specifically for bonsai, but commercial ones can be used instead if you wish. The important consideration is the NPK content of the fertiliser (see Bonsai Care for information about the major nutrients) and this number can be found on the fertiliser pack.
Most bonsai need a well-balanced fertiliser that is not too strong, such as an NPK value of 8:8:8. Fertilisers that have high NPK values need to be diluted to reduce their strength.
Fertilisers come in either liquid (applied during watering) or solid forms (such as chicken manure pellets or cakes).
A vast selection of pots are available. See choosing a pot for guidance on what different types of pot would suit your tree. As with any product, some pots are of better quality, and will therefore complement your tree better, than others.
A number of mass-produced, highly glazed and bright coloured pots are sold both in garden centres and online. These are easily available to most people, but also bear in mind that they may be of poor quality and not frost-proof.
A large number of Japanese and Chinese pots are available online, but there are also a few UK manufacturers who produce very high quality pots - the standard of which rivals the best from Japan or China with very comparable prices. Links to bonsai pot manufacturers' websites can be found here.
To change the shape of branches, you need to use specialist bonsai wire. Commercial gardening wire does not bend easily enough which will damage your tree. There are two types of bonsai wire available - copper or aluminium. Copper wire is stronger than aluminium, but aluminium is softer and easier to control.
Other useful equipment includes a turntable to easily rotate your bonsai when you are working on it, sieves for sifting soils to remove tiny particles, drainage mesh to cover drainage holes in pots, sealant to cover wounds left by removing branches……the list goes on and on…
But in the beginning, just go with these:
Branch-cutter (a concave branch-cutter will do the job of both branch cutters and knob cutters for a while), turntable, wire (1 to 3mm gauge), commercial wire cutters, sharp scissors, secateurs, chopsticks.
And a bonsai!