If you are looking to add a few special Japanese gardening tools to your toolbox, here are a few suggestions to get you started. For information on Japanese Tool Maintenance, see Care and Feeding of Japanese Tools.
HAND PRUNERS would surely be the first thing you would acquire for your Japanese gardening toolbox! Investing in a good pair to start with will save time and trouble later, and get you off on the right foot making clean, sharp cuts when you prune.
Felco brand makes a good pair of pruners with replaceable blades. Felco No. 7 (No. 8 for lefties) has a comfortable handle shape and good blade angle. One drawback is their rubber-dipped handles. When the rubber wears off, you have the bare aluminum that leaves you with black hands after a pruning session.
Okatsune has an excellent pruner in two sizes. The “101” is 7 inches (180 mm) and the “103” is 8 inches (190 mm). The 103 are my favorite, but if you don’t have large hands, go for the “101”. Their signature red and white rubber dipped seem to last very well. These pruners hold an edge for a long time.
For the connoisseur of pruners, Tobisho offers hand-made pruners of laminated high carbon and stainless steel. The handles are bare metal, but glide easily in your hand without discomfort. Tobisho does not make these year round, so you may have to pre-order them and wait a few months. Still, they are excellent and very good on larger branches.
Although many Japanese gardeners still use the quintessential iron scissor-style shear, most also use the modern bypass shears described above. The shear style requires a level of skill for proper use and maintenance that most gardeners outside of Japan do not have access to.
HAND SAWS are next on the “essentials list”. These are not your father’s handsaws! The hollow-cut teeth and smooth parallel sides of Japanese hand saws allow them to cut through a branch quickly and smoothly. The teeth need to be cleaned out more often than the old rake-and-clear tooth set. Next to impossible to sharpen, the blades are easily replaced and usually around half the price of the saw. The original hollow-cut blades snapped easily if flexed too much, but newer versions are more flexible and forgiving.
Two common styles of handsaws are folding and sheath style. Most models in either style offer replaceable blades. Folding saws offer the convenience and protection of blade storage in the handle. Modern versions have locking blades, preventing accidental closure on your soft and tender fingers! Although easily stored in a double shear case or dedicated holster, they are harder to clean and sterilize after pruning trees with possible disease problems.
Sheath styles have rigid, non-folding blades protected by a sheath or scabbard. They are easier to clean and preferred over most folding styles where a great number of cuts are required. The trade-off is they are usually larger and can be difficult to climb with.
Domestic manufacturers have carried this style for many years. Felco offers a good saw in folding and sheath style. Their handles have improved in recent years; following the success of Japanese saws like Silky. The Silky Gomboy folding saws are hard to beat. Although you will probably want several sizes, start with the Gomboy 210 folding saw. The namesake grips are very comfortable and the entire saw is easy to clean. If you prefer a fixed blade saw, try the Gomtaru 240 or 300.
Keeping it all together. A comfortable belt with pruner and saw scabbards will keep your tools where you need them. A canvas or cordura bag makes a good carry-all for pruning tools and supplies. There are lots of tools we will consider later on, but this is a good start for your Japanese garden toolbox.
Don Pylant, 2004
Note: Although certain brand names may be mentioned, they are simply brands we have found to be of good quality and construction. No endorsement is implied or intended. If you wish to purchase okatsune or gomboy, your purchase can help subsidize this site as well as the Japanese Gardening Forum and the Gallery. Click here for links.
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