What's The Best Wire To Use For Bonsai?
It probably seems simple right? I want to buy some bonsai wire to shape up my tree. But then you start searching for Bonsai Wire and you find that there are different options and now the not so simple task of buying bonsai wire online has become confusing and you want to be 100% sure you are buying the right product before handing over your hard earned cash, and its your right to be confident in your purchase. So what is the best wire for bonsai?
We will have to break this down into a few sections which will be
Wire types: Copper wire vs Aluminium wire
Wire sizes : mm and Gauge
Pack Sizes : 100g , 500g , 1Kg
Wire Colour : Copper or Anodized.
First of all lets take a look at the wire types as this will be the most important.
Copper Bonsai Wire : Copper bonsai wire is the preferred type of wire among high level enthusiasts and professionals but it is not recommended for beginners. The advantage of using copper wire over Aluminum wire is that copper wire holds stronger when it is bent into place, This is great because you can use a smaller gauge wire to achieve the same hold as a larger size aluminum wire which might be more difficult to apply and will also stand out more on your tree which is not great if you are planning on showing your tree in an exhibition. So what makes the copper hold stronger then the aluminum bonsai wire? It has to do with the annealing process that the wire undergoes. Copper wire is very hard to bend without annealing so the wire is heated up and quenched which will make the wire soft enough to wrap around your branches, but as you bend the copper wire it will work harden which means it will be hard to bend back again. This is good because for trees that have a lot of strength and resistance to wire it will stop the branches bouncing back to where they come from or moving upwards due to phototropism.
The down side is if you are not experienced enough with bonsai wiring you will waste a lot of wire because if you make a wrong move you cant just unwind it a little bit and try again. You will often find people using copper wire as guy wires as well because it is strong and can handle the friction of constant twisting and pulling that occurs during the guy wiring process. You need to be carful though with copper wire because some people buy copper wire then anneal it themselves, if this is not done properly then the wire will either be hard to work with or very low quality. That’s why at Bonsai-En we import our copper wire from Japan because the company we get it from has been making copper wire for bonsai for decades and the professionals in Japan trust them.
The next good thing about copper wire is like I mentioned earlier, if you have to do some touch up wiring for an upcoming bonsai exhibition or your showing your tree at your local club then copper wire will stand out less the anodized aluminum wire will. This is due to both the colour of the copper wire and the fact you can use a smaller gauge wire to hold the bend which obviously doesn’t stand out as much.
Another downside to copper bonsai wire is that it can be expensive compared to aluminum wire so if you have a lot of trees that need wiring then you could be up for a fair amount of money. I always suggest to people to have most sizes of wire on hand because you don’t want to be using wire that is too large for a bend or wire that is too small. Wire that is too large might cause you to break branches accidentally and wire that is too small might note hold the bend. Buying a full range of copper wire will be much more expensive then buying a full range of aluminum wire.
As you can see copper bonsai wire has its pros and cons but that is the same with everything, most things in life have good points and bad points. Now lets move onto the next wire type.
Aluminium Bonsai Wire : Most people will opt in for aluminium bonsai wire, even a lot of those people who have been doing bonsai for years and could do well with copper. There are a few reason for this but there are also down side to aluminium bonsai wire as well much like the copper. First of all aluminium wire is much cheaper per pack so for most this is what sells them on getting aluminium, im sure if copper was the exact same price they would probably choose the copper over aluminium for that reason. But in saying that aluminium is also much better for trees that have a thinner bark structure, or those trees that keep a smooth bark appearance. The reason being is aluminium bonsai wire is a lot more gentle on the tree then copper wire is both in application and if wire bite occurs. So even professionals who use copper all the time will keep rolls of aluminium for when they are working on smooth bark or thin barked trees. I also personally prefer to use aluminium wire to tie my trees down into the bonsai pot, now some people will argue this because it is weaker then other types of wire you could use and it doesn’t handle friction as well so if you over tighten it the wire will snap. But the reason I prefer it is once you get a handle on how much friction it can take without snapping you get the benefit of the fact that aluminium wire is softer which means if the root ball expands and pushes on the wire causing tension then the first thing that is going to give out will be the wire which is no big deal by the time that has happened, the tree should already be well rooted into the pot. What you don’t want to happen is if you have used a type of wire that is very strong the wire will be the last thing that gives out so if it has enough tension on it you run the risk of the pot cracking under load. But each to their own with this one.
Now one of the down sides to aluminium is the fact you will always need to use larger more obtrusive wire to get a bend to hold, especially on trunks. This can be both difficult to apply if the tree has fine branching and also it can stand out a lot more as there is a lot more visual weight in the thicker wire. Also aluminium wire is usually a shiny black colour or shiny brown colour which also causes it to stand out, although after some time in the sun both these colours will fade leaving you with the natural colour of the wire which also stands out.
I can already hear you asking, because aluminium doesn’t work harden can you straighten it back out and re-use it. This is something that divides a lot of people and me personally I’m on the side of no you cant re-use aluminium bonsai wire. It would be ideal if you could even for me because it would save me a fortune in wire around the nursery wiring up stock plants, and trust me if I thought it was something that could be done I would be doing it! . But why do I say no? Well aluminium is much the opposite of copper wire, If you don’t bend it the same way you did last time you will weaken the wire causing it to not hold as well as it did the first time. The other problem is you will never get the wire perfectly straight or smooth like it was fresh off the roll so when you re apply the wire you might have kinks and bends digging into your tree from the moment you apply the wire. But this is not a hard and fast rule and if you wanted to try and re use wire that would be completely up to you but I wouldn’t recommend it, I know a lot of people that do, and I know a lot more people that don’t.
Now another good thing about aluminium bonsai wire is it is easier to remove from the tree, believe it or not a lot more people damage their tree removing wire then actually applying it. It doesn’t matter if you’re an unwinder or a cutter both way can cause some damage if care is not taken, obviously aluminium wire is a lot softer so it makes unwinding way more easier then trying to unwind work hardened copper, aluminium is also slightly easier to cut but given that you would have used a smaller gauge copper there isn’t a lot of difference here.
So once again you can see much like copper, aluminium has its pros and cons so it would be up to you to pick the pros you like best and the cons you can live with.
Ok so lets talk a little bit about wire sizes as this can be the most confusing for prospecting buyers of bonsai wire.
Aluminium uses mm
Copper uses Gauges.
Small aluminium wire starts at 1mm and goes up too 8mm
Small Copper wire can start at #22 and goes to #4
So as you can see copper sizes run backwards.
Here is a rough conversion chart for the 2 types
#19 Gauge = 1mm
#17 Gauge = 1.4mm
#14 Gauge = 2mm
#12 Gauge = 2.6mm
#11 Gauge = 3mm
#9 Gauge = 3.6mm
#8 Gauge = 4mm
There are other sizes of copper wire and aluminium wire but this is a rough guide to the size comparison between some of the gauges compared to mm. Now remember with copper if you were going use say a 3mm aluminium wire for a bend you could probably use a #14 Gauge copper wire because it will hold better.
Here is a rough sizing guide for aluminium wire uses
4-8mm is generally used on trunks and thick branches
2-4mm is generally used for small to medium branches
1-2mm is generally used for detail wiring of much smaller fine branches.
For the most part it will take you some time actually using the wires thought to get a feel for what size to actually use for certain branches and trunks. Getting a feel for wiring is unfortunately not something we can teach in an article.
Alright so now we have the pack sizes. Bonsai wire is sold in weights, so usually you will see a bonsai shop selling wire in weight packs all for the same price rather then in lengths or by the wire size.
So this means if you were to buy a 500g 1mm wire pack and a 500g 6mm wire pack you are going to get way more length of wire in the 1mm pack then the 6mm. the 6mm wire obviously weights more per meter so you will get less length in a 500g pack then say a 1mm wire. Usually at Bonsai-En we keep 100g packs, 500g packs and 1KG packs. It is up too you to determain how much of a particular size you will use. If you don’t do a lot of detail wiring then buying a 1KG pack of 1mm wire doesn’t make sense because you’ll have it long after you leave this earth. So maybe a 100g pack of 1mm would suit more, but maybe you have a lot of mid size trunks to wire so you need 4mm wire, a 100g pack wont get you far so maybe a 500g pack would be more suitable. You can see how this works.
Now other stores do sell 250g packs but I find them to be a weird trade off between 100g and 500g.
Ok so the last thing we should look at here is the wire colour. I have seen some people purchase general gardening aluminium wire from garden stores which come in all kinds of crazy colours like purples and pinks etc etc, but remember when we apply the wire we are trying to downplay the fact the wire is on the tree, not see it from space. As mentioned earlier in the articles you aluminium wires are anodized in either black or brown and both are fairly reflective but still a lot more incognito then the crazy coloured garden wire. Those colours will also fade pretty fast in the sun on the aluminium wire and end up being the natural shiny colour of the wire. Copper bonsai wire on the other hand pretty much stays fairly unseen from the moment its put on to the moment its taken off so this makes it a top choice for when you need to display your trees without it being noticeable that there is wire all over it.
I hope this has helped you decide for yourself what the best wire for bonsai is for your particular situation. When you are ready to purchase you can find our Bonsai Wire Here
Until Next Time, Enjoy Your bonsai Journey.