In Conversation with Niwaki
What was your philosophy and aims when sourcing and selecting Niwaki tools?
Almost everything in the range is stuff we use ourselves - I still use the same pair of garden scissors I was given twenty years ago in Japan. The first simple test is the tools have to work, which sounds obvious, but they have to work in western hands, in western gardens. We look mainly for simplicity in design and quality in material - carbon steel, wooden handles, and not much else. We avoid unnecessary details and can’t stand ‘features’ like cushioning on secateurs, or ‘self sharpening’ blades.
Some tools are hand forged by blacksmiths, often old men working alone who have several generations of experience, producing very small batches of beautifully simple tools, but other products - Okatsune secateurs, for example, are made in modern factories on a production line. Japan does both, old and new, very well.
Please offer a short tutorial and insider hints on how to make the best of Okatsune secateurs (eg when to cut, how to cut, how to maintain you tools etc)
Much like plants, if they are looked after, tools will live longer. There are two simple steps: keep them clean, and keep them sharp. You needn’t obsess over it, but little and often works best - clean off sap and resin with a Crean Mate every so often, and sharpen with a whetstone every few weeks. Camellia Oil is a great rust preventative - dab a bit on whenever you clean or sharpen.
The trick to using secateurs - which we all know, but don’t always respect - is not to overdo it. Depending on the type of plant (boxwood, for example, is very hard) and the time of year (wood tends to be harder in the winter) Okatsune secateurs should manage around 15mm, a bit more on a good day, but the trick is to know when you need something bigger - a pruning saw or loppers - and put the secateurs away rather than stubbornly carrying on! One simple tricks is to cut diagonally across a twig, instead of straight across, which means you cut along the fibres instead of against them.
We appreciate the longevity of good design, how does this influence your work with Niwaki and your approach to gardening?
Gardening takes time! Pruning, in particular, takes years to really appreciate, and learning not to rush - because there’s no point - is crucial. The consequences of one cut may not be apparent until the following year, and the idea of learning and understanding is never-ending. Developing Niwaki is similar - especially when working on new products and building relationships with manufacturers in Japan.
What aspects of the pandemic have bought positive gains for you, your work or your family?
Fortunately, Dorset was relatively unaffected. For Niwaki as a business, we were one of the lucky ones - in the right industry, at the right time of year, to deal with the sudden increase of interest in gardening. But we missed out on the shows that we’d normally attend, missing the communication with customers, missing the subtleties of reaction and feedback to new products. Personally, as a family, we enjoyed the quieter and enjoyed not having that nagging feeling that we should be out there, doing things!
Many thanks to Jake for taking the time to speak to us.