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Grafting supplies

Grafting suppliesMy topworking this past spring failed miserably.  I think part of that was user error and environmental factors beyond my control, but another big part of the problem was lack of proper tools.  So I decided to weigh the odds in my favor this winter by buying proper equipment and supplies.

The most essential tool for grafting is a quality knife.  It should be edged on one side and flat on the other, and should be of high enough quality metal that you can sharpen it on a stone.  If you get into more complicated types of grafting, you may also want to get a budding knife (curved on the tip), surgical knives (for herbaceous plants), and cleaving tools, mallets, and wedges for topworking, but most of us can skip those.  However, you will probably want to have normal pruning tools and a lower quality knife on hand so you don't ruin your grafting knife by cutting bindings or preparing branches.

The next item you'll need is some kind of sealant (along with a brush --- half an inch wide by three quarters of an inch long).  In The Grafter's Handbook, Garner mentions all kinds of old fashioned recipes made out of some subset of clay, fresh horse manure, hay, hair, wax, resin, and more, but I suspect it's worth spending a few dollars to take advantage of modern technology.  Phillips recommends Trowbridge's grafting wax (although it needs heat to liquify), Doc Farwell's latex grafting compound, or Treekote.

Grafting tapeFinally, you will want some kind of binding material.  During Garner's era, grafters tied the scionwood to the rootstock with raffia, pieces cut from inner tubes, rubber bands, plastic strips, sheets of rubber covered in tinfoil (for herbaceous plants), or cotton twine dipped in wax.  They sealed larger areas with cotton sheets dipped in grafting wax or beeswax, counting on the weak cloth to tear as the tree grew.  Phillips recommends electrical tape or parafilm (both of which have to be removed in one or two months, as did many of Garner's materials), or rubber grafting strips (which grow with the twig).

I went ahead and bought a Victorinox Florist's Grafting Knife, which has a cheap plastic casing but good reviews for the low price.  But I haven't decided what to do about sealant and binding material, so I'd be very curious to hear from other grafters out there.  What do you use?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Victorinox uses stainless steel for its blades. In general, stainless steel is relatively soft and won't hold an edge as well as e.g. carbon steel or tool steel. OTOH, it doesn't corrode easily. But you have to clean it after use anyway; the sap from the tree might foul the mechanism.

If you want a super sharp knife for detail work, better get a surgeon's blade handle with the differerent kinds of interchangeble blades. Fair warning though; these things are wickedly sharp.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Oct 23 13:49:11 2012
I have never grafted before, but I thought parafilm grafting tape was biodegradable? That is what I was told when I took a grafting crash course with Alexis Ziegler earlier this fall. I am looking forward to doing his full day grafting workshop around Easter, and coming home with 5 new fruit plants!
Comment by Chris Thu Oct 25 09:41:47 2012

Roland --- The author specifically suggests surgeon's knives, but only for vegetative plants (not for woody ones like fruit trees). I suspect that maybe the surgeon's knives just aren't tough enough for wood?

Chris --- Thanks for linking to that ebook --- it looks right up my alley! I suspect there are different brands of grafting tape, with some biodegradable and some not. It looks like the one you linked to definitely is!

Comment by anna Thu Oct 25 16:35:09 2012

The blades of surgeon's knives are thin, and use steel alloys that are hard (but relatively brittle) to retain their sharpness well. So they can shatter if you don't handle them correctly, like pressing hard on the blades out-of-plane.

I've used them extensively to cut open silicon rubber castings used as molds for casting plastics. Silicon rubber is very tough, but those blades cut it with ease.

My biggest worry is always not to slip and cut myself, because of how darned sharp they are.

Comment by Roland_Smith Thu Oct 25 18:31:13 2012

In the grafting class I took this spring we used masking tape it worked really well and broke as the trees grew.

One thing I found was make sure you make the tape TIGHT around the tree to help the graft grow well in the normal plane of growth

Comment by BW Fri Oct 26 22:59:44 2012

I have been grafting for ~25 years and have owned and used both stainless steel and carbon steel knives. In my experience stainless steel is harder than carbon steel. Because of it's hardness, it's more difficult to put a very sharp edge on stainless and you probably can't get it quite as sharp as a carbon steel blade. Also because of it's hardness, stainless steel dulls less quickly. Carbon steel, being softer, is easier to sharpen but requires frequent re-sharpening to maintain a good edge. Carbon steel also requires more careful cleaning and oiling to keep it from pitting. Our group (MidFEx) teaches grafting in the Chicago area each spring. We sell Victorinox knives to novice grafters because they are pretty sharp out of the box obviating sharpening and are otherwise low maintenance tools. We have several very experienced grafters that prefer their carbon steel blades for the superior edge they can put on them and are willing to do (or enjoy doing) the extra sharpening and cleaning.

Comment by jeff postlewaite Sun Mar 24 19:44:43 2013

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