When I first setup our planted aquarium, I readily jumped on board for tools and supplies to make for a healthy tank: substrate – check, fertilizers – check, upgraded light – check. As the items piled up and the budget got crunched, some things I decided to do without. One neglected item was planting tools.
My research had shown a number of planted tank artisins, such as ADA founder Takashi Amano, utilizing very fancy, very long tweezers to plant. It is always fun to watch people use these in instructional videos. However, I thought that surely such fancy tools were above our lowly little nano, low-light tank.
I tackled planting the first time around with bare fingers and, in an especially desperate move, a pair of 6″ long, plastic, toy tweezers from my kids. It turns out that planting tools are very useful as I had great frustration getting everything into the substrate without wrecking nearby progress with my fingers. Add to this that the Spec V Aquarium I was planting in is only 6-3/8″ (162 mm) wide, there is great frustration in getting large hands in position to do work.
Normal trimming was done for that first year using a pair of 2″ long stainless grooming scissors you find in the cosmetic aisle. They do work, but you have to get wet up to your forearms to do any trimming and we are back to the issue of large hands in a very small space.
When I recently decided to rescape the tank with some fancy new substrate and new driftwood, I knew this time I would tackle the project with a proper aquascaping tool set made for the job.
Vktech 3 in 1 Aquascaping Tool Set:
I like nice things as much as the next person, but I was unwilling to spend much money on a premium set of aquascaping tools like you see the big boys on the ADA videos using. I basically only wanted a set of tongs, or ‘pinsettes’, long enough to plant at the bottom of our 10″ (254 mm) deep aquarium and keep my big hands out of the way. I wanted the pinsettes to be stainless of a high enough quality to not rust and I was hopeful that they would be made nice enough to have the grabbing surfaces be parallel when closed – they tend to work better that way as opposed to closing crooked. I wanted functional without being extraordinarily expensive (like these).
My search lead me to a budget set of three aquascaping tools made by Vktech. I don’t know the brand Vktech from Adam, which is why the price is a very reasonable $13 USD for a set of three. Here is what you get with the set:
- (1) pair of straight pinsettes. These are perfectly straight from end to end and have a total length of 10-5/8″ (270 mm).
- (1) pair of angled (curved) pinsettes. Very similar in construction to the straight pinsettes, except they have a 1-1/8″ (29 mm) section at the end that is canted at about 30 degrees. The total length is 10.5″ (267 mm).
- (1) pair of trimming scissors. These scissors have a very slight curve at the cutting edge, offsetting about 1/2″ (12 mm) from centerline. The total length is 9-7/8″ (251 mm); the length of the cutting edge is about 3″ (76 mm).
The packaging comes with instructions only in Chinese so I didn’t get much from the literature. I suppose there shouldn’t be much to say about a product as this simple, although it would be interesting to know if the manufacturer had special instructions on care and cleaning. The tools are advertised as being made of ‘stainless steel’; what type is not stated.
Out of the package, I was farily impressed with the construction. I first checked to see that the tips of the pinsettes matched up side-to-side and closed paralell to each other. They did, very nicely. This is important when trying to grasp very small or thin objects like individual leaves. The pinsette tips have texture lines on the grasping surfaces to give some traction to what you are holding.
The scissors came a bit stiff on first operation, but the edge seemed very sharp and uniformly finished; there is a bit of grabbing as they close. The finish is a bit rough if you look closely at the tool set, with some machine marks and nicks here and there, but I am more concerned with how they work.
Aquascaping Tool Set Performance and Durability:
It was a great pleasure utilizing this aquascaping tool set for the first time when rescaping our tank. I didn’t think I would find much difference in use between the straight and angled pinsettes, but they can be used in very different ways. I usually pick up the angled ones first as I can plant in the center of the tank (even under driftwood branches) and still go straight down to bury the roots.
Other times, I find the straight pinsetts better, such as when working directly over the tank. I can then go straight down from above to plant. I have some annubias nana petite that I have superglued to pebbles. The straight tongs work to grasp these rocks and push them straight down into the substrate.
The technique for using pinsettes to place aquarium plants is fairly simple. You grasp the base of the plant between the pincers, then move into position. Bury the plant root at the depth you wish. Then release the pincers, but at the same time, slightly rock or wiggle the tool to make substrate fall back onto the roots and hold the plant in place. The wiggling motion at release is the key to getting the tool out of the way but leave the plant as intended. Using proper tools made the work go so much faster than using improper tools or just my fingers.
I think the length of the tools is perfect. Yes, in most aquariums you will be partially submerging your hands and/or arms, but I think this is expected when I work on aquariums and is not a bad thing. The main advantage is that they are long enough that I can reach the tool tips into tight spaces and not cramp my hands in such a small space.
I have used the scissors for weekly trimming. They work fine for my use. Most of my plants have stems that are very easy to cut. I have heard reviews on amazon that say these scissors aren’t the best for trimming fine plants like hairgrass. I can’t attest to that but they seems sharp enough to me. Here they are put to use splitting cryptocoryne parva nodules:
The absolute only ding that I have for this product is that I discovered a small patch of rust on the outer edge of the scissors after a month of use. I was suprised to see this happen. It’s just a small patch, and I may be partially to blame. I had them wrapped in what was probably a wet towel after use and then stored in a cold garage for a few weeks. During this poor storage they developed this surface rust.
Even though they are made with stainless steel, the type is not specified. The rust tells me it is probably 304 stainless instead of the more protective 316 stainless. I would not expect budget tools like this to have the highest quality of raw materials.
The rust is not a big deal. I scrubbed the offending mark with a Scotch-Brite™ pad and it came off. (Don’t use steel wool as it will embed particles of steel and cause more rust.) In the future, I will make sure to dry off after use and store in open air (not enclosed in a wet towel or damp container).
Overall, I think this aquascaping tool set is extremely nice. I like the functionality of each of the tools and am glad to have them at hand as I maintain our tank. The price makes this product well worth it and I wish I had purchased them from the onset. I expect them to meet our needs for years to come and I don’t feel the need to upgrade.