Creating Deadwood for Bonsai by Hand

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Deadwood on bonsai in the form of jin or shari adds an effective feature to a design and in the case of many old Pine and Juniper, a very realistic one as well. Jins on trees in nature are normally created when branches are broken by strong winds, by the weight of snow or by lightening strikes. A natural feature of many mature coniferous trees is that the lower branches dieback, shaded from the light by the more vigorous upper branches. As these branches rot away, all that remains are short stubs of deadwood.

When styling a bonsai, branches that are not required as part of the foliage mass can be used to create jin instead of attempting to encourage complete healing of the trunk where the branch has been removed. The use of jin on a bonsai implies to the viewer an increased age and shows the struggle of the tree to survive.

Unfortunately, though the process of creating a jin is straightforward, its design can be difficult. A successful jin must look natural, it must look as though it has been created by nature in order to compliment and not detract from the tree. A common way of creating a jin is by carving using power and hand tools; the successful use of either takes a great deal of skill, particularly if the wood is featureless, as in the case shown below.

This series of photos is intended to show an additional method of creating jin. The deadwood feature on this tree is created by tearing away at the wood to mimic the action of a broken branch; pulling away strips of the grain to create a natural effect. These techniques can also be applied when creating jin from branches down to 1/2" in thickness; they are however intended only for species that have fibrous wood. This includes nearly all coniferous species but rarely deciduous species.

(Jin and shari do not suit many deciduous species; however they are often seen displaying uro/hollows).

Deadwood for Bonsai

The tree used in this series is an old Chamaecyparis that has had a secondary trunk removed. The purpose of jinning this trunk is to create an effect of an old, dead stump that will compliment the main live trunk of the bonsai. The foliage on this secondary trunk was removed and the trunk chopped two months ago and it is now starting to dry out. It is approx 2" thick at its base.

The first step is to remove the bark from the portion of wood that is to be jinned. Any remaining soft tissue/cambium is also removed. At this point only the part of the stump that is above the soil level will be worked on; further work will be carried out as the stump is revealed after repotting in the future.

Deadwood for Bonsai

The first slithers are pulled away from the stump; the top of the wood is either notched to segment it or crushed with pliers. Each segment is then pulled down and away from the stump with jin pliers or ordinary pliers. When pulling away strips of wood, it is important the live section at the sides or the base are not damaged. Strips rarely stop abruptly above the live wood and often need removing near the base with a knife or similar.

 Deadwood for Bonsai

The pulling down of the segments of wood continues on the first half of the stump.

 Deadwood for Bonsai

The second half of the stump is then pulled away; it is starting to reveal more of a natural shape.

Unfortunately, the current shape resembles a catapult and it is decided to reduce the second half of the stump further.

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