Deadwood Carving

If you buy a tree or dig a tree from nature or the neighbour’s garden there is no ifs or buts, it is necessary that you should learn to carve.  I have never seen a collected tree that doesn’t need carving whether it is necessary in finishing the tree of, carving an apex or produce taper or just in adding shari or jin.  Sometimes large trees as well as small trees can be improved by carving.

Knowing what to collect is also vitally important and the number of trees that end up at my house of which the owner has no idea what to do with and very often neither do I.  But that is the beauty of being versatile with your carving; you can do and make anything with a Makita.  To make sure you do not dig trees which you don’t know what to do with, listen to Werner Bub, one of South Africa’s outstanding growers who used to say”on a dig before you dig any tree, sit in front of the tree selected and design the tree in your mind, this will prevent you from digging trees you do not know what to do with.”

First of all please don’t think you just decide one day I feel like carving today and pick up a tree and start carving it.  It does not work like that.  The most important point about bonsai is design.  Design is about every aspect of growing bonsai.

A major aspect of design is planning and this also very important.  So we must first evaluate out tree that we are working with, whether it’s a Marme or a huge stump they all need to be evaluated.  This evaluation must come to some resolution and I don’t progress until I m reasonable sure what I am going to do with the tree.  I may not stuck to my plan 100% but I have an idea as to where I’m going with the tree.  As we have mentioned with collected trees 99/100 needs carving.  One of the main reasons for carving is a trunk which has been chopped off and is just a flat topped stump.  The trunk therefore has no taper and to make the tree credible it need carving to make a credible apex and to induce taper which very often becomes the focal point of the tree.  Maybe the tree has features which need changing and improving, and the only way this can be achieved is carving.  So as you can see the bonsai grower should become proficient in all aspects of bonsai techniques which will give the bonsai grower more scope when designing trees.  Carving being a very important side to a bonsai grower’s knowledge.

Most growers are attracted to deadwood techniques by looking at pictures in books or magazines and live specimens.  Once you realize that you are attracted to deadwood techniques the next stage is to try and borrow a power tool or even hire one for a weekend to see if it is as exciting as it first seems.  If it proves you are hooked then you need to purchase some power tools, BUT the question is what power tools you should buy.  Many growers start with a drilling machine and what’s called a burr which is actually a grinding process.  Drilling machines do not turn fast enough to be used with rotary cutting tools.  Drills usually turn at a maximum of 2440 rpm against a rotary power tool which revolves at 25 000 rpm.

The correct tool to use is a power tool which uses cutters.  An easy way to remember what a cutter is, is that it’s got teeth.   When you are ready to do some wood carving first try the tools out on an old piece of wood.

List of tools

Die Grinder:  rotary cutter uses in engineering industry for shaping and polishing moulds.  The makes are similar in quality , possibly the most durable make is Makita, but the one thing you must watch for is weight as if you have to spend a lot of time with the machine in your hands it can become tiring.  The size of the neck of the tool is also as important as the machine as to poke into the branches you need a tool with a long neck.  These machines use tools with a shank diameter of either ¼ inch or 6mm, depending on the size of the collets.

Cutters:  they come in many shapes and sizes, with the most useful once the bull nosed cutters (round nosed)  Try out different shapes to find out what works for you.

Pencil grinders or Dremmell: its a smaller version of the die grinder usually using cutters with a shank of 3 mm.  They are used for finer details and are not suitable to remove bulk wood.

Saws:   I like to use my sabre saw for slicing of large pieces of wood, cutting trunks down the middle or cutting of branches.  Chainsaws can also be handy removing large pieces of wood fast, and even used by some to carve with, removing large chunks of wood.  Another saw is a rotary chain saw attached around a metal disc used on a grinder.  These saws tend to remove wood very fast but are very dangerous as the exposed blade run close to your hands.

Drilling machines:  the main use of the drilling machine is to put what I call erosion grooves in the wood with a rotary wire brush.  This takes out any cutter marks ad finished the surface of.  Make sure you change the direction of the wire brush regularly or you will find that all the wires will start leaning to one side, making the brush basically ineffective.

Safety is very important when using tools like this and I would be neglecting by not highlighting this aspect of carving.  Take good care of your eyes with good quality safety glasses.  (The soft ones used for cutting grass is not suitable) chips and even pieces of the cutting edge of the bit can break loose and it will travel at a very high speed from the cutter.

Hands can be severely damaged with the possible loss of a finger if not taken care of.  Be careful of using leather protective gloves.  They sometimes get entangled in the tools and cause more damage than good.

Do not carve trees that have wire on.  The wire will make the tools jump and pieces of wire being cut off by the cutter will travel at a very high speed causing serious injury.

Make sure your tree is stable when carving or rather ties it down in the pot.

Lots of people when carving get a fright when the machine starts to chatter violently – jumping.  This is usually because you allow the tools to cut on the leading edge as well as open edge of the tool.  I have known carvers to just drop the power tool when this happen causing huge damage to the machine and can also cause serious injury to the operator.  If it happens to you just remove the cutter from the wood and all will be well.

There is no easy way to begin carving, you have to experience it, gaining confidence and dig in.  Practice on old wood and only start on good stock when you are ready.

Books to read to give you an idea as to what can be achieved

Mission of transformation                                           Robert Sevens

The magician, The bonsai art of Kimura                  Kimura

Any books by Dan                                                            Dan Robinson

Len Redfern 2012


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