Carving on Bonsai: Sculpture

A previous blog post addressed sculpture as an art form and how it relates to Bonsai (https://bonsaiplace.net/2021/03/28/bonsai-as-sculpture-an-art-form/). This blog post will take an more practical approach by making use of photos to describe the process.

The start.

Carving is usually done to create or enhance jin, uro (holes), shari (stripped bark) or getting rid of areas where large branches were removed. In this case a large branch, about one inch thickness, had to be removed and it was decided to leave a 15cm piece of it and sculpt a jin (deadwood) out of it.

I use a die grinder with a carving bit to remove material fast and to roughly shape the dead straight branch by making grooves in curves and alternating the depth of the grooves. Once this is done I burn the jin to get rid of wood fibres and then repeat the process with the trusted Dremel and a smaller carving bit.

As mentioned, burning the jin with a butane torch gets rid of the loose fibres, but it also helps to get rid of sharp edges and tool marks. After a heavy torching, the jin is brushed with a copper brush and then with a nylon brush. Sand paper can be used to smooth areas that needs it, but I find that the brushing works well on its own.

To preserve the newly carved jin, I wash the whole tree off and then let it dry and rest for a few days. Lime sulphur or a wood hardener can then be applied. For a darker finish, mix some ash (burnt paper) in water and paint on. Some of the grooves can also be painted by making use of black ink. All fluids should be diluted. Lime sulphur is usually diluted with water 50/50%.

Safety aspects:

  • Wear safety glasses during the carving phase.
  • Use gloves when using the power tools.
  • When using the torch, protect the rest of the tree from the flame by using aluminium foil or a wet cloth around foliage and nearby parts.

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