On September 24, 2019, Jonas Dupuich, author of Bonsai Tonight, performed a demonstration on carving basics for the members of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS), in Santa Rosa, California.
Jin is a bonsai deadwood technique used on branches or the top of the trunk (the “leader”). A jin is meant to show age, or show that the tree has had a struggle to survive. Jins are created in nature when wind, lightning, or other adversity kills the leader or a branch further down the tree.1
A shari is deadwood on the main trunk of the bonsai. A small shari usually runs vertically on or near the front of the trunk – shari have little aesthetic value at the rear of the trunk, where they are rarely viewed and are obscured by branch growth.2
Carving basics for bonsai involves the creation of deadwood features, jin and shari. By incorporating these deadwood features into the design of your bonsai you are creating character, age and interest.
Jonas began his demonstration by showing a slideshow of various images taken of natural deadwood on Bristlecone pines located above 10,000 feet elevation in the California White Mountains and Sierra junipers located above 8,000 feet elevation at California Carson Pass. These trees displayed dramatic deadwood features, the result of many years of adverse weather and environmental conditions. The slideshow also provided images of Japanese bonsai on display at Kokufu Ten Bonsai Exhibition and Taikan Bonsai Exhibition organized by the Nippon Bonsai Association, both being leading bonsai exhibitions in Japan. The bonsai exhibition images depicted natural and carved deadwood features.
Jonas explained there were three elements of good deadwood carving: movement, twists and interest. He talked about natural occurrences in creating deadwood, that is wind direction. The design must take into play the direction or flow caused by the wind or design. Carving deadwood features should have a story or reason. For example, jin at the top of the tree might have been caused by lightning and shari in front of the flow of the tree’s movement caused by wind.
Carving tools may include: root cutters, pliers, jin pliers, knife or box cutters, and wood carving tool chisels.
Jonas said one should start out by cleaning the life line of the tree in order to find where the deadwood is located on the tree. Dead branches or stubs of former branches in a row on the trunk of the tree is a good indication of where to find deadwood on the trunk. Begin by scrapping away the bark attached to the deadwood. Use a tool like a jin loop or jin knife to determine where the deadwood and live wood are located.
Jonas advised to use wood carver’s gloves for safety.
Jin the lower branches on junipers and other species. These are branches located 1/3 to 1/2 up the trunk that when wired downward would be touching the soil.
A jin is started by taking a sharp knife or box cutter and cutting into the bark at the base of the branch and trunk. Cut completely around the branch. This will stop the bark from being pulled into the trunk area when stripping the bark off the branch. Use a pliers or jin pliers to squeeze and crush the bark away from the branch. Then remove the bark. It is best to create jins in the spring when the water flow is present and the bark is easily removed by your fingers. Otherwise, a jin knife or loop must be used to remove the dry bark. Once the bark has been completely removed, then shape the jin to a pointed end in order to eliminate the tool cutting mark. If bark fibers remain on the jin section, these can be removed best with a wire brush or by burning them. Care must be taken not to burn foliage or live wood. After burning the fibers, a wire brush is used to remove the burn marks.
A shari is started by using a Sharpie ink pen to outline the area of bark to be removed from the trunk. A sharp knife or box cutter is then used to cut into the bark. Score the bark along the outlined area. Then, the bark can be removed by pealing back the bark and working with the wood grain. Use a scissors to cut any portion of the bark that does not peal off easily.