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Tips & Techniques


by Mark Kennerley

If there is one subject that seems to baffle beginners in bonsai it is the question of styling. While there are many differing views, beneath it all there are a few basic principles that form a foundation. I remember being in the same position myself and know that it can be a daunting subject that can not be summed up in a few sentences but, having gone through the learning process, I will try and pass on some techniques.  Hopefully you will find this article useful and maybe, in the process of transferring thoughts to keyboard, I will realize something that has been hiding in the depths of my subconscious for a while. All the answers will not be here but the questions raised will prove invaluable.

Styling and a sense of good or bad, right or wrong can be viewed in an infinite number of ways and no two opinions will be the same. Ask a group of people to draw a simple object or write a short descriptive sentence and the results will differ greatly. The same applies to Bonsai. It is the way that you view the world that will determine and influence your taste. Thus the answer to your styling dilemma lies within. It can not be defined in any written form and what you need is the stimulation to unlock those dormant creative pro­cesses. Along with this comes the confidence to make decisions that seem right to you. Whether the finished item looks good to anybody else depends largely on basic rules of aesthetics and it is here that we will begin.


By Julian Adams

We all are familiar with the use of wire to bend small and pliable wood on bonsai. When the wood is thick or very stiff, it is often difficult to use wire alone to make the desired bends, particularly if the bends have a small radius. Small radius (severe) bends on thick or stiff wood require quite a bit of force. If one uses wire that is big enough to apply the needed force, it is hard to apply. It is also very likely that the bark will be damaged in the process. The use of guy wires, rods, and fulcrums in conjunction with smaller (and more manageable) wire gets the job done with much less work and much less chance of bark damage. Figure 1 shows a pair of short radius curves being trained onto a substantial Scots pine. Two different techniques are used in combination. Part of the trunk is bent using the rod and fulcrum technique. The forces which bend the trunk are applied by tie wires at either end of the rod. The opposing force is applied by the fulcrum, in this case a softwood block. By attaching the tie wires to the copper wire on the trunk, the bending forces are distributed over a wider portion of the trunk thereby reducing the chance of substantial marking or damage to the trunk. An adjacent portion of the same trunk is being bent through the use of a guy wire. In this case the copper wire on the trunk was not strong enough to hold the desired bend. A loop of steel wire was attached to the appropriate locations on the copper wire and then tightened to bring about the desired bend. The tightening is done by twisting the steel guy wire loop to draw the end points closer together. In this example a common nail was used to twist the wire and it is visible in the photo. Various combinations of these methods of force application can bring about bending that would otherwise be impossible.



By Julian Adams

Most of my personal bonsai collection is com­posed of hardy species that grow in temperate climates. Clip and grow techniques are useful in such circumstances but I love the speed and preci­sion with which a branch or trunk can be bent and positioned with wiring techniques. Most techniques have their shortcomings. Wiring is no exception. Left on too long, wire can damage the bark. This is sometimes a severe problem with bark that is very thin or very smooth. The best way to avoid this is to watch closely and remove the wire before the bark is marked.  Unfor­tunately, most of us are  not always as attentive as we should be and the wire gets a little too snug.  In these circumstances, the damage is often made worse by lack of  caution in removing overly snug wire. Figure 1 shows a satsuki azalea limb  which has been left wired a bit too long. Careless clipping of the wire for  removal created consider­able additional damage as shown in figure 2.

 Surprisingly, the additional damage was not caused by the wire cut­ter but by the wire itself. The function of the wire is to move the branch from its natural position to the posi­tion chosen by the 

bonsai artist. This is accomplished by the stiffness of the wire offsetting the forces in the branch which are trying to return the branch to its original position. The two opposing forces are in equi­librium when the branch is arranged. Over time, the branch submits and hardens to the desired placement. However, the tension in the wire continues to push on the branch until the wire is cut. When the cut is made, the tension is relieved by a sudden small movement of the ends of the wire at the point where the cut is made. Species with fragile bark, such as azaleas and Japanese maples, can be substantially wounded when the sharp ends of the cut wire move. Figure 3 shows  the typical movement of the wire ends and the dam­age beneath.

 Damage due to cut end movement during wire removal can be almost  entirely eliminated. Use one’s hand to apply slight additional bending  force to the limb at the point of cutting. This cancels the tension in the  wire so there is no movement of the wire ends when the cut is made.  When the hand-generated pres­sure is released, the wire will move  slightly but the movement will be so slow that the bark tearing is  avoided. Figure 4 shows another azalea branch which has had the  wire left too long. The tension  canceling method described  above was used when the wire was cut from the limb. Figure 5 shows the indentions made by leaving the wire in place too long but the branch is free of damage from cutting the wire. In this case the indentions will disappear in a year or so and there will be no waiting for damaged bark to heal.



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