Stuck between a rock and a bonsai

Where’s my chisel? I’m thinking that this tree needs to be in this rock. What about you? 

It’ll fit. I’m sure of it. Maybe. I have experience putting big things into small places……

I know how to work my tool. That, my friends, is a DEWALT 4 1/2 Inch Compact Small Angle Grinder – 11 Amp, 11,000 RPM, Paddle Switch, Model DWE402 sporting a 4″ diamond impregnated stone/concrete grinding cup wheel. Do not use while consuming alcoholic beverage or without ear, eye, and breathing protection!!! Jeans or leather pants are a must as well. I prefer leather cuz I’m a rockstar. Ride the snake, baby. To the lake. 

Fifteen minutes later…….It’s like the 1980’s all over again…..

Let it snow, let it snow. 

Fifteen minutes earlier…… We had a rock. The rock is what some people call Florida cap stone or cap rock, it’s a type of limestone, oolitic carbonate, and the fossilized remains of coral reefs. It’s what the Florida peninsular is mostly made of; our aquifer resides in limestone caverns underneath our feet. We don’t really have any other rock except it. Unless you count coquina….

Fun fact: there is a mysterious castle in Leisure City, Fl made entirely out of cap stone. It was built by a Latvian immigrant named Edward Leedskalnin in 1923 in Florida City using, what he claims, the principals of magnetism, to move the huge rocks, most weighing more than ten tons. More amazingly, Ed, as he was known, moved the castle in 1936 to the current city (10 miles away). He built the castle to honor his lost love, who he called his “sweet sixteen”, who rejected him before he moved from his home country. There is a Billy Idol song called “sweet sixteen” that was inspired by the story. 

Here’s Ed next to a sculpture. 

And the sculpture garden.  Stole those pics from Wikipedia. 

It’s weird but women like to pose by these monoliths in sexy outfits. Look it up. Here’s a Website you can visit to amaze and inform your brain. And have a chuckle. 
He accomplished all this stonework by himself. No machines. Maybe that’s what attracted all those winsome lasses? Makes me feel a bit small compared to his drive and energy. Or more sane.  He even suffered from tuberculosis his whole life. If you’d like to visit, it’s located 27 miles south of Miami on The Keys highway. Pick me up on the way down, we can make a day of it. Get some Cuban sandwiches, drink some rum and smoke cigars, and visit my friend Hiram. He has some nice bonsai. And good rum and cigars. 

Anyway, back to my humble little rock. It’s all carved out. 

  It should be deep enough, and have good drainage. 

I drilled some holes for tie-down wires. 

Some screen. 

And we are ready for the tree. 

It….just about fits. 

Maybe not so much. Kinda precipitously poised there. 

I carved out a bit more and I don’t think I really need this root. 

Not really much going to it or from it. Delete it. 

Magically, we have another Jin!I’ll carve it at a later date. 

Now for a little style. I think it needs a bit. I’m going to defoliate it some. First, to help with transpirational water loss and, second, to see the structure (or more precisely, so you can see it). 

When I defoliate a buttonwood, I leave 1/3 of the leaf intact. There is a small gland, used by the buttonwood somehow (once thought to expel excess salt), that is important to the health of the tree. I try to preserve them when I can. There are some who think that the gland weeps a nectar for ants or some other insect to attract them in a type of symbiotic relationship. The world may never know. 

The petiole gland:

I’ve just recently noticed a similar gland on the bottom of the leaf along the center of the middle vein. 

Perhaps it’s these glands that expel the excess salt from the brackish water marshes that buttonwood are native to. 

After some wire. It fits pretty well. 

Some glamor shots. 

Whenever I chew up the roots bad on a buttonwood (or any tree) I’ve been putting sphagnum moss on the soil surface. 

It helps to keep moisture in and helps in root formation (I don’t know exactly why but it’s why we use it for air layering). 

Side shot. 

The other side. Though it looks like the back….side of some bird or dragon. See it? The head is on the bottom right. 

I’ll keep you informed as to the progress of this tree. I like it in the rock though. Very natural looking, don’t you think? 

Of course, that’s what they say about the dead guy at a wake. Let’s hope this isn’t one of those instances here……

Posted in carving, rare finds, roots, sculpture, wiring | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Willow Leaf Fig’s Wild Ride

I made a stop at a friends house after a soil program I presented to the Bonsai Society of Brevard (a PowerPoint program based on This Post. I was literally dishing the dirt on bonsai culture…hyuk hyuk). He’s trying to raise money for a mission trip and asked if I was interested in some trees. He has some quality material and I wish I had had more money to help him out, but I was able to pick up some fantastic material. One of those trees is this wild willow leaf ficus. 

When I said wild, I meant it. It’s busting out of the pot. Here’s a contrast, side by side, with one of my trees. 

My friend, who goes by the name of  Donnie (it may be an alias, he seems like the spy type to me, or a superhero) had come upon the realization that he wants to be more of a bonsai artist and less of a farmer. This epiphany hit him after a talk a prominent bonsai professional gave at his club. And add that and to the fact that Donnie just has too many trees to keep up with and it was like an anvil dropping. And so, like a vulture, in sweeps Adam, to help him weed out (literally and figuratively) the wheat from the chaff. 

There comes a point when you just don’t have time to develop every tree you have to it’s full potential.  It might be because you have better ones that hold your interest (this one has great potential, you’ll see. Right now, it’s just on the verge), or maybe you have too many of one species or whatever (maybe you just fell in love with the snakes….). 

Donnie probably has about ten trees like this, all with amazing bones and great futures but then again,  he has ten more that he likes better, and they show it. Better pots, more time spent wiring and pruning and fertilizing. There just comes a time when you need to stop buying new stuff and make your collection into a small number of great trees instead of a large number of mediocre ones. Sell them off, donate them to your club, give them to beginners. Can you imagine if you had started with an old tree that just needed some attention instead of the sticks in pots you started with? This tree started as a stick in a pot from Jim Smith’s nursery or maybe Old Florida Bonsai or maybe even from me. 

Before I begin, let’s address something that I’m sure at least one person will point out. The leaf color. 

I’m sure you noticed my trees green-ness compared to this one. 

It’s generally not a good thing to torture a tree, the way I will be torturing it soon, if it’s not healthy. Even though it seems more yellow, it’s actually pretty healthy, trying to escape the pot notwithstanding. Willow leafs go through a moulting period, which happens at slightly different times for each individual tree. Mine has just done it sooner than this one and, therefore, had greener leaves than this one. The bronze color is just what new growth on a ficus salicaria looks like.

Generously, it’s selectively pruned most of the unneeded growth out for me, too. 

Whereas on mine, I’ve kept it pruned out pretty well (if one cannot use the word “whereas” properly in a sentence, one should not be writing) 

Looking at the roots….

…..the, ah…copious roots…..….tells us that it’s probably time to repot. I know, the sky is blue too. 

Now, it seems counterintuitive but a fig getting this root bound isn’t too bad a thing to let happen. Sometimes neglect is the best thing for a ficus, when developing it as a bonsai. This tree would never have gotten to this level of wildness and awesomeness  without its un-molested time in a pot.  

Continuing…..Uh oh. You see I’ve switched from the green tea to the beer. What does that mean? I don’t know. 

Now, to contrast again, this tree….

….was in a similar state when I found it. Ready for refinement. Or wiring. Or a trunk chop. 

You see I chose the trunk chop. And, as well, a root chop. It needed to fit into the pot after all. 

But I think I’ll be a little more kind with today’s tree. At least on the top. So, putting those other trees to the side for now…..……let us, finally, begin then, shall we? The first step, always, is figuring out the front. This is done at the roots, generally. 

Deciding what roots need to come off because they might be crossing….

Or disappearing. …

Or maybe lack taper….

Or a just ugly. 
Or are maybe too high up on the trunk. 

It’ll help to see them better if I clean up the roots and trunk with a brush and some water. 

I’m not liken’ the lichen. 


The trunk is actually red. 

I can see what’s there now. 

I could just do the old hack and saw number on it.  But I usually don’t. I tend to be a little more precise in my hack jobs. 

The idea is to get rid of any downward pointing roots by pruning like this….

They’ll start growing laterally and radially. 

I’ve chosen this amazingly perfect  pot from Bellotta Enterprises out of Jacksonville FL. I think it contrasts nicely with the wildness the ficus exudes. 

For it to fit though, I’ll need to cut the roots just a bit more. 

And I think this high root….Even though it contributes to the overall width of the root spread, just doesn’t go with the movement. 

Aha! A curve when there wasn’t one before. There we go, I’m starting to tame it. 

Now to prune. 

Two cuts. 

One up high. The branch is too thick for being so high in the tree. 

And down low. 

Yup, the first branch. Because it’s bent at an awkward angle. It’s bent around almost to the front. 

Some clean out. 

Some wire. 

This is a redesign, so the idea with the branch placement is to open it up, get the sun inside the branching, make sure no branch is on top of another. 

Looking a bit more refined. Like a troll in a tux, kinda. 

The front. 

Mostly. The root spread is best from this angle. Looking at the other views, it almost looks good from every position. That’s the goal, really, a three dimensional tree. And that’s why it’s in a round pot. 

Thank you Donnie, I’ll be back for more soon. 

Posted in branch placement, goings, rare finds, redesign, refine, roots | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

The cracked-pot soliloquy or, “Do ya’ have concrete between your ears?” 

I know, I promised you a rose garden, ummm…sorry..I mean… a buttonwood post as the next post, but we here at Adam’s Art and Bonsai (Adamaskwhy Entertainments Inc.) have decided that it might be time to branch out into the various other online media available to a creative and ambitious soul. I’m thinking online classes, virtual stylings, Skype or FaceTime sessions et al…the first step in this endeavor will be the production of a YouTube video or three. And we think the subject of buttonwood bonsai might be a good place to begin, so I’m saving it for that. Stay tuned, “Coming Soon!”, as they say. 

Anyway, the subject of today’s blog will be just as riveting as the buttonwood I have for the video. Some cool Brazilian Raintrees for your consideration. 

You’ve seen them all before in various blogposts. 
The above one was a carving and styling session. 

This one was a group project of the original NoNáMé Bonsai study group. The founding group that has splintered irreparably, I’m afraid. 

That’s ok though. I still have the tree and my dignity. Well, maybe not my dignity. But I’m feeling muuuch better now. 
This next one’s been in a post or three before too, it recently lost most of a carved Jin during one of my several hospitalizations. I believe what really happened was the ghost of my lost, malfunctioning section of colon, in a fit of pique because it was no longer allowed to be a part of the magnifigance that is my body, transported its spirit the 3.8 miles to the nursery, blocked itself off until the digestive gasses were sufficient enough, and farted in the general direction of the tree, knocking it off the bench (raintrees tend to act as sails in high winds, such as Florida thunderstorms and the vindictive flatus actions of displaced poltergeist sigmoid colons). I might be wrong about that though. Perhaps one of my enemies did it. Not that I have enemies worth the name. 

Let’s begin with it. 

I’ve been playing with concrete again. Tell me what you think? 

Roll it out like clay.  

Plop it into a vessel.  

I’ve recently decided that three holes are better than two (I’ve always claimed that I’m a two hole guy. In fact, I eat more chicken than any man ever seen, you know……the first to  get that reference gets a T-shirt ). Three holes make for good drainage and oxygen exchange.

Let it cure a few days and……

One pot, pretty cool. I’m getting better with that ShapeCrete stuff. I should contact them about an endorsement deal. I made another pot a few months ago with what I call the Sexual Chocolate™ finish on it. 

It’ll be perfect for this tree. 

Let me get these two repotted quick and then get to some creative destruction. Heehee. 

These two came from the same tree. There was a hurricane that whipped through Florida (Charlie) a few years ago and busted out some limbs off of a BRT that bonsai guy extraordinaire Mike Cartrett had in the ground in his backyard. Being the frugal and resourceful guy he is, Mike stuck them in pots and they took as big cuttings. 

I, being the carver I am, carved. They are two of my best raintrees I have. Thank you Mike! He lived in West Palm Beach but had since moved up to one of the Carolinas. Don’t worry about that tree in the ground, it’s been air-layered extensively and multiple cuttings were made and ultimately  was collected from the ground by Guaracha and Javier (you’ve met them before) and resides at Vagos Bonsai in Tampa. Big ass tree, Imperial size. Epic. I’ll be featuring it and some more trees propagated off of it soon. Maybe even a field trip. 

Back to the two trees. The pots they’re in now aren’t bad, in fact, they are of the most excellent quality. 

This first was made by my friend Chad, who is a fantasy art painter who’s had his work featured on fantasy novels. 

He got into bonsai and then pottery and created some subtle and elegant pots. He’s since retired from that, to the worlds loss, but I, at least, have one of his works. His art can be seen Here, if you click around you’ll find the full site but his bonsai themed works are amazing. 

The other pot is one by Bellotta Enterprises made by my good friend Paul Katich. I love this pot. 

He is one of the few American potters that can re-create works for commission. If you see one he’s made but the current owner is too stingy to part with it, Paul has the notes with the clay body, the kiln temp, and the glaze compounds he’s used, and can make another one. A true artist. I’m switching out the trees and pots not because I don’t like them but because my vision has changed. I’m getting beyond the traditional pottery styles we’ve all been using (I’ve been influenced some by Mike Hagedorn and Rob Kempinski a little). 

I’m having to mound the trees soil a bit but that’s ok. The second one is still developing a more dense root system. 

My usual modus operandi is to defoliate (to reduce transplanting stress) and style/wire at the repot time but I’m trying an experiment. You’ll notice that the soil is covered by sphagnum moss. It’s there to keep moisture in the top layer of soil, which is what usually dries out first. With raintrees, my experience is that when you repot BRTs, they’ll drop all their leaves.  Let’s see how this helps. 

It’s actually a pretty traditional technique used extensively in Japan. Not sure why it’s not more widespread than it is here, but its growing in popularity. It’s ugly as sin. But aren’t we all now…..speaking of which….It’s time for that “creative destruction” I hinted at. 

I’ve always disliked the pots I’ve had to use for this BRT. 

 Mostly because the surface roots are ugly. Well, Ima ’bout to turn lemonade into margaritas. Or something like that. 

I found this pot at a retail discounter store (they sell last seasons wares at discounts, mostly name brands that are high dollar) 

It’s not a bad pot, not really high quality but usable. Until I dropped a viewing stone on it. 

And done and busted it. The pot, not the stone. 

Well, me, being the cheap bastard I am, had an idea. 

That’s right, with my trusty Jin pliers….

…. I made a mess. 

 Before I pot up the last raintree, some styling. 

My repotting scythe. 

Can’t help myself, showing off some nitrogen fixing nodules. Sweet!

And plop! Into the new pot. 

I’m thinking, if I can get just a little more ramification, and I can figure out a good stand and display, this Brazilian raintree might be a part of my table at the Winter  Silhouette show this December. I’ll be giving a demo there (the 3rd and 4th in Kannapolis at the North Carolina Research Campus, you should go). I’m not sure what my program should be, I’m taking suggestions. 

See you next post, or maybe on YouTube. 

Posted in Horticulture and growing, maintenance, rare finds, roots, sculpture | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Adamaskwhy on YouTube!

I’m excited to ​present to my readers this preview trailer for my first YouTube video! 
With the help of my new partner in crime, Richard Bonn, we filmed all the footage, we just need to edit it all together and record the title sequence. 

Are you pumped? Imagine my irreverent nonsense in full color video, no filter, no rules. I’m excited, I feel like the star quarterback on prom night! I might lose the dry cleaning deposit I had to put down on the tux when I rented it.  

Stay tuned! 

Posted in goings, refine, wiring, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Skinny Vanilla Latte Raintree

I posted this poor, pitiful, skinny, pathetic, under grown and lowly raintree on Instagram last week. 

And it’s everything I said it is, not much to talk about. Most Bonsai Professionals wouldn’t deign to even look at it, never mind style it. I can just hear people saying “It needs to go in the ground for about ten years….”. 

But this might be the size and shape tree you could get as a pre-bonsai from many bonsai retailers or websites. Or even on eBay (here’s some advice, if you do see one like this, shop around. It is not worth $150 or even $100 or $75. I suggest that you don’t pay more than $50. Less if you can track down the actual grower. And therefore, it’s a good subject to show what to do with beginner material. 

This one is even smaller than the ones I took up to the Columbus Bonsai Society in a workshop I taught back in June. Of which I didn’t get any pics so I asked one of the participants, John, to send me a one. 

A beer bottle for scale, of course. The idea on his tree is to airlayer off the two top branches where the wire is wrapped around the trunk, up high.

John’s head for scale. 

 Here’s John holding his tree, endorsing a questionable bonsai practice written on the chalk board behind him. A little less creepy. Unless you Google “pegging”. Do not Google “pegging”. 

Anywho…………my tree needs to be repotted badly, the leaves are too small (they can be too small, believe it or not. Small leaves without increased ramification usually means the tree is being stunted, typically by being pot bound.) The leaves in the foreground are from today’s tree.  They’re also a little yellow. 
The leaves in the back are from this tree by the way. 

I’ll be posting on it soon, need to find a pot for it. Or make one. First, we have to deal with our little BRT before us. A repot and style are on the schedule today. 

One of these pots.  

The first one is a pot I made out of ShapeCrete. 

I’d like to use it but I think it might be too small. We shall see.

 The other is a Dale Cochoy pot. I mentioned in the last post that he sells rotary carving bits. He’s more well known  as a bonsai potter. 

I got this one in 2010. 

He calls the crackling on it Dry Riverbed. 
Let’s see how much I can reduce the roots. 

This is the current pot. Not really a bonsai pot. 

Not much drainage. 

Kinda cool anyway. But not really suitable for this tree. 

Let’s look at the roots. 

Well now…..Just a little pot bound. Like a brick. 

Wait, what the hell are those little balls? (That’s what she said! Sorry…) Seriously though, what are these…..nodules:

Of course I know what they are but I’m employing the Socratic Method, which I tend to employ wayyyy too much, but only  because it works. I ask questions with clues in them and guide my students to the correct answer, eventually. I tend to ramble a bit of course, but that’s why I’m so beloved (and reviled). Like the time I interrupted the styling of a tree to begin cooking some chicken on the grill (which reminds me, it’s kebab time. Meat on a stick is always good for dinner. Especially when one has three boys, boys like meat on sticks. It’s manly. Makes one feel like a hunter. 

They’re not really kebabs, kebabs are more of a middle eastern thing, usually lamb (shish kebabs means lamb kebabs).  This is all chicken but with different marinades. The darker ones have been marinating in soy and garlic, so you’d really call it yakitori. The lighter chicken’s marinade is mojo criollo, therefore one could call it pinchos. Every cultures cuisine have their own meat on a stick recipe. One could even call a corn dog the American version.  The tinfoil wrapped balls of perfection are Yukon gold potatoes with olive oil and barbecue seasoning rub. But I digress.)

Getting back to the tree and those little balls, they are called nitrogen fixing nodules. I’ve written about them before in previous BRT posts but it seems like, since then, there have been more and more scholarly articles written about the microorganisms living in soil that I need to add the conversation. If you grow pines, you know the role that mycorrhizae play in the health of trees. It’s a fungus in a symbiotic relationship with the tree where the fungus might facilitate water or nutrient uptake and the tree gives sugars (there are two kinds of mycorrhizae, endo and ecto-internal and external. Meaning there are those that grow alongside the roots and, yup, grow within the roots). The understanding is growing about how much both fungus and bacteria play a role in plant growth and health. So much more than NPK or micronutrients or even just water. But that’s too much to talk about here, though I’ll touch upon the role of bacteria a little. Bacteria is beginning to be seen as more important than even mycorrhizae in providing nutrients to plants. When I say nitrogen fixing bacteria I am saying that the bacteria actually takes atmospheric nitrogen (the earths air, what we breath, is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% of other mixed gases), removes it (fixes) and stores it in a form that is available to plants. Mycorrhizae only gives fertilizer to the tree, it doesn’t make it out of thin air. Lightening does it too (which explains the reason why thunderstorms seem better than irrigation) and we humans can do it with the Haber-Bosch method (using an iron catylist, high pressure and high temps. This is how we make synthetic nitrogen for fertilizer, N2 turns into NH4, ammonium.). The whole process is called the nitrogen cycle. Sounds all epic and scientifical and all that. All we need to know is that Brazilian Raintrees use these bacteria to get nitrogen when we stupid humans forget to fertilize. I would also posit, since I’m a controversial cuss, that over-fertilizing actually diminishes the efficacy and presence of these bacteria, based upon my observation of BRT’s from commercial nurseries that use heavy doses of synthetic nitrogen and their lack of balls. Heeheehee. (I should point out that synthetic fertilizer and organic fertilizer have the same chemical makeup, NH4. The difference is in the dosage and the immediacy of availability and, therefore, the uptake by the plant. The reason we might use organic over synthetic nitrogen is the stage of development; whether we need fast growth or slow growth. That’s another blog post for another day). So, just like with pine trees and mycorrhizae, I put some of the old soil into the new soil to begin a new bacteria colony in the root mass. After sifting of course.  

But before that, root pruning and choosing a pot. 

As I figured, as much as I’d like to use my pot, I think it’s too shallow and not big enough. It’s the Cochoy pot then. This tree looks like it was an air layered one. I suspect this because the roots emerge radially from the trees base. The BRT’s that were grown from seed have  roots that tend to look like this: 

I’ll be working on this one soon as well. It too needs a different pot. 

New (and old) soil. 

Ready for stylin’. 
Whenever I repot a BRT, I tend to defoliate it. This cuts down on transpiration stresses and also stimulates new growth; the tree gets “bumped” by the need of replacing the leaves and, therefore, stimulating new root growth. 

I also cut off the thorns. The tree doesn’t need a blood sacrifice and I’m no virgin anyway. 

Now we are ready for some wire. 

And that’s it. 

I’ve just about run out of words. Amazing as that may sound. But I’ve run out of pictures too. 

I put a good handful of Milorganite, an organically derived source of nitrogen (I want slower growth on this tree, with the wire on it) and then the tree goes back into the full sun on its bench.

 Yes, full sun. You hear that a newly repotted tree should go in the shade. The reason why we might put a tree in the shade after repotting is because, when you reduce roots, the tree has been diminished in its water uptaking abilities. But the way a tree uses water is through the process of transpiration. That happens in the leaves. And we defoliated the tree, therefore, no leaves, no water loss. Or very little. The water still evaporates. But the sun will stimulate all those latent buds that are no longer shaded by the leaves and it will be full of new growth in a week……. 

One week later……

Ok, it’s not as dramatic as I was hoping but hey, it’s growing. Bob’s yer Uncle!

Next up I’ll think be working on some buttonwood. Repotting and maybe some carving. I’m going to Mary Madison’s tomorrow! 

Posted in branch placement, Horticulture and growing, refine, roots, wiring | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Bougie Man

Oh yeah, there’s a tree in there somewhere. 

There it is.  That’s a chunk o’ wood. 

The side. 

The back. Definitely the back. If you’re on Instagram, here’s a Short Video for your perusement, hey, I just invented a word. Amusement+peruse.  Perusement. Pronounce it pear-uze-meant. Uh huh, I’m just like Shakespeare, fakin’ it until I be makin’ it. Sorry. Bit of megalomania. Must be the hops! 

I’m not a hoppy kind of guy. My head is spinning. Seems like a good time to start carving. The tree is a collected Bougainvillea belonging to a client. 

I think it might be a purple. Not sure though. Might be a plain red. All I know is that those are some mean thorns. 

I’m going to point at some places that need carving. That seems like the thing to do. 

Aw, hell, I’m going to, in the parlance of the trade, carve the shit out of it. 

All this actually:I’ve pruned off all the branches I don’t need. 

Before I begin, I bet you’re wondering about the snowy white planting medium the tree is planted in, right? 

Here’s a tip from the pros. When collecting a bougie, either put it in bonsai soil, perlite, or pumice, or a mix of the three. The tree will most likely be leafless after collection. Which means no way to use water. Bougies are xeriscape plants.  The coarse structure and fast drainage of those mediums will ensure the best root growth after collection. This is from both mine and Erik Wigert’s experience (and I would posit that Mr. Wigert is the premiere bougainvillea bonsai guy in the world. Me? Well, not so much. Everything I know I learned from him). You’ll get better roots by using a very well draining mix. This bougie is planted in pure perlite. 

One more establishing shot and I’ll begin the carving. 

Time for the show. 

Here I am pointing again. What’s the point? Well, it’s all dead there, which makes me feel better about hollowing out the whole front. 

My wife insists that I put a few shots of me carving that she took. She’s savvy when it comes to that type of stuff. Next she’ll be having me pose next to the finished tree with a serious expression on my face and the beer hiding outside of the shot. 

She really got the sawdust flying in the above one. I look like I’m having fun….or trying to pass a meal from Chipotle……

Man I make a mess. I’ve lost two apprentices because they kept having to dust The Nook in 95 degree Fahrenheit weather. 
When I teach carving, I always recommend begining with the more aggressive tools first. The ones that make it dangerously easy to remove material. Usually I’ll have an angle grinder with a chainsaw wheel on it but my friend Martha (of Tropical Greensheets fame) gave me some carving bits from Dale Cochoy, a Samurai and this smaller one, called a  Ninja Master. 

It really works well. Like butta!         .

The rough in is done. If you’re interested in Dales carving bits, send him an email ( or go on his Facebook page Wild Things Bonsai Studio and Yakimono No Kokoro Bonsai Pottery. He’s an accomplished potter as well. 

Now I go to my flex-shaft tool with the roto saw bit. 


Using it will give an improved  line and texture.  Not to mention control, a die grinder is a brute compared to the flex-shaft tool.  I feel like a dentist when I am using it. Granted, the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors but still a dentist ( . 

The next step is fire…

……to clean up the fuzzies. 

And a wire brush…..

……to clean the scorch marks and to accentuate the grain. 

Before brushing. 
After brushing. 

With the carving done it’s time to style.

Here’s a tip for back budding. See, I’m going to cut this branch off.  

Although it is bendy enough to wire and position, the angle as it comes off the trunk is not the same angle as the other branches I’m using. 

But, if you cut it and leave a stub, it will pop a new bud just under that stub, in case you want a branch there later. Which I think I do. 

It’s coming together. 

A quick batch of bonsai soil. 

New pot.  


I’ll need to remove this chunk of root. 

I could carve it but a knob cutter works. 

I’ll touch it up later. 

Lime sulphur. 

So you’re not surprised, it goes on yellow/orange. 

And bleaches to white/grey after a few hours or days. 

Because of the burnt areas, it takes several coats. 

And that’s it. Just needs sunlight and water. 

The pot choice was one of those “does it fit?” choices. I think I’d prefer it in an oval. But that’s a few years off. The bonsai soil will really help to increase the root mass and then,  this tree, if let go, would become a bush in a month. The secret to getting ramification on a bougie is to “Topiary Trim” or “Hedge Prune” it for a few months, go in and rewire the new branches, let it grow but keep the canopy in shape with the above technique, go back, unwire, rewire, repeat…….and that’s how it’s done. Keep up the fertilizer regimine, even through the winter. Don’t worry about blooms, that comes later (You want blooms? You can actually time blooms for a show on a bougie. If you defoliate and do a slight repot by just scraping the outer roots a bit, watch the watering, in six or seven weeks you’ll have blooms. It even works in the winter). 

As has been usual recently, here’s a short YouTube video showing the tree in all its glory. 

It’s been about a week since all the hack job…I mean…ah, the professional styling job. Is the tree still alive? I think we have a winner!

All kinds of growth! 
And the nub I left, is it popping where I said it would?  
Indeed it is. I see two buds, actually. 

The deadwood has bleached beautifully too.  

Now, there are those that will say, “Why carve on a bougie? It’ll just rot away anyway! Why waste all that time? Why don’t you clean your room?! You have smelly boots! “. And all that is true, bougies rot. And I have a messy room. And smelly boots. But if you make the wood thin enough, and you protect it with lime sulphur and, ultimately, a wood hardener, it will last. But the real key is making the wood thin enough that, when it gets wet it will dry fast. Fungus likes to be wet. Keep it dry and make the wood inhospitable with lime sulphur and you seriously deter rot. 

Next up will be a post on a humble Brazilian raintree. It should be educamationable. Maybe a little irreverent. Possible entertaining. At least for me. 

Posted in branch placement, carving, rare finds, sculpture, styling bonsai, wiring | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Refinement carving on a buttonwood 

This’ll be a quick look at a client’s buttonwood and how I try to match new carving to old deadwood. Not easy but you can get close. 

Here’s the buttonwood, ready for work. 

It’s a little green, I know. The deadwood, I mean. The leaves should be green. Unless it’s a silver buttonwood. Then the leaves are a kinda silvery green. But I digress. 

Some alcohol or a coating of lime sulphur cures the green. It’s just algae. 

A wire brush too. I’ll leave that to Judy, the owner. I’m here to carve. 

Pretty elaborate deadwood. It’ll be a challenge to match. 

The backside, which used to be the front. 

This area is where I need to focus. It’s a bit chunky and plain.  There was probably a longer Jin or branch that someone broke off and whittled down with Jin pliers (or their teeth). That’s how deadwood treatment is usually taught with buttonwood in la Florida . There’s almost a mystical aversion to using power tools when carving them. But, in the name of progress (and continued employment and a living wage and food for my family), I’ll try my best to convince you that there is a place for their use. Wish me luck. 

The idea is to match these types of features and the textures. Unfortunately, some details only happen with time. 

Sorry, a little blurry. 

Looking at this chunk again, you can see how out of character it is. It’s flat, boring, inelegant. Like watching me dance. My “dancing” happens when I carve. Using the magic of alternating current, the pure power of lightening, pulsing through my carving tools, channeling out from my gnarled hands and into the tortured, ancient wood. 

Trying to build drama….. 

The tool I’m using is called a Mastercarver® 

Stole that pic directly from Wish I had a sponsorship from them…….hint hint……

I get all my carving bits and tools from them. 

A roto saw carbide bit

Small flame carbide burr. 

Large flame


The small hand piece with a small roto saw. This combo is the best for detail work. I can do so much with this in my hands. You can tell I use them often. You might say that I should be cleaning the gummed up wood from the carbide. Not too necessary, really, but if you need to, soak in plain water overnight and use a brass brush to remove it. You don’t need that expensive gunk sold for that purpose (and there goes the possibility of a sponsorship…..) 

The buttonwood after about an hours worth of work. 

By hollowing it out and creating ribbons and channels, the hunk of wood is now light and airy. 

When carving, to get a natural line, try to imagine water flowing down the wood grain. That helps in matching the movement. 

Create drain holes as well. 

Try to mimic the work of insects like ants and termites. 

Each type of wood is different too. Hardwoods like oak or maple will rot from the inside out. The heartwood is soft. Junipers or pines heartwood is full of resin and don’t rot easily, so they tend to have sharp points (the stereotypical Jin) as the softer sap wood (the outside) rots. 

Buttonwood has resin throughout the entire branch and trunk body so you can get either sharp points or hollows. They also have salt and wind-blown sand that act on the wood, softening the features in some instances but sharpening them in others. 

Ants like to make holes in them and they are subject to mechanical damage from hurricanes. Or tourists. 

I use fire and a brush attachment….

….to mimic the erosive effects of the sea shore on a buttonwood’s deadwood. And it’s important, even if you don’t like the bleached white look, to use lime sulphur…..

 ….the reason is simple, because the tree has been preserved (and bleached) with the salt spray from the ocean, any new carving will rot easily without protection and the lime sulphur is a good surrogate. No, I don’t recommend using salt water. A buttonwood can tolerate it, but they really grow best without salt. 

Here is a Link to a YouTube video of the finished carving. 

And some more finish shots. 

The wood just needs lime sulphur. 

And time. 

The funny thing is, in the view from the front, you can’t see the carving I did. 

Oh well. 

But that’s why we put them in round pots  now, isn’t it?  

Who’s up for another carving post? I just worked on a big bougie with extensive carving. 

Or maybe some ficus? 

Posted in carving, yamadori | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments