When they bring you your demo tree in the bucket of a tractor

You know it’s gonna be a fine show.
Mighty fine.
I was invited to participate this year at the 2nd Annual Bonsai Bash held at Old Florida Bonsai in Vero Beach Florida by JJ, one of the owners. She is the wife of Richard Turner (who won the Best Tropical award at the National Show in Rochester New York with this portulacaria afra :


Lets peruse the demo tree, shall we?


My job is to carve this deadwood and make it look natural. I chose the tree. I like a challenge.
And, yes…

…that is a ficus growing out if it.
JJ’s idea was to, instead of having a set time for a “Demo” or seminar, I had my own tented area (I chose not to use a tent. Which was a mistake. Even though it was only about 45 Fahrenheit I still got sunburned) where I could just do whatever artistic whim suited my fancy. Where the guests could walk by and ask questions or I could expound if I wanted to or not. Her idea was to show the act of creation without the added distraction of lecturing. (I can imagine this might handicap some of the professional bonsai demonstrators out there. When all you have is your work to show, with no fancy jargon to amaze and confound your audience, it’s definitely harder to give a demo)
I was game.
She wanted some tiki men carved and some carving on bonsai and a face carved into a sea grape and an ilex styled and….. and I brought my guitar along too.
She wanted to make sure I wasn’t lounging around I guess.
First, a tiki…

There’s a whole story to the palm logs she had. I won’t tell it now, it’s her story. Ask her when you go see the nursery.

A couple of cuts here and there

With my chainsaw.

Hmmmmnnnn. Termites.
Lets switch logs.

That’s better.

Not bad work for a five year tiki man carving hiatus.
That was a good warmup.
Time for the tree.

As you can see, it’s growing nicely. The tree was collected several years ago and cut to one trunk. Then half the tree died. Which is fortunate for me. It gives me more to carve.
As Dan Robertson says, more meat to cut into.

That’s Guaracha next to the tree to give you some idea of the scale. He also took most of these pictures. Thank you mi amigo.

Lets see what can be removed….

It is said that the podocarpus microphylla is a slow growing tree.

It’s major pest is the blue aphid.

It benefits from a chelated iron treatment every once in a while.
To begin carving, you have to first identify what is living and dead.

To do this, you first begin to remove the bark

On the podocarpus, the living section is the red.

The black line shows the living vein.

One last look

A couple of adjustments


So the question running through your heads is
“Is he just showing off, using a chainsaw to carve a bonsai tree?”
The principle I practice is this:
The tools are expensive. It’s best to use the more powerful tools and gradually work your way down to the smaller ones.
And a chainsaw allows me to remove big chunks and block out the basic design. The smaller tip and the power allow me to penetrate into the wood to achieve both depth and layers.

First pass.
The next tool is the angle grinder with a Lancelot chainsaw piece.

This is, in my opinion, the most dangerous tool I use.
You may notice the guard has been removed. Do not do this. I use the angle grinder in metalwork as well as wood carving. I’m very practiced at its use. And I’m willing to take the risk (As with all my tools)
This is the only tool I wear a glove with. And I use welding gloves, which are full leather and about as thick as you can use and still bend your fingers. I have nicked my thumb using this tool (I did have the gloves on but it’s still unsettling)
Alright? Back at it, then

This tool is really designed for removing material.
I use it to block out further the hollows and add some linear details

That’s about as far as I can go with that one.
The next tool is an attachment made by a company called Arbortech. It takes your full size angle grinder and converts it to a mini one


The smaller wheel gives you the ability to get into the carving a little more. And gives you finer control.
Carving is a process. If you are working on a big piece it’s a better practice to work on the whole tree at the same time. It’s the same principle when wiring; apply the wire and then arrange the branches.

Time for a fourth tool.

The die grinder.
This is like the grown up version of the dremel tool. It is basically a rotary tool that uses bits (1/4″ shafts) in various shapes and sizes. The two I use the most are a carbide burr called “rotosaw” and a flame shaped carbide burr.
There is one bit sold in the bonsai trade called “the Samurai” that is good for rough shaping. I don’t use it for a few reasons. The shaft is soft and bendable, I don’t like the line it makes when carving,and, in my opinion, if its not used by professional carvers, I won’t use it. They tend to know what is safe or not.

This is a pretty dangerous tool in itself as well. I use a variable speed pedal when I use this because, one, I can vary the speed and,two, if I drop the tool,it will shut off when I remove my foot from the pedal.
Safety first! (except when it comes to safety guards,I guess).


So now I’m just getting my tool as deep in the hole as I can…….ahem.
When you carve you’re not making lines, you are creating contours and shapes that, when the light hits it, will show lines. Darks and lights, depths and convex bulges are how this is accomplished.

Try to keep two hands on the tool at all times, the shaft is long enough.


And now for some fire.
When I use a torch,people ask me “Adam, why do you use fire? Is it to preserve it?”
And I say “no, it’s just to remove some tool marks and make the wood more weathered looking”

And it’s cool to play with a torch

At this point I move to a smaller set of tools

The flex-shaft grinder.

There is a myriad variety of bits and burrs available for the flex-shaft tool. And I have two different size hand pieces. On accepts 1/4 inch shafts (die grinder size) and the other uses 1/8 inch shafts (dremel size. There’s a dirty word for you. Dremel. I don’t use one at all. In my early days I burned up about 4 of them. Don’t waste your money).

After all my techniques and manipulation and some branch placement

The rear

The right side.




Some detail shots and now the fro……
Wait. I carved another tiki man. Wanna see it?

I felt like a dentist carving this one. Look at them chompers!

The two together, like two amigos.
And now the front of the podocarpus

And my inevitable sketch. This one came out good I think

And something new, a YouTube video showing the tree in 360 degrees (click here)
Make plans for next year around Valentines Day.
JJ is planning a 3 day event.
Old Florida Bonsai.
Vero Beach Florida!
Thank you JJ and Richard for having me and for the opportunity to work on such great material.

10 thoughts

  1. Reading about your carving tools, I wonder if you’ve heard of Graham Potter’s tools from UK? You should look him up on youtube or at kaizenbonsai.co.uk if you don’t know of him – could be interesting new toys :3


    1. There is always Jim Smiths 4th Sunday workshop and Old Florida Bonsai’s 3rd Sunday workshop. I recommend looking up the Bonsai Society of Florida’s website and finding a club then going from there. The Treasure Coast club and the Brevard club are excellent places to start at.


    1. I have in the past. I am an officer of the Central Florida Bonsai Club and the 4th Friday we have a workshop in the evening where I’m always there. Or we have a study group that meets at my nursery on the 3rd or 4th Sunday of the month


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