I’m giving a very similar PowerPoint presentation at Erik Wigert’s nursery so if it seems as though you’ve heard the jokes before you might have been there. Just sayin’.
What tools did I use to get to this?
Why, I used them all.
Or at least the ones I own.
I started out with a chainsaw.
Just a regular old chainsaw, with a regular bar and a regular sized tip.
One can get specialized carving bars and smaller tips for easier carving but I don’t have them.
And went to the angle grinder.
This tool is also called the “finger-taker-off-er”.
When I use this tool I wear a welding glove
And my stylish safety glasses (that’s what they’re called, really)
And maybe my genuine Members Only leather jacket too, to deflect errant shards of wood thrown off the tools
Ready to carve!
The angle grinder is usually used for metal work and I use it for that purpose, I am a welder as well (I’m available for work, I was just laid off).
Some of the attachments I use include wire wheels and chainsaw carvers (the Lancelot by King Arthur Tools)
I know this wheel looks really intimidating, but it is actually a little safer than the fixed tooth wheels available.
Firstly, a chainsaw tooth is a safer carving tooth because the design only allows for a limited “bite” for each pass of the tooth, minimizing kickback.
Secondly, the Lancelot is a chain sandwiched between two plates, which allows the chain to slide between the plates, further reducing kickback.
Kickback is when the cutting tooth gets caught in the material, forcing the tool up and, possibly, into your forehead.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
The angle grinder also has numerous sanding disks available, but considering the size, they’re only really good for large trees and tiki men.
The next tools are classified as mini-angle grinders.
The Merlin (another King Arthur product), the Arbortech mini grinder, and a pneumatic mini-grinder.
The secret, which I shall now divulge, is the wheels will interchange with each other.
The Merlin, being a mini tool, also has a mini chainsaw wheel available
Which is handy on smaller trees.
The big difference between the Merlin and the Arbortech is a magnitude of power. The Merlin is a mini angle grinder; the Arbortech is a full size angle grinder with mini attachments.
On the one hand you have that power, on the other, it is heavier, on the third hand it’s a bit awkward (being in the third hand and all).
The pneumatic mini grinder requires an air compressor to use so it’s a bit less convenient than the electric ones.
The next tool in my arsenal is the die grinder
Which is a class of tools categorized as a rotary grinder.
It’s much like a Dremel tool but much more powerful.
They’re actually not designed to be used on wood but steel or plastic. A die is another word for a mold that is used to cast shapes or parts.
This is the tool where the more specialized bits come into play.
The infamous samurai
My favorite, the rotosaw
And hundreds of shapes and sizes
I buy my tools from Wood Carver’s Supply. As a disclosure, I do not get any money from this company, but I would not be adverse to that (hint, hint).
The tool I use to do all my finish work is a flex shaft rotary carver called a Mastercarver (the more common brand you may have heard of is Foredom. The Mastercarver has more power).
This tool can use all of the bits used on a die grinder and, using a smaller handset, use all the bits that would be used on a Dremel tool.

A mini rotosaw
My secret tool I use, which makes all of these tools (yes, all of them) safer, more versatile, and nifty-er, is the…… DUMM DAA DUMM…
…foot pedal
Not only does it act as an on and off switch (should I accidentally drop the tool with a deadly, razor sharp carbide burr spinning at 30,000 rpm) but this model is a variable-speed foot pedal. Good for pretending to be a race car driver and incidentally, varying the effect of the bit on the wood.
Faster or slower tool speed makes the wood happier.
I highly recommend it. It’s only $50 from Wood Carver’s Supply. Cheaper than a finger reattachment.
So, to get back to that original bit of carving (which was chronicled in the blog here and accomplished at Old Florida Bonsai) I used all of those tools above.
The before:
And the after:
If you remember, at the beginning, I said that I was giving this post as a PowerPoint presentation at Erik Wigert’s nursery.
I posed a question to my students which I will now pose to you:
We have a tree that needs carving-
Is this carving treatment acceptable as bonsai?
Or is it just too Dada-ist?
Marcel Duchamp would love it, though,
I’m sure.

8 thoughts

  1. Great presentation, many people appreciate the art, but have no clue about the “nuts and bolts” process that gets it done. The art is great and don’t stop rambling!!


  2. Terrific explanation of the instruments of the trade – start to finish, I could very easily be a first cousin to “Tim, the Toolman”. My motto is “You can never have enough tools”. I’ll put a plug in for you at Woodcarvers Supply. That *jin* is a keeper. What speed would you run it after chucking it in the lathe? Got any idea on the tree’s recovery time? And rambling is good; elder ears are able to pick up more info. As you can tell from my short comment, I don’t have that problem . . . 🙂


  3. I’ve just started buying power-tools for my larger yamadori and, naturally, am scouring your posts for knowledge on this type of wood-working but just had leave this reply – while the thrift store you’re in in the pic with your jacket looks like my favorite thrift (‘Last Chance’) I know that can’t be it, *but* I have that EXACT same model Member’s Only jacket (mine’s true brown, not as dark as yours)!!! What a great jacket, love it! Hate how infrequently I can wear it in FL though, and couldn’t get myself to wear it while using power tools ;D


  4. I see you’re a fan of Lancelot/Squire 4″ discs for bulk removal (gotta love King Arthur, they seem tops!!), I was wondering if you’ve got experience with (and your thoughts on) abrasive disks for the same purposes, things like kaizen bonsai’s 4″ Saburrtooth burr wheels?

    I’m just learning carving and am doing work on my larger specimen with a 4″ grinder and a 1/4″ die-grinder (4.3A 25k rpm), am looking for a bulk-removal piece for my 4″ angle grinder and the 3D nature of the Saburrtooth has me eyeing it over the Lancelot, hoping for your experiences or what you’ve heard on this comparison!


    1. (I want to qualify that my ‘learning’ is being done on some larger topiary stuff, not my bonsais, not feeling close to skilled enough to go near them yet!)


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