What to do with a large Western juniper with one large branch that grows the wrong way? Bend it. To bend juniper branches over 2″ in diameter, hollowing out the branch before bending greatly increases the severity of the bend one can apply. Ever since Kimura popularized the technique in Kindai Bonsai and later in the English language compendium of his early work, The Bonsai Art of Kimura, bonsai artists around the world have been gouging out branches willy-nilly. When done well the technique can be a crafty solution to otherwise insoluble bonsai dilemmas.
Gouged-out branch with aluminum wire
Gouging out branches is best done with small, circular saw blades. The trick is to hollow out as much as possible but not too much as breaking through to the cambium on the other side of the branch greatly decreases the integrity of the branch and bites into the very few paths that will keep the branch – and in this case the tree – alive. The gouged-out area is filled in with aluminum wire to preserve the shape of the branch during bending. Performing sever bends to hollow branches can easily yield flattened, broken branches.
A well-wrapped branch
After filling the branch cavity with aluminum wire the branch is wrapped tightly in raffia. The first layer of raffia is placed lengthwise on the outside of the bend and then held in place with tightly spiraling loops. Well-wrapped raffia is secured with as few knots as possible to avoid the possibility of uneven pressure being applied to the branch when it is wired or bent.
Large copper wires are then placed on the outside of the bend. These wires will help keep the branch intact and the bend in place.
Securing the reinforcing wires
The large copper wires are temporarily held in place with wire. At this point a second layer of raffia is applied to hold the large copper wires in place.
Boon, “Jackie,” and Kondo
All of this preparation is required to make the next part of the process a success. Jackie is enlisted to provide leverage, Kondo provides strength, and Boon removes slack from the line that will keep the bend in place.
The primary challenge for this bend was figuring out how to set up the jack. Several wires were needed to keep the jack in place and additional rubber padding was used to protect the spot where the jack pressed against the branch. Brute strength, however, was required to get the bend going.
Once the branch had more angle to it, the bending continued in a more civilized manner with the assistance of two jacks.
Using two jacks to make increase the bend
The danger here is that it becomes easy to over-bend with little effort. Kondo performed this part of the bend incrementally while paying close attention to the various stress points along the branch.
A second bend takes shape
Once the bend reaches the appropriate angle, the work is secured with a single copper wire. From here more raffia is applied, more branches wired, more progress made.
This large bend completed Kondo and John’s work for the day. The next day they wired the main branches and put the tree back on the bench. The main task for the coming year is to keep the tree as vigorous as possible to help set the bends – perfect preparation for next summer’s workshop.
Subscribe to Bonsai Tonight
New Posts Delivered Every Tuesday and Friday