Cracking the Foundation

Posted by on Oct 30, 2016 in From the President
Cracking the Foundation

There are certain things that most bonsai enthusiasts assume are a constant – an inherent trait that cannot be changed. Among those are the core characteristics of a given tree; for most people the nebari and trunk are the most unflinching and foundational aspects. The thought of any change to the trunk is usually well beyond our imagination. Because of that, a change to the trunk line of a tree can provide the most surprising and dramatic improvement. This is why I was impressed with Peter Tea’s demonstration on bending at our October general meeting.


In his characteristic style Peter spent more than an hour talking about the finer points and mechanical issues with making bends of various sizes and types, and extolled the use of the proper methods. ?”Use large wire when needed” he said “because if you’re not positioning the branch where you want it then you’re not in control. Then the wire is creating your art instead of you.”

Peter shared a plethora of tips:

On Guy Wires:

  • Guy wiring will only bend the branch toward the anchor point. Choose the anchor point carefully.
  • Anchor point for the guy wire should be as far down as your pull point is out from the trunk.
  • Use screws to anchor – on pines put the screw between the bark plates and use a longer screw because the wood is soft. Penetrate well into the wood.
  • Down side for a guy wire is that it bends mostly at the weak point, then can bow out further sometimes.

On Bending:

  • Dead sections are trickier to bend and will spilt more easily.
  • On resinous trees like pines, cedar and spruce, you can cut out a wedge on the bottom and bend it down to close it. The wedge should be small, not large. A saw cut can often be enough. (This doesn’t work on junipers because they won’t heal. It can work on deciduous trees, but not as reliably as on resinous species.)
  • When bending bends far enough to crack a little. The tree?s healing process will hold the branch in place. You can bend slightly past the desired position to anticipate some spring back.
  • Protect the bends from freezing temperatures. Japanese white pine was cut through a large branch 80%, and it survived. Be certain that the cut sides meet up after bending so that they can heal.
  • When splitting a branch to aid bending, the split should be perpendicular to the direction of bending.

But more than the tips and tricks that we all picked up, it is the sense of adventure and experimentation that are the key to this type of work.


Peter’s actual demonstration on Eric’s Japanese Black pine was impressive, an in-person version of something that Peter had first demonstrated in detail on his blog (written while in Japan.) The trunk, though over an inch thick at the bend point, seemed to easily be swayed by the large piece of rebar attached to it with a couple loops of wire.

The reasoning behind Peter’s bend was interesting – the demonstration tree had a lot of dead branches in the middle of the trunk. A low branch and the top are still growing, so the bends that Peter planned (and the single one he executed) will not only improve the movement of the tree, but will also solve one of the problems that the tree had.


Major bends like what Peter performed can make dramatic improvements in a very short amount of time to a tree, but can also be dangerous. Take a moment to think about your own efforts in bonsai, move out of your comfort zone for a moment and think of the tree that you have as a piece of clay rather than a sacred piece of artwork. Use your skills and ideas to improve the lump of material so that you’re in control of your art.