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Pushing the Limit!

Pushing the Limit!

One day, Mr. Tanaka brought this Japanese Black Pine into the workshop and said, “clean this tree up for the auction tomorrow.” I sat there looking at the tree and the bark and figured it was about 50-60 years old. I asked Mr. Tanaka how much he wanted for it and it turns out the tree was not very expensive at all. I couldn’t help myself and bought the tree from him. I figured this tree would be a fun project to practice on during my time at Aichien. Hopefully I can make the tree look good, sell it and make a bit of extra money for another Bonsai pot (Mr. Tanaka gets a cut of course)! Since I knew wiring and styling the tree wouldn’t really make the tree much more valuable, I had to do some big changes. Changes in this case turned out to be two big bends on the trunk which I will chronicle in this post. Let’s get to work!

Scott from Melbourne Australia was here for two week participating in the Aichien Apprenticeship Program, so I got him and Juan involved in the bending process. Here’s Scott feeling sorry for what we’re about to do to the tree. ;o)

My plan is to compress the slight bends that are already on the trunk. Looking at the first bend point, we knew that this one branch on the right had to go so Scott cut it off.

Now that the branch on the right is out of the way, we can start the bending process. Our goal here is to see that jin touching the trunk underneath it. About 20-25 degree bend.

Since the trunk can sometimes be stiff, I needed to use a fairly strong stainless steel screw for my anchor point. The first bend point is about 6cm (2½in) wide.

We used an impact gun and put this screw into the back of the trunk. The reason why we didn’t anchor the tree to the pot is because I may repot the tree in the Spring.

We also put a screw on the upper portion of the trunk.

We then attached a stainless steel wire to the top screw

We then tied the wire to the bottom screw

We plan on using a clamping jack to compress the trunk. Since the trunk angle was a little bit wide, we couldn’t put the jack on the tree just yet due to the fingers wanting to slide. We had to compress the trunk a little bit first before the jack can be placed. Here we attached a second wire to the top screw.

We then attached a third wire to the bottom screw

The second and third wire was used so the jack had something to grab on to to start the bend.

As we compressed the bend, one of us would tighten the guy wire.

Once the top part of the trunk was parallel to the bottom of the trunk, we removed the jack and the second and third wires. Now we can place the jack on the trunk itself and continue the bend.

Here’s the jack attached to the trunk. Note that there is no padding on the jack fingers. The reason why we didn’t use padding is because the fingers are sitting on thick bark. The bark itself acts as a padding for the tree. Also notice that the outside of the bend is starting to break apart and a visible wound is showing.

Here’s Scott and Juan (BonsaiTico.com) finishing up the bend.

Here’s a better shot of the open wound. As we bent the trunk, the wound didn’t tear across the grain but along the grain. When tissue separates with the grain, the healing process is much easier for the tree. Having said that, it’s still a pretty big wound.

Once the bend was to where we wanted, the jack was removed.

Here’s me putting some cut paste putty into the large open wound. It’s important to protect these breaks because water can pool in the wound and rot out the wood. I want this break to completely heal in the future.

Here is a front shot of the first bend. This second guy wire was attached in preparation for the second bend of the trunk. We want to bend the top portion of the trunk about 45 degrees down.

Here’s a shot of a screw we put into the upper portion of the trunk for the second bend.

Since the anchor points for the second bend is about 90 degrees from each other, we had to pre bend the trunk with a bending bar. Once we get the anchor points closer, we can then attach the jack to finish the job.

When using this large bar to bend the top portion of the trunk, the base of the trunk was starting to flex instead. We had to add blocks to the bottom of the trunk to keep the base from bending. This forced the bend to be at the point we wanted. This second bend was much more difficult because of the angle and the stiffness of the trunk. The long bar I was using started to flex during the bend, but it was just enough to do the job.

Once we were done with the bending bar and got a good angle on the second bend, we installed the jack.

Here is a shot of the break on the outside of the second bend. We used putty to seal this wound as well.

Here’s me looking at the bends and wondering if we just killed the tree… ;o)

Here is what the trunk looks like with the two compression bends. Sweet!

Here is what the tree looks like now.

Here is a before and after of the tree

Aftercare and the Plan

Now that the bends are done, the tree is extremely stressed. We plan on keeping it protected inside the workshop for the rest of the Winter. I originally was going to repot this tree in the coming Spring, but that may change depending on how well the tree recovers from the bend. I have to take into account that the stress points are not only on the outside of the bends, but on the insides of the bend as well.

Dead or Alive

Many of you are probably thinking, “is this tree really going to live?” Scott asked the same question. Since one of the branches is below the first bend point, I believe that branch will make it, but branches above the bend is a “maybe.” Both Scott and Juan both laughed and here was my explanation to them.

Since I’ve started at Aichien, bending branches and testing the limits of a tree has always been a way of life. Mr. Tanaka is adamant in finding that limit where a tree can reach it’s fullest potential. Of course, finding that limit is not easy and comes at a price to the tree itself. Not pushing the tree may keep it from becoming something great, whereas pushing the tree too far can kill it. Finding that fine line only comes from practice and experience and that is why I decided to do what we did to this tree. I told Scott and Juan that if we bent the trunk only to a position that I felt was “safe” I wouldn’t have learned a thing from the work. I wanted the bend to enter the realm where I was uncertain if the tree would survive. We didn’t just do one heavy bend on this tree, but two! Also, the bends weren’t on branches or only on a section of a much larger tree, we pushed the core of the tree where the open wound was almost as large as the thickness of the trunk at the bend point (it’s all relative). Now we just have to wait and see if the tree can make it through the bend and become a better tree.

Having said all that, I didn’t just wildly find a tree and bent it to see what would happen. There are some indicators that told me how much I could do on this tree. I made sure that the tree was strong and healthy. I knew that for most of the bend, a normal healthy Black Pine would be able to survive, which is why I went a little bit further then I normally would to push the limits of the tree.

The way I see it, we learn either way

Let’s say that because of the bend, the whole top of the tree dies and I’m left with one lower branch. Firstly this would of course tell me that the bends were too much for this tree. Perhaps next time I should do one bend at a time? Secondly, this would force me to come up with a new design for the tree with only one branch, which I feel can be done, though the tree would look very much different then it does now.

Now if the top of the tree survives the two bends, that would be huge! Firstly the tree is able to survive a large amount of damage to the trunk. Secondly, we prove that our bending technique worked. Thirdly, the tree has now become much more interesting with such tight bends. Maybe next time when I’m in the same situation, I can go one step further and bend the main branches to where I want them as well (keep pushing that limit).

I’ll keep you posted!

Overall, the bends took us about an hour and a half to finish. I’ll keep you all posted on how this tree does in the coming months and into the Spring. If the tree lives or dies, I will let you all know so we can all learn something from it. I’m also not sure if I will go with the tilt of the tree because the tree actually looks pretty nice standing in it’s current soil line. That is a decision I’ll make in the future. I’m happy at how the tree turned out and the hard work of Juan and Scott. I believe they both learned a lot just by doing the bends and even more so when we find out how the tree response. Scott said he couldn’t wait to get home and try a couple of bends on his own Black Pines!

I hope you all enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Thanks for reading.

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