Deadwood: Copying nature

By October 20, 2017 No Comments


One of the major aims in Bonsai is to maintain the trees healthy and vigourous all year round, and for the untrained eye, that means that the tree must look perfect.  But this is not the reality with bonsai artists, since along side a vigourous foliage, the Bonsai tree might also have some kind of deadwood.  This deadwood is created and included in the design for more than just one single reason.  This is what we will be discussing in today’s blog:  Jin, Shari, Uro, Sabamiki and Tanuki all fall under the word ‘Deadwood’.  These words are in Japanese and each one refers to a particular type of deadwood.  These words are internationally used for an easy understanding.In some bonsai trees, there are no  or little difference between the different type of deadwwods.

In other blogs we already mentioned that Bonsai reflects what happens in nature, and deadwood is commonly seen in nature.  When a tree dries out after being hit by a lighting, debarked from heavy winds or under the weight of the snow or bleached by intense sunlight, are all nature’s way of creating deadwood in nature.

Bonsai artists managed to find ways in mimmicing nature and create man-made deadwood on their bonsai trees.

A Shari can also be carved to add movement to a straight trunk.


When deadwood is applied on the main trunk of the a bonsai tree is called a ‘Shari’.  Normally it runs along the the wood vein at the front of the main trunk.  It is rearly done at the back of the bonsai tree, since it has little or no value.  The Shari is an exposed wound on the non-living part of the trunk, although surrounded by the living bark of the trunk.  In years the living bark will try to heal itself and make the carving part to look more natural.  Another characteristic that makes the Sari to look natural is the weathered effect,  this can be done by age or by a technique by oxidising the Shari by a small burner torch and the application of Lime Sulpher.  The Shari adds old age and maturity to a young bonsai tree.

Making  a Shari:

  • Choose the right spot for a Shari.
  • Avoid cutting off an essential stream of nutrients for branches.
  • Draw the desired shape of the Shari on the trunk.
  • Start with a narrow strip of bark which you can widen in later stages.
  • Using a sharp knife cut and tear the bark using Jin pliers.
  • Once the desired shape is achieved, hollow the trunk using a concave cutter or an electric tools.
  • Bleach the Shari  with Lime sulfur.

Having a bonsai tree with a natural Shari is always a bonus, since it is very hard to mimmic a natural Shari with electric tools


When setting the rules related to bonsai, the Japanese named differently to ‘Shari’ and ‘Sharamiki’.   Sharamiki is when a bonsai tree has an extensive area of weathered deadwood or driftwood, mostly atr the lower part ofg the trunk, close to the Nebari.  Sharamiki can also be created using electric and hand tools.

Sharamiki is an exagerated type of deadwood close to the nebari


Dead branches at the lower part or those at the apex area are called ‘Jin’.  The Jin shows age and stressed branches.  In nature, a Jin branch is caused by heavy wind or after it was jit by a lighting, thgat result in debarking of the same branch.  A Jin can start from the branch and continues along the trunk, revealing dead and dry wood.

To mimmic natural Jins, the bonsai artist needs to remove all the bark from the branches, and slowly taper the tip of the branch by stripping along the veins.  Normally branches with an interesting movement will be used to make a Jin.

Making a Jin:

  • Remove the bark from the branch.
  • Using a Jin pliers, pull away slithers of wood.
  • Round off sharp edges, using a sandpaper.
  • Bleach the Jin with Lime sulfur.


Jin: the barkless branch


Uru is the deadwood at the lower part of the trunk in the form of detiriorated irregular hollow found mostly in deciduous and broadleaf.

 Natural Uro on an olive tree


Another name for a specific kind of deadwood.  Sabamiki is the hollowed or split trunk as if the tree was struck by a lighting.

A way how to mimmic  Sabamiki:

  • Stripping down the bark.
  • Carving the exposed wood to create a deep wound. Msake sure that the wound will not interfere the flow of the nutrients of the branches.
  • Starting at a lower part of the trunk, following upwards.
  • Treat the exposed wood with wood preservative.


Sabamiki: A holloweed or split trunk


In bonsai, a ‘Tanuki’ is a living tree that has been  joined to an interesting piece of deadwood in the form of a weathered tree trunk.

How to do a Tanuki:

  • Carve a groove in the deadwood part.
  • Fit the living tree within the groove using nails or screws, wire wrappings, or cany other items that can keep the living tree in position.
  • Remove such overtime when the living tree starts to thicken.


Tanuki: A living tree combined with a piece of deadwood to create a new bonsai

Lime Sulphur

Lime sulphur, as the name implies, is a mixture of lime, sulphur and water.  This mixture has an orange colour and an ammonia like smell.  Lime sulphur has been used for many decades as pesticide.  In bonsai, Lime Sulphur is used as a deadwood preserver.  It also helps to give away an aged look to the deadwood.

Make sure to wear the right protection to avoid eye and smell contact.

How to apply:

  • Spray of wet the area with clean water.
  • Once the water dries off but the wood is still moist, apply with a soft brush on the deadwwod.

Lime Sulphur is used to preserve and give an old aged look

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Martin Abela

Author Martin Abela

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