How to Sharpen Concave Cutters

*note, I’ll be editing and improving this article over time so check back or ask me any questions on anything you didn’t get*

I’m a DIYer kind of person. I hate sending things out to get fixed or spending money that I could otherwise save. Concave cutters, the quintessential bonsai tool, seldom need sharpening due to the robust design and wide edge angles but like anything else, repeated use will wear it down.

My old pair of concave cutters from Lee Valley was standing on it last legs. Wobble in the pin, chips, rolled edge, and more. As my first and only concave cutter it was abused and used to cut things I probably should have cut. I decided to purchase a new pair from Kaneshin. And of course after a few days I somehow managed to chip the edge. I have a fairly high skill with waterstones and was confident I could repair it. In doing so I understood the criteria for concave cutters to cut well but also realized that there are no comprehensive guides online on how to do so.

I decided to make a guide through the restoration of my old pair.

This guide will be organized in 4 sections:

  1. Criterion
  2. Tool Selection
  3. Technique
  4. Burrs and Finishing

PART I: Criterion 

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The first component is seems simple but there is a little more too it. I will elaborate below.

The second criterion is necessary to ensure a clean cut. If the edges do not meet you have a branch with intact wood fibers in the middle.

Lets take a look at my old Lee Valley tool:

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From both pictures its evident that the blade is chipped in the center and to lesser degree, on the top. There is another thing worth pointing out. Notice the white hair line immediately below the large chip. That’s light passing through the blades. The edges do indeed meet one another and they are offset (discussed below) BUT they are not touching as evidenced by the light coming through. I’d like to emphasize that the blades are FULLY closed. The light breaking through it not because of that.

For comparison here are my freshly sharpened Kaneshin cutters.

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Here is a diagram better explaining this concept. (the text may be hard to read in mobile)

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Now I’d like to say that some variance is not that big of a deal. Your concave cutter will still function properly. But we should avoid any significant deviations as gaps between the blades will prevent them from cutting cleanly.

Lastly the tips must be offset:

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That black hairline on the top is the edge of the other blade offset over the other. If the tips meet flush even every time you cut a branch they’ll snap together. This can dent, chip, and dull the tool.

At the same time keep overlap as small as possible. You want just enough to prevent the cutting edge from damaging each other. Too large of an overlap and you’ll notice you have trouble cutting branches when the cutters get close to the center.

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In short when we sharpen this tool we want to think about these 3 points and ensure we preserve them throughout the restoration process. There are some other important aspects worth consideration that will be discussed in the technique section.

PART II: Tool Selection

From my days working for a knife dealer and being a collector I amassed a decent amount of sharpening tools and water stones. Here is some of what I use:

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You do not need expensive fancy tools to sharpen concave cutters. I’ll discuss some of the options and what my preferences are and why.

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There are 3 main categories we can think about. Waterstones, diamond abrasives, and sandpaper. To start off I’d advise against using sandpaper. It’s the cheapest but also wears down fast. Arguably if you are only sharpening your tools once a year sandpaper can be a viable option. If you are insistent on using sandpaper there are some things to know.

Use the black silicon carbide sandpaper you find at auto stores. The brown aluminum oxide or red ruby sandpapers will not do a good job at removing metal.

Second, use a hard backing behind the sandpaper not a soft one. This might seem counter intuitive at first but hear me out. Because of the convex outer bevel it may seem logical to use a softer material with some “give”. Maybe a leather belt or piece of rubber. Do not do this. While that “give” allows the sandpaper to wrap around the curved outer face it also wraps around the edge. This can cause blunting or rounding of the tip. The sharper and crisper the edge the better it will cut.

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This leaves us with waterstones and diamond abrasives. Waterstones are great tools but they have a drawback–dishing. As you wear the stone abrasive media becomes loose and dishing occurs. This is especially pronounced as you have such a small contact area for a concave cutter compared to say a kitchen knife. With a kitchen knife you abrade nearly the whole surface of the stone continuously so it stays relatively flat. With the concave cutter you are only abrading a small region at a time. The medium you sharpen on is reflected on your edge, so if the stone is dished your edge will not be straight! This creates variance on traverse axis or unequal width along the edge of the blade.

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This brings me to my recommendation: diamond benchstones. Actual to be more generic any fixed abrasive media benchstone. In essence something that will not dish. Diamond abrasives are great since they cut well and would be my main recommendation especially if you are sharpening stainless tools. (The “stainless” quality in stainless steel comes from chromium, which also makes the steel more abrasion and wear resistant=harder to sharpen) 

This is what I’m using. A double sided coarse/fine DMT dia-sharp 6 inch stone. I bought mine many years ago when it was a bit cheaper but they run about $50 now.

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PART III: Technique

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You can hold the concave cutters and position the stone however you want. The 2 things you always want to keep in mind is consistency and geometry.

On the first part. Consistency means repeatability. Every stroke you do on the stone needs to be the same abrading the intended region. By many years of practice I can do this by feel but there are other ways aid less experienced hands. One method is the sharpie trick. Simply color the bevel of the concave cutter with a sharpie and begin working. After a few strokes on the stone pick up the tool and look at the bevel. The areas where the sharpie is gone are the regions you abraded. Doing this can give you a sense of what you are doing and improve your precision. There are lots of videos and guides on this so you can look up the rest yourself.

Geometry is a big key component. Good blade geometry means it will cut well. Poor geometry means a lot of rough cuts and resistance through branches. Generally speaking you want as an acute of a edge angle as you can get without compromising the integrity of the tool. Too thin and you get chips or cracks. Too thick, it’ll be tough but it won’t cut for a damn. Any half reputable manufacturer of your concave cutters probably already know ideal geometry their blades should be ground at and is likely produced within a range of it.

This means you should try to maintain the current blade geometry of your concave cutter.

Maintaining geometry:

  • You match the angles the bevel faces are ground at
    – Inner face is flat so this is easier
    – Outer face is curved, harder
  • Abrade the outer and inner bevel faces the same amount
  • Use the sharpie trick
    – Sometimes I rush through things only to finish and see I ruined an edge
    – Using a sharpie and working slow will make sizable difference
  • Even pressure
    – Although you may be holding the blade flat to the stone if you put a lot of pressure on the tip, more metal will be removed from the tip
    – Lack of even pressure is what causes varience of the blade width along the edge or “high” and “low” spots
    – Try to consciously think about holding it steady and applying force across the length of the edge

Now finally to the sharpening itself:

I’ve said before it doesn’t matter how you hold the cutters. You just want to ensure you can keep it steady and brace it against the benchstone. Here’s how I do it:

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Step 1: Working the outer curve

**As mentioned before you want to keep the overlap at the tip. It’s better to start with the undercutting blade first instead of the over cutting one. In the former at most you risk increasing the size of the overlap which can be remedied by working down the over cutting blade. In the latter you could actually could remove the overlap. You could restore it by working down the opposite blade more but is the more difficult approach**

I like to start on the outside and pull back

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As you pull back you want roll the bevel forward. Think sweeping motion.

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Continue to pull back until you reach the tip

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Once you reach the tip, STOP. Do not keep sweeping back. If you continue you’ll start changing the direction of the edge. This can give problems later with poor matching and gaps between the 2 blades when closed.

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Effects of rolling too far

After you hit the tip start sweeping forward doing the same motion in reverse

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Here is how I hold the tool when sharpen it.

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Keep on repeating this motion until you get a burr. I’ll elaborate on this in part 4. Start working on the inside face now:

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The inside bevel is flat so you can just do a back and forth motion. It’s imperative you keep it flush against the stone and match the angle. Mistakes here such as increasing the angle of the bevel face against the stone can make the edge more obtuse and greatly impact the cutting performance of your tool. I made that mistake while sharpening my Kaneshin cutters which is why I recommend going slow and checking your work. Keep on working until you’ve created a burr again. Switch to the opposite side to remove it. At this point I’d do alternating strokes between outside and inside bevel to ensure a crisp edge with no remaining burr.

After you’ve succesfully sharpened the edge or removed any chips switch to the overcutting blade. If you want to maintain the very slight overlap between the blades you’ll want to work both blades the same. Whether by number of strokes or simply by feel try not to sharpen one blade significantly more than the other.

Here is the Lee Valley cutter after finishing both blades.

Relatively clean union with little light escaping:

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Overlap preserved:

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Part IV: Burrs and Finishing

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snl reference

If you did the stonework right the edge should be clean with no remaining burrs. I’ve given burrs it’s own part because it imperative that you make sure the edge is clean with no burrs.

If you cut a branch with a remaining burr your edge will roll over wasting your work. If a burr is present you can feel it. Run your finger off one side of the blade. Do so on the other. If one side is smooth and the other significantly more rough there is a burr. You can use a leather strop or even a piece of wood or plastic to remove it. Just sink the edge in something and pull across a few times.

Well that it! Hope it helped. If you did everything right your old concave cutter will be good as new! Maybe. I know there’s a lot of information in this article. Feel free to comment or message me questions. Sharpening concave cutters are fairly complex and was a learning process for me. I didn’t even do that good of job on my new Kaneshin cutters but I’m confident I can do an excellent job on any cutters in the future.

One piece of advise I’d give is use the right tool for the job. I’ve consistently cut branches much bigger than the cutters and have done root pruning with chunks of lava getting crushed between the blades. These led to issues like chips and misaligned tips. If you use the tools properly they’ll function for a long time. But if you ever get to the point you need to repair it, you have a resource now 😁.

Hibari Elm

In late 2016 I purchased a large variegated elm at a steal of a price. Within the thick canopy hid a region of significant inverse taper. Perhaps problematic but I immediately recognized the potential as a layer candidate. As a weaker ulmus parvifolia cultivar you don’t too many of em that has grown this big especially with such dramatic taper.

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Can you see it in there?

Here’s a closer shot:

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My best find to date

The large mid trunk bulge was likely produced through many years of pruning at the same node site. You can actually see a few old pruning scars on the trunk. At the time of acquisition it was mid summer in Southern California. Our growing season extends all the way to September giving me more than enough time to begin an air layer.

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Cambium thoroughly removed with concave cutters

A common reason why airlayers fail is due to remaining cambium on the girdle. The brown exterior is the cambium while the immediate layers of wood underneath it is the xylem. When creating a girdle you forcibly prevent sugars in the cambium from returning to the roots. At the same time the wood underneath can still supply water and nutrients to the tree. Sugars and hormones build up at the cut site which over time generate new roots. If you mistakenly leave a strip of cambium the tree will actually heal or “bridge over” preventing the formation of roots. Airlayers always should be started after the leaves flush out and harden and take anywhere from 3 weeks to a year depending on species, age of wood, as well as the size of layer.

I neglected to take full progression shots but my layer medium is chopped spagnum and fine pumice. Chopping the spagnum in very small bits is important. It makes it a lot easier to remove the old spagnum in future repottings.

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Here is the tree in fall. Another desirable feature of the hibari elm is the fall color. I’ve consistently seen the weaker variegated varieties producing nice fall color while their hearty landscape counter parts turn green to brown. It’s possibly the smaller amount of chlorophyll present in the leaves allow fall colors to emerge better.

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The winter image. At this point I have not cut anything back. The more branches and growth I leave on the tree the faster it will grow new roots at the girdle site.

The layer was severed around May if I recall right. It took around 6 months to complete this layer. Another important note is that unless you live in a mild climate like me with no freezes do not layer if it won’t be finished before winter. Freezes will kill the new fleshy roots forcing you start over in the spring.

The tree was transplanted into a pond basket and had several primary branches cut back. It grew very well and was exceeding healthy in the spring. Unfortunately this summer I was unable to personally care for my trees when I moved near Chicago for work. From a watering issue, disease, or pest the tree dropped all of its leaves mid summer. Fortunately it rebounded back but I did lose some low primary branches.

I repotted the tree recently and was happy to find a lot of roots. I did some minor cleaning but did minimal pruning.


I screwed the tree to a piece of plywood prior to repotting. This encourages the tree to focus on lateral root growth producing a better nebari. Ideally I would want to clean the roots completely and put them flush against the board but given its weak state I do not want to risk the tree dying. As an older piece of material with high potential to be an excellent tree in the future health is the main concern.


Decent mat of roots. Black regions are actually some dead roots which correspond to the branches that died.


Some of the main trunk has died back but there is plenty enough green for new buds to rebuild lower branches from.


Repotted and rigged to my water system. Underneath the wooden board I used almost entirely 3/8ths lava. On the sides and top I used my standard bonsai mix with a little bark added. My soil is one part lava, one part pumice, and one part diatomaceous earth. I’d like to cut back but the tree is not strong enough. I will allow it to grow relatively unrestricted to rebuild strength before significant work.

Assuming a strong growing season next year I’ll really work the roots and begin building the nebari. There are actually many usable surface roots that in time will build the base of the tree.

On a different note I still have the lower half and will be using it to grow cuttings. Later this year I’ll he selling cuttings from the hibari elm and possibly other nice hard to find varieties. Be on the lookout.

Julian 

Root Over Rock Chinese Elm Update

Happy New Years folks. Here’s the last project for the year. It’s a root over rock chinese elm I grown from seed. I thought I’d share more of it’s history before I describe the work I’ve done to it.

The tree began as a doner seedling from a mature elm tree in my neighbors yard. It grew freely for 1-2 years before I decided to dig it out. I gave it an additional season to grow in a pot and doubled the size.

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mother tree
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Identically aged elm but never dug out

It spend the entire growing season in the ground with the roots firmly braced with seram wrap and external anchors. Here is the tree from roughly 1 year ago:

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Neglected to take progression shots, but here is the tree prior to wrapping the roots

I dug it out today, slightly early but mind you chinese elms in Southern California leaf out in late January to early February. For most trees it would be ill advised to do heavy root work and pruning in early winter but given the vigor of elms as well as the mild socal temps I can get away with it. Given it grew freely in the ground it has more than enough stored sugars to recover.

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Leaders cut and some roots removed

I took off all the seram wrap and checked all the roots. I did some reduction and cut off the 4 foot leaders from the trunk. Everything was reanchored with wires tying down any major root to the rock.

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The intended front of the tree. The large root in the front may be split later but for now I’m leaving it alone as it’s one of the main anchor roots
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Union is not too bad but rock can still be pulled off roots
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Grew like gangbusters on the other side. Some reduction done here to expose more of the rock

I organized the roots evening the spread and cut back to where I could get some division or ramification. The nebari will need further refinement over the years but I need to wait until it’s firmly attached to the rock before additional work.

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Repotted, with the roots slightly exposed. Every year I will plant the tree a bit higher showing more of the nebari and rock

My intention with this planting is to have exposed roots hanging off the left side of the stone. Next year this should be achievable and will make for a interesting tree with character. I’ll begin primary branch development this season as well. Hope you enjoy the update and have a great 2018!

Julian

Apprenticeship.

I’m fuming. The steam’s cracking out of the lid. Convention tells me otherwise and my insecurities tell me no. I’ve heard it all. Both from myself and others. Stabilize your career and keep it on the side. Do it in the future after you have more money. Better to have it as a hobby than to fail and not have it at all. If you leave your career now you won’t be able to return in a few years. So I spent a year to let it simmer and to ask myself, “what is it that I really want?”

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(I actually wasn’t thinking anything like that in this photo. I was just trying to pose for a cool shot. Felt fitting to throw it in though haha)

People who know me well know that I have a lot of hobbies and interests. A job in high school for a knife dealer exposed me to metallurgy which led me to my current academic pursuit, material science. Outside of academics I’ve involved myself with cycling, climbing, photography, and recently even boxing. I try to invest enough time and effort in all of them so that I have some degree of competency…but at the same time I’m never quite “good”. I don’t have the talent to excel at something with minimal work.

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(A favorite local cycling route while I was working at Argonne National Lab this summer)

Between school, my career, and long term goals I’ve spread myself thin with too many half-way commitments. It’s mentally straining for myself, but also unfair to my peers and employers who expect my full attention. I realize that if want to succeed in my career aspiration as a bonsai professional I need to give it my 100%.

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(These aren’t my hands, just some random dude’s I photographed during a workshop)
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(A daiza I hand carved myself, the first and only, for an interesting mountain suiseki)

Am I afraid of failing and fucking up my current career? Hell yeah! Do I really want to pursue bonsai? Hell Yeah! At the end of the day all I know is how I feel. I love working with my hands and building things. My current career is not sustainable for me in the long run. I ain’t a rash or dumb guy. I’ve taken time to understand my current industry and directions for career growth as well I asked for advice from many people well seasoned in it. And after a year of thinking I know it’s not for me.

At this point it ain’t gonna help me by throwing more what ifs around. I just have to give it a shot and if I fail it’s on me. I can’t say I’ve been completely unsupported either. I’m fortunate to have the support of my parents and a few mentors I’ve gained in the past year who’ve greatly helped and encouraged me to pursue my goal. Hoe, Jeff, Owen, Bob among others who’ve helped me out.

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(Ben Oki repotting stick Jeff gave to me during my stay in Chicago–Ben Oki is considered one the early influential bonsai artist when bonsai was in its’ infantile stage in the US)

If I had to give myself a New Years resolution it would be to take the first steps in my career and begin an apprenticeship. My chinese is complete ass right now but I’m beginning to practice and study with the intention of possibly apprenticing in Taiwan.

I’ve been working on a letter to send over to some of the professionals to explore the possibility of apprenticeship.

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(Big thanks to Hoe Chuah for giving me some contacts to look into and my Dad helping me with translation and writing this letter)

To help me learn and better retain commonly used words and characters used in the bonsai scene I’ll be attempting to translate a Taiwanese bonsai book. The idea is to translate pages containing techniques (perhaps some unfamiliar to the domestic scene) and share them on my blog! Perhaps this is too ambitious but I hope to translate and share 1 page or technique a week. At best all I can understand are the pictures and some characters I learned in high school so it will be quite the challenge.

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During the interim between college graduation and an apprenticeship but also to give me more of a buffer to improve my mandarin I’m looking to study domestically briefly. I recently applied for a paid internship at the US National Arboretum Bonsai Garden so we’ll see if that pans out.

I am equally hopeful and afraid, but mostly excited to try my new venture. I hope I can find the support of my readers and invite you to watch my success or failure.

Happy Holidays.

Julian

 

 

Hinoki Cypress Progression

It’s been a bit overdue for a post so here’s an update on a project I’ve had in the works for a few years. I’ve been busy but more good stuff to come in the future!

Hinoki cypress progression

In 2014 I purchased a young clump Hinoki cypress which at the time had 4 trunks.

This is one of my first trees from my early bonsai career and I lacked a lot of horticultural knowledge to keep the tree healthy and vision to give it direction.

Here was the first, and maybe my first ever styling of a bonsai tree. Some basic branch selection was done and the trunks were spaced using a bamboo stick:

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I soon removed the 4th trunk seen in the photo. At the time due to a lot of misinformed second hand knowledge I was convinced the nursery soil it was in was the bane of the bonsai world and I needed to change it asap. Having sat in a nursery can for perhaps all it’s life the root ball was a block of cement. I opted for a slip pot where I worked the outer roots and planted it in a large container with coarse substrate.

What ensued was a sick and weak tree for the next 2 years. Water, seeking the path of least resistance, freely flowed through the outer rim of new coarse soil while no percolation occurred in the more dense center. The lack of air and fresh water resulted in a weak root system and an equally weak tree. It wasn’t until the roots colonized the outer rim of soil that it began to perk up again.

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4th trunk removed, yellowing foliage
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Health improving by late 2015

During the 2015-2016 growing season I experiment with approach grafting. Hinokis are notorious for their lack of back budding on old wood and all my lower growth was very leggy and unusable.

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Branches selected for approach grafting

I neglected the approach graft process but overall it was unsuccessful. Some graft unions did merge but I had unsightly bulging branches crossing the trunk. Overall it was poorly executed and did not improve the tree. I decided to remove all grafts and lower branches and building the tree in a new direction.

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Second styling fall 2016

The tree received a rough preliminary styling positioning the trunks and primary branches. I mistakenly cut off one too many branches in the back resulting in one bare spot that I will remedy with grafting. Fortunately it is minor and out of sight.

The tree was repotted during the spring of next year and allowed to grow freely over the next several months. At this time the original block of roots were completely replaced with a new dense root system growing in a coarse inorganic mix (lava, DE, pumice). It grew very well and gained lots of vigor. A second wiring and pruning was done later.

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Summer 2017

Foliage pads will be defined over the next several years and the aforementioned bare spot will be fixed by grafting. Surprisingly over the past 3 and a half years the trunks have began putting on some girth. Since this tree is still very young in it’s development stage I tend to let it grow freely most of the season with only doing refinement work once a year. I’d like to let the trunks thicken more before I really begin stunting the branches through more aggressive work.

Thanks for taking a look and subscribe for future updates!

Have an awesome day!

Julian

40th GSBF Convention, Riverside

Today I was able to attend the 40th annual Golden State Bonsai Federation convention conveniently held here in Riverside. A short 10 minute drive brought me to the convention center where I spent my day. Despite only being able to attend one of the 4 days in the show I was able to find many old faces, as well as meeting a few new ones.

After checking in I went swung by the vendors. The usual suspects were there including June Nguy with a wide arrangement of tools and Nathan Simmons with about as many pots as you’ll see in any show. Right out of the door I met with Barry Altshule, better known as Legacy Cork Oaks. Barry sells excellent pre-bonsai material and is who I purchased my large coast live oak from.

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Another familiar face was Frank Yee. Known in the local bonsai scene for his corking variety of portulacaria afra or dwarf jade. Generally speaking succulents are not used for or considered as bonsai. But the dwarf jade is an exception. The small leaves and easily built ramification can lend to a good image. Here is an excellent example from the Pacific Northwest Bonsai museum I visited 2 springs ago.

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Now imagine looking at the tree above (which mind you still has pretty bark as far as succulents are concerned) with thick corking akin to what you’d see on a cork Chinese elm. It’d make for a pretty cool tree, right? I tried to get a shot of Frank but he’s a little camera shy. It was great talking to him though and I’m glad I was able to stop by.

Although not pictured, my friend Nelson bought a monstrous old cork jade from Frank. Hell even I was considering buying it given the amount of cuttings you could take from it.

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I did end up buying one corking jade from Frank. Corking just started to show on it and it’ll only get better from there. This one will be making it’s way to Chicago in the near future.

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Do you see the cork? Of course you see it. It smack dab in the middle of the shot.

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After spending some time with the vendors I made my way to the exhibit room. There were 2 rooms of bonsai and one with suiseki. There were many excellent trees on display. Here are some of my favorites.

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Excellent black pine by Tom Vuong.

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Tanuki by Michael Jonas. An easy eye grabber in the exhibition. Union between deadwood and live vein is done well. While this is an excellent tree I’m not a big fan of tanukis. Personally speaking, deadwood although attractive can easily become overbearing and dominate the composition.

I like seeing strong brown or red live veins reaching down and touching the soil line. This makes the tree feel more grounded and in my opinion builds a better image. In this tree that’s lacking. At the same time I don’t think bringing where the live vein meets the soil line to the front will improve this tree for several reasons.

Obviously you can’t just pry off the live portion and reposition it, least not on a tanuki. So to meet the criteria I previously mentioned you’d have to rotate the tree clockwise and recompose the entire composition. I am sure the front it’s currently at accentuates the movement of the deadwood and tree the best.

The other problem disguising it’s identity as a tanuki and convincing the viewer that it’s a natural, single tree. Because the deadwood is so heavy a single sliver of brown coming right off it into the soil line would look very contrived. By having the live vein escape diagonally off the right it appears as if there could be more live vein wrapped around the deadwood. By doing this the possibility of the tree not being a tanuki is preserved although you are not immediately convinced. Anyhow this is just my opinion. All in all still a great tree with beautiful healthy foliage to boot.

Look at the pictures and tell me what you think.

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Boon Manakitivipart’s entry. I like the more “natural” softer feel. Not to be confused with unrefined. Although there aren’t clearly defined foliage pads there is a high degree of ramification and branching. (unfortunately I don’t have a shot under the skirt) Actually I would say having this ramification is more important than having defined foliage pads. You can always take an unruly mass of foliage and wire it together but building ramification takes many years but in turn produces a better tree. From that ramification, having sharper or softer foliage pads seem to be a thing of personal preference.

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My favorite and in my opinion the best tree in the exhibit. In contrast to many California junipers seen in the exhibit this one has much “lighter” deadwood and very graceful movement. Per my preference the live veins are strongly seated in the soil line grounding the tree. The foliage is very fine for a California juniper and collectively with all its other attributes make for a great tree.

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Big quercus suber or cork oak. If you read my blog you know oaks are probably my favorite tree to grow.

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I wonder how many wine corks are in there…

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What is this trickery!?! There’s no such thing as fall in the chaparral desert climate of the Inland Empire!! Some sneaky bastard thought he could bring his tree from Northern California and fool us southern neighbors.

In all seriousness it’s a nice older trident and the fall color was a treat. It’s not easy traveling with trees and it’s stressful for it’s health.

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Onto the suiseki! Some excellent stones on display from the US, Europe, Japan, and even Africa.

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After talking to a few friends and going through the entire exhibit it was time to watch the highly anticipated demonstration by Kunio Kobayashi! I was on my way to Raincross ballroom when I ran into someone asking if he we’d met. I said no. He followed up asking if I had a blog. It went something like bon…..  “TSAI!” Yes friends. There it is. I’ve made it. I’m rolling in the fame. Basking in the wealth and glory built from the thousands of my readers.

Here is a shot of my current favorite fan, Ian.

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Onto the demonstration. The material was a collected California juniper brought out from Fresno. It was an excellent tree with lots of natural deadwood and shari along with some usable branches.

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Mr. Kobayashi was assisted by a former apprentice, Hugo Zamora Luna, based in Mexico as well as his current long time apprentice, Jin Yasufumi. They made quick work of prepping the material by clean veins, foliage, and assisting with wiring. His apprentices are impressive guys. Both are trilingual (Spanish, English, Japanese and English, Chinese, Japanese respectively) I think. I’m already struggling a lot with 2.

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Mr. Kobayashi is a pretty light humored guy. He’d make many jokes, tell stories, and take cracks at his apprentices.

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Mr. Kobayashi explaining the differences between horticulture and bonsai with assistance of Hiromi Nakaoji who did a stellar job in taking questions and translating during the entire demonstration.

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Splitting branches and applying raffia.

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Setting a bend while Hugo cranked down the guy wire.

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Not bad!

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Mhmmm copper.

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Mr. Kobayashi showing off an article printed about him and his “million dollar tree”.

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As you can see it was difficult taking shots without getting tuffs of hair in the border. I was sitting second row to front and couldn’t stand without obstructing the people behind me.

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The finished tree.

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I have a very rudimentary knowledge in Japanese. Namely some hiragana, rosetta stone, and self study one summer. I was preparing my one liner last night so I could ask him to take a picture together in Japanese. 一緒に写真を撮ってもいいですか? Phonetically this says issho ni shashin o totemo ii desu ka? After doing some research today I realize this is not even correct. I was going to ask him to take a photo of or for me?

In the end I didn’t even get to try it out. The translator Hiromi was inviting people to take pictures and when she saw me approaching she gestured me on stage and I was too shy to say anything. Got the picture at least!

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Talked to Hugo for a little bit after the demonstration as well. It’s pretty amazing how culturally diverse the bonsai community is. It really is an international community and it was cool meeting a professional based in Mexico. Unfortunately I did not get a picture with Jin but I enjoyed talking with him as he was able to answer some of my questions about pursuing an apprenticeship.

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Towards the end of the show I was also happy to meet Kaya Mooney (not pictured). He’s the recent apprentice of Boon Manakitivipart. Like me, Kaya is a young bonsai enthusiast (same age I think?). I’m so used to being the youngest person at every show, workshop, or meeting I attend that it’s pretty exciting to find other young enthusiasts who share the same level of passion I do.

All in all I had a good time. It was my first time out at a GSBF convention and as always, it’s great looking at cool trees and talking to equally cool people! Hope you enjoyed the read and feel free to leave any comments.

 

I’d like to add one last note to this post. I am very seriously looking for both domestic and foreign apprenticeship opportunities to pursue after I graduate or within 1 year or so. I graduate from UCR June of 2018. If I can find a domestic opportunity then my plan is to start right away and apply for jobs in the city of nursery/master.

If I go the foreign apprenticeship route first I’d like to spend at least half a year to a year working to save money and taking classes in the language of the host country. I absolutely love bonsai and undoubtedly want to pursue and apprenticeship but I also need to be financially and culturally ready to some degree.

In any case I am looking at ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. I’ve been trying to make a huge effort the past half year to reach out, express my interest, and look for opportunities. But I could use some help. If you know anyone who could help me out in this respect, pass on knowledge, or refer me to someone who can I would greatly appreciate it!

Doing things on your own is tough. It’s really the people you meet who help shape you and give you direction in life.

 

Arrastre Creek Aspen Grove

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“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”

– Robert Frost

If you’ve been reading my previous posts you’ll know that I’ve expressed interest in photography and have since taken many photos. With the autumn season already upon us I thought way better way to practice photography than to shoot autumn colors!

Unfortunately Southern California more so synonymous with brown and crispy than it is with red, orange, and gold. Finding a reliable autumn display wouldn’t be easy and require a good bit of leg work.

After a bit of research I was ecstatic to discover that Southern California had an aspen grove. Quite literally called “Aspen Grove” by the USFS it was a popular location for autumn hikers and photographers. While I was planning my trip I read a notice and my heart sank. The grove was burned down in 2015 from the Lake Fire and was not yet reopened for public access.

My plans were scrapped–or so I thought. I started from square one went to a page for a local wilderness association. I expressed my interests in finding a good autumn display and soon found out that a second aspen stand existed in Southern California. It was off trail though and its location, kept discrete by locals and other hikers.

Some rigorous searching on the interwebs yielded that it was near Arrastre Creek with an old forest service document describing it 200 yards up a canyon.

Here’s an interesting bit of information from the same document. The Pleistocene age was over 10,000 years ago mind you:

“These two groves, separated from the
nearest populations by more than 200 miles (322 km), are believed to be relics
from the late Pleistocene when the climate was much cooler and wetter.”

I had narrowed it’s approximate range but it still would be a challenging search. I was fortunate a few days prior to my trip, I was able to receive specific directions to the grove. Had I not had them, with my limited information I may never have found it. A big thanks to Joseph Esparza whose blog you can find here.

With good information, I set out on a long drive followed by a longer hike and had success reaching the grove. It wasn’t without difficulty though. I discovered the limitations of my 21 year old car (I’ll keep this one as an inside joke), slipped down 5 to 6 feet of gravel, got cut by dead cottonwood branches, had a branch break and fall on my head, got flipped off for over 20 minutes by a driver who could not see the cars backed up in front of me, and lost my tripod.

Despite these difficulties they pale in comparison to having a good time with friends, exploring the mountains, and experiencing fall at it’s best.

I thought I’d share the best pictures I took and hope you find them enjoyable:

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arrastre quaking aspens

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I also thought it may be interesting to mention that Andy Smith has had success collecting aspens in recent years. I think they have the potential to be excellent native bonsai material and hope to see more in the future. If not for my hot climate I’d grow some too.

Lastly if you’re worrying that the content of my blog is straying, fear not! Next week I will be attending the GSBF convention held here in Riverside, CA. I’ll be covering the show on Saturday so expect a good review, pictures, and maybe some videos. Hope to meet many of you there and watch some of the best in bonsai.

Until next time, Julian.