Bonsai carving, better known as jinning, is a technique used to create dead wood on limbs, trunks and the exposed roots of chosen specimens. When properly done the finished tree takes on an ancient, weathered appearance. Use sharp tools for every cut, as dull blades could break the tree. Disinfect tools often to prevent disease. This technique is used most commonly on cypress, juniper, pine and cedar trees.
Use graving tools to remove bark and sculpt various areas of the tree. Often sold in sets of three tools, a graving kit includes sickle-, half-circle- and angled razor blade-shaped tools. These sharp stainless-steel instruments make carving short work on even tough woods. Use graving tools for techniques like “Shari” and “Saba-miki:” Shari is the stripping of bark from limbs to look like dead wood, while Saba-miki is the technique of creating a hollow trunk. They are also helpful in cleaning up small, messy offshoots on limbs, trunks and roots.
Use jinning knives to remove larger areas of wood. Jinning knives have the appearance of delicate steak knives, but are extremely sharp and sturdy enough for their job. Create “knees” on cypress trees and large, deadened trunks and limbs on a number of species. A good bonsai supply shop offers a variety of sizes.
Use jinning pliers to remove bark from tree trunks, limbs and exposed roots. Jinning pliers look like standard toolbox pliers, except they're smaller and slimmer, and they taper more at their tips than standard pliers so you can grasp small areas of wood. They're useful for gripping small wires when wiring limbs, and help gain leverage while twisting wire around roots and through drainage holes.
Use needle tweezers to grasp and lift sections of bark. Needle tweezers look like the large tweezers used in beauty salons; some are angled, others aren’t. Needle tweezers are especially helpful on small trees where other tools are too large, and can also be used to remove unwanted foliage, weeds and pests.
Use concave cutters to remove limbs. Concave cutters look like pliers with sharp heads. Place them against the trunk of trees to make a clean indention into the wood. When used properly they give a clean-cut site on which to use a variety of carving techniques. Choose a pair that fits your hand comfortably.