Technique explained – Sandblasting a Yamadori Yew Bonsai

I sandblasted my first deadwood way back in 1992 and I guess I have blasted over 50 trees since then, I have perfected the technique of protecting the live veins, foliage and soil so that the aggressive nature of this technique does not upset the wellbeing of the tree.

As will any intervention on a bonsai the tree MUST be in great health. Never work on a tree that is recently collected yamadori or is not in the best health. This tree has grown well over the last three years and the deadwood was desperate to be worked. If I had waited another year the foliage would have restricted the access to in inner part of the tree, this is where the most interesting areas of deadwood are on view.

A few days before I removed an upright trunk and disguised by carving and stripping the cut, this can be seen in the photos as a bright orange area.

The process:

  • Gather the foliage up and bind with fine wire so that you have access to the live vein.
  • Using air-dried modelling clay cover the live veins right to the edge and at least 4mm thick, When dry (about 3 days) cover with Duck tape.
  • Completely cover over the soil and as close to the base of the trunk as possible, I use rubber inner tubes first then bind with commercial cling wrap.
  • Wrap the foliage in an old towel and then cover with a thick plastic bag.

The Blasting:

  • I use a commercial blasting service, you can find these locally via the internet.

The results are simply amazing, the deadwood is clean the splinters are removed from the branches I have snapped and all the detail is revealed. I do not put Lime Sulphur on immediately, as I like the wood to weather slightly prior to application.

Refining the deadwood on the Big Taxus

I have been refining the deadwood on my very large Yew. Good preparation, cleaning, removing remnants of old bark, clearing out the deep holes and hiding any work done by man will ensure that this tree will present well. Three years since the tree was collected it has thrived, it will be styled in my garden the day before the Burrs event, Burrs participants who will visit the garden will be the first to see this great Yew.

Cutting the Big Yew to create two trees, including sandblasting

There was always going to be a time when I had to cut the BIG yew into two as the roots were contained in two separate pots. Each pot fed its own foliage, enabling ‘splitting’ the tree.

Using an Industrial size reciprocating saw and my friend Terry Foster we cut the tree in two. It took less than 20 minutes… something I waited three years to do and it was completed in such a short time.

This wonderful tree has such amazing deadwood, the challenge I now faced was how to blend the man made cut with the natural deadwood? My work had to be ‘natural’ looking, not ‘carved and sculptured but in sympathy with the tree.

I did not want to ‘overwork’ the cut. I created indents, accentuated holes and smoothed out undulations deliberately leaving a ‘rough’ finish. I used chisels, wedges and split the tree along the grain of the tree. Where the wood became ‘confused’ I ripped and twisted the grain.

After three hours working without Makita’s or Dremmels I was satisfied that I was ready for the next stage. The tree would be ‘naturalised’ with sand blasting. I first sandblasted a tree 20 years ago using a blasting cabinet, that tree was only 75cm tall. This tree is over one metre, far too large to fit in a cabinet!

Close to my nursery is a commercial blasting company, and after covering the pot, foliage and live vein I ventured to them. The work was completed, a weather ‘ancient’ look had been created in less than an hour! The results are great.