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By Dick Beltran

Photographs by Michael Jonas

The featured demonstrator for the Sansui Kai of Southern California bonsai club at the April 2001 meeting was Honorary Member Ted Matson. Ted is also a member and past president of Descanso Bonsai Society, and a member of California Bonsai Society, Nampu Kai and Shohin Bonsai Society. He has studied bonsai for over twenty years and is widely known and respected for his very popular classes and his numerous appearances at bonsai conventions and workshops nationwide. He is one of three headliner demonstrators for the upcoming Golden State Bonsai Federation convention, at Woodland Hills, California, in November of this year.

Ted critiques Sansui Kai member trees

Ted’s demonstration subject for the evening was deadwood carving. He defined shari as deadwood on the tree trunk and jin as deadwood on branch ends. His first example of shari was a Podocarpus lifted from his own yard and having a base diameter of 5 to 6 inches. At a previous Nampu Kai study group meeting, the height of this tree was reduced to 3 1/2 feet and the jinned upper trunk was tapered from base to apex. The only foliage present was located between 8 and 14 inches from the base.

Carved Chokecherry from Ted's collection

Setting the Podocarpus aside, Ted began discussion of deadwood treatment for the Prunus species. His demonstration piece was a chokecherry with a base diameter of 3 1/2 inches, a 16-inch tall dead trunk, and a 22-inch tall live growth emanating from the trunk at a point about 6 inches above the base. In discussing the preservation of the carved deadwood, Ted recommended painting the deadwood with lime sulfur, letting it dry thoroughly, then “washing” it with an India ink wash to darken the normally stark white bleaching effect of the lime sulfur. When using the dormant spray type of lime sulfur for preservation and bleaching, the treated wood must be allowed to dry thoroughly before the India ink wash is applied. This is because the India ink will not emulsify with the wet, oily dormant spray lime sulfur.

Returning to discussion of the Podocarpus, Ted pointed out the natural cracking of the drying trunk after removal of the foliage. The crack propagated upward in a gentle spiral to the very top of the trunk. Ted planned to use the cleft as a guide for his carving.

California juniper material donated by Pete Semerenko

Attention then turned to a California juniper planted in an 8-gallon nursery pot and donated by Pete Semerenko, a member of Sansui Kai, for the demonstration. The juniper was 26 inches tall, having a base diameter of 2 to 2 1/2 inches, with the top 12 inches of trunk deadwood extending upward from shari on the live trunk. Two live side limbs, with foliage, were located at 8 and 18 inches above the base, both on the same side of the trunk. The side opposite the two live branches sported several smaller deadwood side branches. Ted began work on the juniper by removing vigorous, wild foliage growth resulting from “backyard neglect”. He then removed the dead bark from the trunk below the deadwood branches. Alternate wetting and drying of surfaces, due to normal watering and rain, causes old bark to separate from the trunk and branches, causing surface layers of the deadwood to exfoliate. These areas must be cleaned down to the heartwood to expose the natural grain and the “lifeline” strip of live plant tissue.

Ted defines live wood/shari border with dental pick

Ted used dental picks and scalers to aid cleaning, as well as Xacto®-type knives, gouges and chisels. He also used a “surform” plane, a branch splitter and sand paper.  Electrical power tools included a die grinder, an angle grinder and a Dremel® tool. He uses a variety of bits to preclude monotony in creating grooves, slot widths and depths. He also showed a power chisel that does not remove wood very rapidly and, therefore, is not used much.

Ted uses Arbortech Mini-Grinder to shape shari

During the refreshment break, Ted demonstrated the use of the power tools he had brought with him and allowed interested members the opportunity to try their hand at using them on the juniper and the Podocarpus. One tool in particular that was popular with Ted and members who tried it, was a right-angle die grinder with a belt-driven head supplied with a 1/8th inch thick rotating blade. It is manufactured by the Australian company Arbortech. It is available with two cutting blades for $150.00 and may be ordered using a credit card via the internet at www.arbortech.com.au/ .

Mort Lowy is obviously pleased to have won Ted's creation

The roughed out juniper was donated to the benefit drawing where the refinement of the carving will be left as an exercise for the student/winner. The juniper was won by Sansui Kai member Mort Lowy.


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