Bonsai Jin and Shari

Two techniques, called bonsai jin and shari, can give your bonsai the appearance of being older than it is.  

Naturally formed Jins

Although somewhat easy to create, they can be difficult to perfect.

These techniques are often used on conifers such as juniper and pine.  

Most tropical and some deciduous trees drop dead branches, rather than keep them.  Therefore, they are not good subjects for these bonsai jin techniques. 

Bonsai Jin

When creating a dead branch, stripping off bark is easiest done on live branches. Squeeze the live green wood of a branch with bonsai pliers.  The bark becomes loosened. Then grab pieces of the bark with the nose of the pliers, it will peel off easily.

After stripping, green branches can also be bent and curved with wire. Don't let the branch dry first.  Once a branch is dead and has dried out, the bark is much more difficult to remove and will not take a curve through wiring.  

Bonsai Jin is often created as the apex of a tree.  It is especially important for it not to look like you stuck it in a pencil sharpener!  Although somewhat easy to create, they can be difficult to perfect.

These two pictures are from

Harry Harrington's article on how to create deadwood by hand.

They are perfect examples of before and after Bonsai Jin. 

Observe the difference. The bonsai jin to the right has been refined.  

European black pine with jins created by Wolfgang Putz. The apex is newly carved and will age and complete the picture.European Black Pine with Jins
by Wolfgang Putz, Germany

The apex has recently been created, the wood looks freshly carved. In time it will age and look very natural.  Also, note the wire tying the tree into the bonsai pot.  Securing trees into pots is an all important bonsai step!

Making a dead branch look natural can be tricky.

In this illustration, by the late Joe Samuels, you can see both live and dead wood used for an exotic effect on the same branch.  Often seen in nature, the combination of jin and shari can also be used in bonsai.

PRACTICEBefore you cut off any conifer branch, jin it

You may or may not use all of them in your bonsai's final design.  However, it will give you the opportunity to discover the different aspects of what makes a good dead branch.  

Along the way, you may keep a few you didn't plan on!


Shari is dead wood on the trunk of a tree.  Also known as "exposed wood" or sometimes "lightning strike," this technique is easiest done on older trees where the living veins are obvious. 

As you can see in this picture of a yamadori buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) a natural shari has begun to develop. Notice how it is not a straight line. See how it curves under the branch?  

In order to create dramatic effects, the carving should be partially in the front, movement will give it a more natural look. In this case, just follow the lines. 

PRACTICE:  When the wood is especially hard, power tools will become an asset.

When shaping with carving bits, get to know the effects of each bit!  Don't ruin a potentially good bonsai with experimenting on a specimen tree.  Practice shari on any hard wood.  It can even be old construction material. 

Never use on green wood, it must be dry.  

John Naka's 'Goshin'

Trees in nature are not perfect.  This carving technique of creating lightning is often used when a plant is particularly uninteresting otherwise.   Draw the shari design on the tree with chalk first.  That will give you a preview of the potential outcome.

Tropical Exceptions

Hardwood trees such as Tamarind,  buttonwood and some species of Bougainvillea will work.  'Pixie' bougainvillea is another good example.

This carving was created by bonsai artist Suthin Sukosolvisit.  Bougainvillea have somewhat soft wood.

However, some varieties such as this "Pixie" can still be carved with great results. 

Although beautiful in the hands of an expert, this severe styling is not recommended for beginners.

A Power Tool for Small Bonsai

For small bonsai, in addition to pliers, many people use a small electric power tool on dry hardwood for refining and shaping bonsai jins. The Dremel 4300-5/40 High Performance Rotary Tool Kit with Universal 3-Jaw Chuck, 5 Attachments and 40 Accessories is tough enough for this kind of work.

Protect the Dead Wood
of Bonsai Jin and Shari

Lime sulfur is a fungicide normally used (very diluted) for preventing fungus on fruit trees. It also is perfect for helping to prevent decay on bonsai jin and shari.   For bonsai, in addition to protecting the wood, this chemical turns it white In time, the bright white becomes weathered looking, much like what you may see on old trees in nature. 

Where to Go From Here

Driftwood Bonsai

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