Bonsai Jin and Shari

Bonsai jin and shari are two bonsai techniques that can give your bonsai the appearance of being older than it is.

Although easy to create, they can be difficult to perfect. These techniques are often used on conifers such as juniper.

Many tropical and some deciduous trees are not good subjects for these bonsai techniques. Some are more likely to drop dead branches, rather than keep them.

See the exception below. There are some tropical hardwood exceptions such as buttonwood and tamarind. They are both excellent subjects for both jin and shari.

Bonsai Jin

Jin is often created as the apex of a tree. Although this one has yet to be refined, it will eventually give the appearance of age on a relatively young plant.

It is especially important for a bonsai jin not to look like you stuck it in a pencil sharpener!

These two pictures are from Harry Harrington’s article on how to create deadwood by hand. They are perfect examples of before and after refinement.

Observe the difference. The jin to the right has been refined. Stripping bark can also be used to create dead branches. Making a dead branch look natural can be tricky.

Stripping off the bark is best done on live branches.

Stripping off the bark is best done on live branches.

Squeeze the live green wood of a branch with wire pliers and the bark will peel off very easily.

Green branches can also be bent and curved with wire, even after the bark is removed. Don’t let it get dry first.

Once a branch is dead and has dried out, the bark is much more difficult to remove and will not take a nice curve through wiring.

In the above illustration, you can see both live and dead wood used for an exotic effect on the same branch.

PRACTICEBefore you cut off any conifer branch, jin it .

You may or may not use it 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 created on the trunk of a tree. In order to see this dramatic effect, the carving should be done in front (usually just a little off to the side.)

PRACTICE: Don’t ruin a potentially good bonsai with experimenting.

If you have no experience with carving, practice shari on any hard wood. Use dead tree branches or old construction material. Learn what different tools do. Never carve green wood, it must be dry.

Lightning strikes are common in ‘real’ trees. This carving technique of creating lightning is often used when a plant is particularly uninteresting otherwise.

It’s a good idea to draw the shari design on the tree with chalk first. That will give you a preview of the potential outcome.

John Naka’s ‘Goshin’

Storm scars can add character to windblown bonsai. Dead branches or jins are often used in forests. Trees in nature are not perfect. Many have dead branches that add to the character of a tree.

Look closely at this forest and you will see some of the trees are actually dead.

Tropical Exceptions



Although many tropical trees are not suited to carving, because of their soft wood, there are exceptions. Hardwood trees such as Tamarind, buttonwood and some species of bougainvillea will work.

‘Pixie’ bougainvillea is a good example.

Before and After Results by Suthin

Protect the Dead Wood of Bonsai Jin and Shari

Lime sulfur is a fungicide normally used for preventing fungus on fruit trees.

For bonsai, in addition to protecting the wood, this chemical turns it white. In time, the bright white becomes weathered, much like what you may see on the driftwood of old trees in nature.

Where to Go From Here

Leave bonsai jin and shari, visit Tanuki Bonsai

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