Updated: Jan 23
In the wild trees are often bent and contorted into interesting and un usual shapes by wild weather conditions and natural causes. When training Bonsai Trees we need to manipulate the trees ourselves to achieve this effect and we do so with Bonsai Wire.
In the following article we will teach you some of the common techniques when it comes to wiring and share some hints and tips to ensure your success when styling your own material.
Types Of Wire
Lets start by discussing the 2 different types of wire used in Bonsai "Copper" & "Aluminium".
Copper Wire is un-coated and is its natural copper colour. Copper wire was traditionally used for Woodier trees such as Junipers and Pines because once the copper is bent it usually doesn't bend back thus giving you a stronger more sturdy hold on your bends. Copper is alot harder to bend then Aluminium though which can lead to damage if you are not careful.
Aluminium Wire is Coated in usually Black or Brown colour and is softer then the copper. Traditionally Aluminium Bonsai Wire was used on trees with softer wood such as deciduous trees to help avoid damage to the bark and branches. It is also easier to bend into shape thus making it easier to work with minimising the risk of damage. The other advantage to Aluminium Wire is it is cheaper which allows you to be able to cut off existing wire on your faster growing trees once the wire begins to bite in and replace it with fresh wire to avoid scarring. If you were to use copper wire like this it would become costly.
These days Aluminium is the most popular choice and is far easier to find and purchase in many different sizes. It also comes in very thick gauges so it works well on The junipers and Pines as well so Copper is somewhat outdated but still widely used among professional artists especially in Japan.
4-8mm is generally used on trunks and thick branches
2-4mm is generally used for small to medium branches
1-2mm is generally used for detail wiring of much smaller fine branches.
This is just a rough sizing guide but here is a tip to help you choose wire for your trees
The wire should be around 1/3 the diameter of the trunk or branch. You can also pull around a 20mm length out of your roll and try to push the branch down with it, if the branch bends down the wire is strong enough for that branch, but if the wire bends and the branch stays in place you need a stronger gauge.
When measuring out an amount of wire to use on a trunk or branches the general rule of thumb is usually 1 1/2 times the length of the section you want to wire. The half will make up for the compression of the wire. If you were to just cut the exact same length of wire as the branches or trunk you were wiring you would only get half way before you run out. This is due to the fact you a coiling the wire and compressing it thus meaning you are using more length of wire then the trunk or branches you are wiring.
Tip: if you want to help protect your tree you can wrap your wire in Raffia. This is not necessary but a useful tip if you are afraid to damage your tree.
Now its time to begin wrapping the wire around the Trunk and or Branches. Follow these general guide lines for your best chance at success.
When wiring a trunk you will want to anchor your wire down in the bottom of the soil to help keep it in place, To do so push the first bit of length down into the soil at an angle. It will help to cut a little bit extra on top of your 1 1/2 length. this extra length will depend on how deep your pot is. add the depth of the pot to the length of the wire.
Now that your wire is anchored begin wrapping the wire around the base of the trunk, As you move up you want to keep even lengths between your coils and make sure the gaps are not to spread out and not too compact. You dont want it so compact that you cant bend it and you dont want it so spread out that it wont hold the bend. you want your coils to be at around a 45 degree angle and always work from the bottom of the tree upwards, never work from the top down. As you work your way up always hold the wire at the last coil you wrapped to help keep a sturdy grip on the tree and to avoud accidental breakage. If you need to go a little tighter or a little more spread out to avoid a branch in some sections this is ok.
When wiring branches we generally wire 2 branches together with 1 piece of wire if we can, this means the 2 branches will need to be similar in size and close to each other. What i mean by this is if you have 2 branches adjacent from each other or maybe one above the other you can cut the wire to the needed length for both branches plus the gap between them and wrap the wire around the trunk then run one half of the wire up one branch and the other half of the wire up the other branch. This helps the wire stay stronger and more anchored which will result in a sturdier bend. you want to try and make sure that as your wiring onto a branch you try and get the wire tight into the junction at the beginning of the branch.
When bending your wire you want to try and make sure the outside of your bend has wire supporting it. you dont the outside of your elbow or bend to not have any support other wise the branch could snap.
Tools For Wiring
Like many other aspects of Bonsai Work there are speciality tools that go along with the job.
When wiring there are 2 main tools, Wire Cutters and Jin Pliers.
Wire Cutters are used to cut Bonsai Wire Easier then side cutters will and also help protect the tree from damage in the process. We have a dedicated article on Wire cutters if you would like to learn more.
Jin Pliers are not made for wiring but they are useful when trying to bend the last bit of thicker wire or for twisting guy wires and tree anchoring wires.
You can see a selection of each tool at the following links
Wire Cutters: https://bonsai-en.shop/collections/wire-cutters
Jin Pliers : https://bonsai-en.shop/collections/jin-pliers
I hope this guide has helped you get started in wiring Bonsai Trees.
Until next time keep learning and have fun!
If you want to further your education check out our Master Class Series Online Bonsai Course! https://www.bonsai-en.com.au/master-class-series