The Two Types Of Wire
Copper wire is easy to apply but as you bend it, it “work hardens”. That just means that as you work the wire or bend the wire it gets stiffer. This action increases the holding capacity of the wire. Once applied it is difficult to reposition. This action also makes the holding power of copper wire greater vs. aluminum wire of the same diameter.
Conifers tend to have more severe bends and take longer to hold their positions after the wire is applied. They also grow slower than deciduous trees so we tend to use copper wire as it looks more natural with weather aging and its holding power. The copper wire could potentially be left on a conifer for a couple of years or more. Conifers tend to have a rougher bark and copper wire is usually rougher on its surface than aluminum, so its a good pairing as the copper wire won’t damage the bark as easily.
Copper wire for bonsai use in the USA comes in sizes from #4 gauge to #22 gauge. Most commonly #6 – #20.
You can purchase copper bonsai wire here. Copper Wire
Aluminum wire is easy to apply but is weaker than copper, so you have to use a larger wire than if you were using copper. It is also softer and stretches more than copper wire does. The aluminum wire does not work harden as much as copper wire either so it is easier to rework once applied.
The smoother surface of aluminum wire is well adapted for smoother barked trees such as deciduous varieties. Deciduous trees tend to have more delicate bends. They tend to thicken faster than conifer trees so the aluminum wire is a great option as it is cheaper than copper. The aluminum wire might only be on a tree a few weeks before it is needed to be changed.
Instead of gauges like copper wire, aluminum wire thickness is measured in millimeters. 1mm to 6mm in 0.5mm increments are the common bonsai aluminum wire sizes.
You can purchase aluminum bonsai wire here. Aluminum Wire
Before you Start
Before you start to wire a bonsai, there are a couple of things you should do first.
- The first thing to do is if you have never wired a bonsai before is to practice. Go outside and find a dead branch or go to the craft store and find a decorative branch and practice. Get used to how the wire feels as you apply it. Focus on your angles. Figure out your hand placement.
The second thing you want to do is prepare your tree for wiring. How do you prepare a tree for wiring? You start by removing and cleaning the tree of unneeded branches and growth.
- When I first start I like to remove all of the unnecessary branches that I know I will not be using growth on the trunk. The dead or weak interior growth. On the branches I intend to keep, I start at the bottom of the tree and move my way up. On the main branches, I remove them in the following order.
- Branches growing down
- Branches growing up
- Weak and poorly ramified branches
- Branches in the crotches of other branches
On the secondary branches, I do the same but I also remove the first 1/8 – 1/4” of finer ramification on the branch. Doing this allows access to the shoulder for wiring.
While doing this I try to create an alternate branch structure to allow for easier wiring.
- When cleaning the tree for the wiring process, if you are not sure how short a branch should be, leave it long. You can come back and shorten it after it is wired and you see how it is going to fit into the final design.
- Remember to prune branches to the desired length for the design. If this does not create a lot of taper, don’t worry. You will be able to come back in at a later time and cut back to an inner branch to create that taper. This will enable faster development as there is more foliage on the branch.
- Deciduous branches tend to have more character so some of the rules about cleaning up the branches can be relaxed a bit.
- One exception to consider. When cutting branches back, you can cut back to an upper or lower branch to help create taper and flow.
Two Types of Wiring
The structural wing is when we talk about wiring the trunk and the primary branches. Sometimes even the larger secondary branches are considered as structural branches as well. These make up the structure of the bonsai or the bones.
Structural wiring is when you will use the thickest of wires. For the best leverage of the wire, you should stand facing the side of the branch. This allows you to move your hand in a square or diamond motion while applying the wire close to the branch. Remember, for best control of the wire is to hold the wire near the middle or end to gain the best leverage to be able to bend the thick wire.
Structural wire gains its function by anchoring in the pot or to other branches.
When wiring the primary branches remember to enter the shoulder of the branch on the opposite side of the bend. For example, if you are bending the branch up, enter on the bottom. If you are bending the branch down, enter the shoulder on the top. This also applies to movement in the branch. If you are bending left the wire should be on the right and if you are bending right, the wire should be on the left.
When we say the detail wiring we are talking about defining the secondary and tertiary branches. The secondary branches are the ones that come off of the primary branches while the tertiary branches extend off of the secondary branches.
With detail wiring, we will be using thinner wire than we used on the secondary branches as the branches are thinner. When we detail wire we want to sit in front of the branch with the trunk being away from us. Our hand motion will be circular as the wire is thinner and easier to bend. You want to start wiring the furthest branches away from you closest to the trunk and work your way toward your body. This is also the best place to start your entry into every branch. Place your wire on the side of the branch furthest away from you.
Detail wire gets its strength from other branches but also the structural wire.
When wiring, you want to start with the thickest wire first. If you are bending the trunk, you start there because that will require the thickest wire. Then you will move up the tree from the lowest branch to the top of the tree where the thinnest branches are. If you can, you want to anchor two branches together. Always use your off hand to support the wire and the branch. Use your thumb to press the wire against the branch with your off hand as you apply the wire.
- You will want to cut your piece of wire longer than you will need.
- Enter the branch at the shoulder opposite of how you are going to bend it.
- If bending the branch down, enter at the top of the shoulder.
- If bending the branch up, enter at the bottom of the shoulder.
- Apply wire at a 55-60 degree angle.
- Finish applying the wire in the same direction as you started it.
- If you started in a clockwise direction finish in a clockwise direction.
- We usually anchor our wire to another branch so one thing to keep in mind is that if one end is rotating clockwise, we rotate the other end counterclockwise. This creates tension to better control the branches.
- When bending your branches, make the bends so that the secondary or tertiary branches are on the outside of the bends.
- When positioning your secondary branches you want to keep these simple steps in mind.
- Create a fan-shaped pad with the secondary and tertiary branches.
- 1st move is close to the main to create an acute angle.
- 2nd move is out to the sun.
- 3rd move is to unify the pad and create a flat bottom.
- Most of your branches you will want to bend the tips up facing the sun. This is how trees grow in nature.
- Elongating species such as Spruce, Larch, and others, you will lay the tips of the branches out flat.
- When creating your branch layout and pads keep these things in mind about masculine and feminine design.
- Width of the pad.
- Unify or divide pads.
- Height/thickness of the pad.
- Make sure it matches the overall design of the tree.