Carving Advice: Do I just need a dremel?

So I began carving on one of my collected Pyracanthas because I wanted to direct the growing to the parts of the tree that I planned on keeping. So, what I’m trying to accomplish is directing growth, removal of the main branches that I had no plans for, healing over any cuts I would make that weren’t going to be deadwood.

This is roughly what I started with. I had plans to remove a ton of branches and most of the dead stuff that was there.

I went to work with my root cutter, trunk splitter, hammer, flathead screwdriver, and hatchet.

My worry is that I can’t seem to get rid of the circles where the branches came out from the main trunk. I thought if I got deep enough they’d go away, but I’m having trouble getting in there without any power tools.

Any suggestions or advice from those that’ve done this before?

Why would you need to get rid of the circles? Those circles in the wood where the branches connected will go as deep into the wood to however thick that trunk was when those branches started growing. So if they are thick lower branches that have been on the tree for a long time, then those “circles” will go right into the middle of the heart wood probably. I’m not totally sure what you’re asking. I wouldn’t take any more tools to that tree, it looks pretty well mutilated to me. Did you mean to take out that much wood? To me the “circles” in the deadwood where branches were add a lot of interest to dead wood. No sense in cutting the tree in half to try to dig them out…

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I did intent to take out that much wood to be honest.

The reason I asked was that I haven’t seen any examples of deadwood where there is a clean cut where a branch previously was. Most seem to carve it out into a type of cavity.

I’m curious what you would’ve done with it. Hard to explain how many of the branches were dead, but what exactly makes you think I mutilated the tree and makes you feel sorry for it.

Easy Answer: A die grinder with a 1/4 chuck is probably the most appropriate tool for what you are trying to do. 1/4 Router bits can be chucked up. I recommend extreme caution when using this tool. Do your research on how to safely use this tool. Watch several videos and practice on a scrap piece of wood; maybe a large branch cut from a tree so that the wood is wet like the wood in the tree you are carving.

Not so easy Answer: I’m not sure this tree is quite ready for what you are trying to do. It looks like it is in the ground and that may mean that you are unsure of planting angle, optimal nabari depth, design. These thing help to inform where we remove wood to create hollows and interesting deadwood. The last thing you want to do is remove too much and create some inverse taper or worse cut into the wood so much that water flow to the healthy foliage is compromised.
My recommendation would be to stop here and wait until you have this out of the ground and are getting ready to style the tree to make final decisions on carving.

That comment may be a little harsh. I think we have all made “mistakes” on trees. Not saying you made a mistake, but it sounds like Mike feels you did. This is for you to evaluate.
But to address Mike’s comment; when we do make mistakes we find ourselves in a place we would not have thought ourselves into. This creates constraints and to work through it we must reorient ourselves. If we are creative and lucky we can find ways to work with what we have done to create something even better than we originally imagined.
My best work in every aspect of my life has been born of seein something hidden in a mistake; either my own mistakes or the mistakes of others.


Sorry, my knee jerk reaction was a bit harsh. I didn’t even mean it as an insult though. It just seems like you approached the material with little to no plan on how to achieve what you wanted to achieve. And trees can suffer in that situation. I’ve been in your position before, where I was very gung-ho and ended up going further than I should have. We’ve all made those mistakes. They are excellent learning opportunities. I don’t really know if you’ve made a mistake here, because it was hard to tell what exactly you were trying to do. I’m sorry if I insulted you or discouraged you.


I use a “Lancelot” for roughing out (chainsaw wheel for a standard grinder). Die grinder for medium light to heavy work. I only use a Dremel for detail work. You will find wood carvers scraping chisels best for fine detail work. Torch is also needed

Do not use router bits on a die grinder for this. Use a Terrier Bonsai Wood Carving Tool or similar. They have replaceable very sharp cutting tips and are much safer.

Try these tools out on a practice piece before working on a finish project. They will kick a bit and you will find making an adjustable/movable hand rest bar very useful.

Check out some of Graham Potter’s vids from Kaizen bonsai.

Good luck and be safe.

Carving specialists like Kevin Willson, Graham Potter, Will Baddeley, use both Makita die grinders and Dremel with the appropriate bits for the job.

Thank you all for the clarification and insightful posts. Thanks @Mike_Hennigan for the private message apology and for being harsh in the first place, while not ideal, it does make you take a step back and double check yourself when you hear it like that.

So to clarify, if I were to do this again with what I’ve learned I would: Prune back the waterspout branches to a shorter stump and keep new growth off of them to direct growth elsewhere, wait until I got the tree out of the ground and into a container and then wait until Winter-ish before starting to carve at all, and even then do so a bit more slowly to see how the tree reacts before going deeper or cutting out more heartwood.

Sound better?

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There’s tons of info here to help you carve. My input is those ‘circles’ are exactly what deadwood is. They’re what you stripped the bark to get at. Those ‘circles’ are where the movement of the grain is most pronounced and of peak interest. Trying to dig those areas out is defeating the purpose of the work you’re doing. Embrace those ‘circles’ embellish them even!