Being retired, I can no longer afford the beautiful wood slices used frequently to display Bonsai. I knew that I had some old 12mm plywood, so figured I would have a go and see if I could come up with anything that looked half decent from a distance, and acceptable close-up; well, to be fair, as long as it does not shout at you ‘I’m Awful,’ I concluded I should be able to do something.
In this first image you can see it really is just an old off-cut. For this article I am just making a small one suitable for accent plantings to be displayed on. There is no reason why you cannot do one as big as you like, so long as the Plywood has a sensible surface to work with. I’ve already made larger ones suitable for trees and they looked fine when I exhibited a few weeks back.
Here I have hand drawn a shape that I feel works. I have set the Jig-saw at a 35-40 degree angle to simulate the fact the slice has been taken from a tree, where the edge would have been on a flare.
I’m using a clean cut blade and cutting the bottom of the slice; this virtually ensures no splintering. Having so said, the clean cut blade hardly causes any. Pendulum mode is reduced to allow tighter rounded shapes if you wish to do so. Here I am just simply cutting out a shape that will look fine when displayed.
Once cut and initially sanded, I am sealing with Liberon Finishing Oil. I have found it helpful to seal the wood prior to the next steps. Oh fine, I realise it will be sanded down again, but at least with the coarse finish of Ply it helps stop rubbish getting into the grooved areas. You cannot sand overly hard, or simply put you’ll be down below the veneer in no time.
I start with a 120 grit and slowly work up to an eventual 2500 grit which I find more than capable of preparing between coats. I particularly like Hermes paper as it seems to last for ever. Well worn 2500 grit becomes closer to 5000 grit and it useful between finishing coats.
I use a knife to scrape this onto the edges (roughly) and see if I can get a slight angle, although not really of importance. I use MIG weathering powders to colour the filler. It will take stain if you want to try that method after it has set.
I have pre-sealed the surface with a couple of quick coats of Liberon finishing oil. This helps in case some resin goes on the wood; it is easier to remove. You can stain plywood with whatever you prefer but for this one I have left it raw.
Once set, I use a Dremel with a variety of attachments to just carve away and make it appear like bark. It doesn’t matter if some is flat around the edges as this is precisely how it would appear if sawn from a larger piece. So far the time spent is absolutely minimal. To get to this stage is simply a matter of minutes.
The different colours are by mixing in some weathering powder (dye) with filler; this then gives differing depths of colour when painting. You can also mix in partially so it can look just like bark even before painting.
Next I use a selection of Humbrol enamels (mostly matt) with some dry-brushing techniques on different colours. Just look at bark and see how many colours you see. There are no rules, just do what looks right.
As it dries, if you just wipe across the peaks you get a nice natural finish. When dry, a final 2500 sand across the surface and coat with as many layers of Liberon finishing oil you like. In this weather it dries very quickly and I generally apply five to eight coats. The last one is applied after flatting back with well worn in 2500 grit. I use a spray bottle to mist the surface and a block gently back and forwards; at this stage it is only really dust that is being flattened.
Finding somewhere that is dust free for the final layer is the challenging part. After 24 hours of the final coat being applied I then use my old vehicle detailing machine with a 3M foam pad and a 3M polishing liquid which would be on a par with approximately 20,000 grit. That is not precise but trial and error have shown this one works well. It takes only about 15-30 seconds on a medium speed for the polish to disappear and the shine to show through.