Hickory Bark

Post-Greenwood Fest – finally getting going. I have a few spoons, some copies of the Joint Stool book and a few DVDs left for sale. Here’s the link – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/june-2017-spoons-book-videos-for-sale/

There’s Paypal buttons for the books & DVDs, if you want a spoon, leave me a comment.


Meanwhile – Hickory Bark. No waiting when there’s a hickory sapling cut in the spring. You gotta get right to them. So two of these were first priority once I unpacked.

This work takes me way back. Way, way, way, way back as Van Morrison would say. I grabbed the leftover hickory saplings after Tim Manney’s demo at Greenwood Fest (one got stripped before I got to saving it – Tim? Pete?) to harvest the bark. I’ve only have a few chances to strip hickory bark in the past many years. Not making chairs or baskets with any regularity meant I didn’t need to pursue it. But, these were right there, and I have some ladderbacks underway, as well as some baskets that need rims & handles.

First off, I shave the outer bark off with the drawknife. This is thick, hard crusty bark.

Here is a detail, showing as I shave off the outer bark, the inner bark we’re after is exposed. In this photo, the first strip is removed. That way, I can see the thickness of the inner bark (or “bast”) – this becomes important.

so next is the task of thinning the inner bark to the appropriate thickness. This is a finesse move. Below the drawknife here (bottom left of the photo) the bark is just about the right thickness – above the knife you can see the yellow/orange striations – I use those as a visual guideline – shave them away & you’re there. Just about.

Then I score through the inner bark down to the wood with the tip of my knife. I make the strip about 3/4″ – 1″ wide.

It can wiggle with the grain of the tree…try to keep it pretty straight. But they are wider than I’ll use them, so I can trim them some when I get to weaving with them.

Then peel the strip up. Never ceases to amaze me.


I keep close watch for stray fibers that might stick to the tree. Usually means the scoring wasn’t deep enough. You can slip your knife under there & re-establish the peeling. 

Some strips are too thick when you take ’em off the tree. You can sometimes split them apart. I scored across the bark to form a tab, then pulled them apart. This is slow, careful work – you have to watch to see if it’s going evenly. Any thick side, pull towards it. Just like riving. I hold the strip between my knees, then use my thumbs & forefingers to peel them. My other fingers help keep things peeling evenly.

If a strip is too thick, but not thick enough to split, I put it on the shaving horse, and shave it with a spokeshave. I put a support stick under it. You can shave this later, once you’re using the material – but I find it best to do it right off the bat.

Coil ’em & store to dry in an airy place.

The first log was clear enough for some long riving & bending wood. I made some basket rims, then shaved two of these bows for firewood carriers. This one is shaved to shape, steamed & bent onto this form. I took no pictures of any of that. I shoot my own photos, and steam-bending requires complete attention. This firewood carrier is detailed in Drew Langsner’s Green Woodworking – as is peeling hickory bark.

The base will be an open framework,  this board is just the drying form for the bend.

14 thoughts on “Hickory Bark

  1. very interesting. I am assuming that this is something practiced by settlers in the 17th century? If that is so, it is amazing how quickly people figured out uses for new trees that they were completely unfamiliar with. Unless i am wrong, hickory is native to North America, and therefore was completely unknown to the early settlers before arriving in their “new world”. Do you have any idea what this bark was substituting for in the “old world”? Perhaps hazel, but i do not think it works anything like the same. Any thoughts or knowledge you have on the matter would be appreciated.


  2. Can’t wait to see what you make with this. Is it used more for woven seats, or baskets or something else?

    I also have a question on how to rive hickory. I have a short log given to me by a friend. It was taken down in February. I tried to split it a month ago and couldn’t penetrate it at all with a froe. I’m assuming wedges? It’s about 14″ in diameter. I’d love to at least make some handles out of it.

  3. As far as the historical uses of inner bark – I know nothing about it from my 17th-century studies. There’s certainly no original woven seats on chairs – nor any way to tell the age of an “old” seat. Nathan is correct, elm bark was processed in a similar way in England, not sure how long ago. Lime/basswood too. Hickory is the only one I have any experience with.

    The last question – chair seats, basket rim-lashing is what I usually use hickory bark for. Mark Twain’s Autobiography mentions using it for swings – and it appears in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn too – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/huck-finn-is-just-ignorant-thats-all/

    And yes, use wedges and a maul to get it into small enough sections to then rive with the froe. February was a long time ago for hickory. eat your Wheaties.

    • Peter,
      I’d overlooked the mention of lime here but last weekend I was trimming branches out of American lime (basswood) trees and found the bark wouldn’t snap even when the branch inside was, which put me in mind of this post. Being spring here, the bark was barely attached to the underlying wood, wish i’d collected the longer branches now.

  4. A nice little instructional, great to see you back in the mode of giving tips. There must be plenty of other barks we can use in similar ways if we don’t have hickory. I can think of a few natives and several exotics down here that might work that way, however our climate is a bit rough on hickory and it’s better known cousin. One at least is a tree that Maori used to make waterproof, cooking baskets. For binding there’s a more convenient plant.

  5. Hi, a lot of orchid growers are looking for thick pieces of hickory bark. Is there any way you could sell some pieces?

  6. Great post, thank you. Does anyone know what might be a minimum age/size a hickory could be harvested for bark, and if it could be coppiced? I’m wondering if I could plant hickory in my backyard for this.

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