I made my first foray away from home in 16 months recently. Went out to the Catskills where Brendan Gaffney https://www.instagram.com/burnheartmade/?hl=en had a couple of hickory trees for us to harvest for the wood and the bark. I first peeled a hickory tree when John Alexander’s Make a Chair from a Tree arrived in 1978. But I lived (then & now) in a hickory-starved area. I had never seen the likes of these trees Brendan selected for us. The one above we got 24 strips in the neighborhood of 30′ long. Unheard of in my suburban settings.
We peeled away the outer bark along the top surface of this log, then scored a strip to peel up. Above I’m scoring it with a slojd knife. Trying to cut pretty straight along that full length.
I didn’t shoot a lot of photos – it was very green in those woods. No fear of sunburn under there. I like to take a strip as soon as I can get at it, that way I can gauge the thickness of the adjacent strips. We aimed to make the strips thick enough to split apart later. Then it’s the inner-bark of the inner-bark that I like best. But I often use both halves of the strip, sometimes the outer one for lashing basket rims while the inner one is chair seats.
Below Brendan is scoring and peeling another strip. It’s hard to move a log like this – it’s about 12″ in diameter at the butt and well over 30′ long (we were cutting the strips off the top end, the log went on a while.) When he felled the tree, it landed wedged between 2 saplings at this height. A little low, but WAY better than on the ground.
Brendan being who he is has to tinker. Instead of using a knife to score the strips, he brought a fabric-cutting wheel. A very thin blade, it cut very well. Took some practice to learn to steer it. We referred to it as either the pizza cutter or the wheelie-thing. As in “Do you have the wheelie-thing?” You can see he’s using his fingers of his right hand to gauge the width of the strip as he moves the cutter along. Nicely done.
In two days-plus we worked up two logs, the 2nd one slightly shorter. Maybe 25′. Coiled all the strips as we went, then when the logs were all peeled, split up the best parts of the wood.
So now at home, the first thing was to find a place to stash that bark. Up in the air is what I wanted, to continue to dry it out. I rigged up some hanging racks – one on each side of the shop.
Then comes the wood. Without its bark it can be ruined very easily. Need to keep it out of the sun & wind or it will crack wide open. All those lines we scored with the knives and cutters are like perforations now. So I covered it with a tarp. And began working it up as soon as the coils of bark were put away.
Some go to various steps to keep the wood green. In this case, I subscribe to the idea of just working it up as fast as I can. So I’ll concentrate the next several days to making parts – chair legs/rungs/ etc – some just need shaving, others shaving & bending. And on & on. I have some lesser quality stuff to make two new froe clubs from. And some wedges. years ago I wrote an article called “Hickory Can’t Wait.” I love working this wood and don’t have it as a regular thing. It might be me that can’t wait.
We heard the other day that Jennie Alexander’s new edition of Make a Chair from a Tree should be available within a week or so from Lost Art Press. In the book you’ll find instructions on harvesting bark and weaving the seat. It’s also covered in Drew Langsner’s book The Chairmaker’s Workshop. Drew’s updated Country Woodcraft: Then & Now includes an appendix about using the bark of tulip poplar the same way. Worth seeing.
Another reason I didn’t shoot a lot of photos of the bark processing – the birds there were very distracting. Like these blue-headed vireos (Vireo solitarius) feeding two chicks in a nest 12′ above where we peeled our 2nd hickory tree.