Hickory bark

more than 30′ to the branches

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.

first strip

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.

more of the same

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.

the wheelie thing

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.

part of the bark harvest

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.

about 15 coils

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.

straight clear hickory

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.

blue-headed vireo w chicks

19 thoughts on “Hickory bark

  1. A very interesting and timely post. What type of hickory tree were you harvesting? I have a timber that has shagbark hickory and am curious if it can be used in this manner. The timber is fairly diversified with green ash (appears borer free so far), various types of oaks (seeing impact of oak wilt), walnut, and few others. Can walnut bark be used in this manner? I am retiring soon and chair making along with basket weaving are two areas of interest, especially with my handy resources.

  2. I’ve seen a guy on YouTube cut hickory bark with two Stanley utility blades fastened either side of a 1” stick. It made a perfect strip with one motion.

  3. I have only used hickory bark, like I mentioned in the post Drew found that tulip poplar works too. I would guess if walnut worked, we’d have heard about it by now. As far as hickory species – I have peeled shagbark, it’s a bear to get through the outer bark. But it works. I believe that Brendan said he thought these two were pignut.

  4. Very impressive. I still have my two coilsd from your usual supplier. And the JA stool with hickory seat she made for her gf years ago, also marked by Nathaniel Krause. .

  5. It was a pleasure having you out Peter, and I look forward to seeing what you do with the bark and wood. It was great having your eyes in the trees, too – we’ve got a lot to learn about the birds of the Catskills, and Josselyn and I will be looking at the trees with a sharpened focus now. To use some of my acquired Kentucky vernacular – “Come on back now, y’hear!”

  6. +1 on Jason’s question about hickory bark supplier! I’m not able to harvest bark where I live and would love to get my hands on some. Newberry and Son’s is not answering e-mails and the bark on The Basket Maker’s Catalog seems to be not as nice as what you’ve harvested. Thanks in advance! (BTW, just bought Joiner’s Work and love it).

    • If you call Newberry they sometimes answer. I purchased enough for 2 chairs recently from them. Mark Newberry sent this along with the bill.

  7. Peter
    This is a question about birds, not woodworking.
    I have an Eastern bluebird box, occupied each year for several years. Usually 2, 3, maybe 4 eggs and chicks. Today there 8 eggs! Also, several juvenile b. birds flying around, I believe they may be the first batch of this years chicks. They go in, come out quickly.
    I did see some adults until 2-3 days ago, did two females lay eggs?
    Any insight?
    I will try and spend more time looking at box, trying to solve this puzzlement.

    Glad to see you on the road again, if even for a short while.
    Pete Magoon

  8. Hi Peter,

    Great stuff as usual! Thank you for all you do.

    Just a heads up. When I view your blog on my iPad, your name and the first two lines at the top are black colored and appear buried in the carved header. I had to look twice to see it was your blog site. Maybe others are seeing something different, but it’s not as it once was…


  9. If you do this again the “wheelie thing” is a quilter’s rotary cutter. It normally runs against a 1/8″ thick ruler, of which there are many types. If you snapped a line and used it to line up a 2′ long ruler as a cutter guide, you could then make strips whatever width you choose by aligning the ruler properly on the next cut.

    Woodworkers would probably be surprised at the accuracy of quilting rulers (squareness as well as dimension). Errors add up quickly, 1/16″ off on a 4×4 checkerboard is off by an entire seam allowance. I think good quilters work to about 1/32″ accuracy, but most of them don’t realise it.

    If you buy one they come in 3 diameters, I would recommend the biggest.

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