Finished the bark seat

Well, a day or two turned into a week later. But I finished the bark seat I started a week or so ago. I have always woven these in two sessions, letting the first weaving dry & shrink before finishing the seat by adding more strips. I have no idea how other people do them, this method is what I learned & it works for me.

hickory bark seat

First thing is to let the first round of weaving dry. As the strips dry, they shrink in width. So then you pack them tight again, filling in the spaces that opened up between them. Below is the seat in the middle of this process – I was moving the side-to-side strips toward the back of the seat. You can see the rear-most 6 rows have less space between them than those toward the front. Notice how much space is opened – enough for another full strip. So I finished knocking these toward the rear, then the warp (front to back strips) moved over to our left.

packing the strips tighter toward each other

I’ve always called this “packing” the weave. It might be a basket-making term, I’m not sure. The seat is dry at this point and those strips are tough. So you can’t just slide them, I knock them with a short block of white pine. Top & bottom. It’s tough going.

packing the weave

The result is below – so there’s a good bit of space to fill. One full strip & two partial strips on the side. One full in front.

spaces to fill

Re-wet it. I don’t wet the whole seat again, just the areas where I’m going to work. Top & bottom.

re-wetting just the spaces to fill

And then weave in the new strips, tucking them into the weave below as well.

weaving in the filler strips

Then snip off the last ends under the seat.

the end

Then I wove the next one.

next one

This bark had been split in half when we took it off the tree, but it was still too thick. So I thinned it with a spokeshave after soaking it. A little frustrating – but every time I try to use a drawknife when the bark is in strips, I slice through it. So spokeshave it is. I didn’t shoot any photos of that process – but here’s one from a few years ago. It’s a slow process, the bark gums up the spokeshave a lot. Sharpening helps.

thinning bark w a spokeshave

The bark has a very different look from the first seat here. This is the top half of the split bark – the other is the inner-inner bark, if that makes sense. This is the part directly below the outer bark. Very stripey. Here’s the seat when I finished weaving it, as it dries it won’t be so bright. We’ll see it again when I finish that seat – next week I hope.

next seat

9 thoughts on “Finished the bark seat

  1. Peter – It makes sense that you can slide the front-o-back strips since they are all the same length. But the side-to-side strips are not all the same length. It would seem that you might see small gaps at the ends of the strips as you push those strips back. What is your experience?
    When I use bark I try to force the strips together as tight as I can while weaving the seat the first time, and then that’s it. Yes, there are some rungs showing after the strips shrink, but not too bad.

    • Hi Larry – The amount that the weft strips are moving back is only one-strip-width really. So that difference in length is negligible. As for weaving in one or two sessions – you & I both get to the same place pretty much I guess. I remember Sawyer’s notes to JA talk about soaking the bark for the shortest time possible – just enough to make it pliable & no more. Maybe he used cold water too – I soak it for maybe 45 minutes in warm-to-hot water. That might get me more shrinkage than desired.

      • Peter, you are fortunate (I was going to say lucky, but you made your own luck) to have 30′ long strips to work with, and only one knot in the seat. I have always bought bark and usually end up with 3 or 4 knots. Always underneath, of course. I always saved the longest bark for the home stretch and I tried to keep all knots toward the back to make the final couple of side-to-side strips as easy as possible. When Nathaniel was doing the seat for the book he didn’t worry where the knots fell. When the seat was done he just went back and covered the knots with short fillers.

        • Nah, Larry – you were right the first time. The luck is having great friends, one in particular who has invited me to come peeling bark the past few seasons. I never saw such hickory trees before. I’m spoiled for certain.

  2. I was wondering kind of the same thing as Larry, that because the structure of the seat is wider at the front, as you push the side-to-side strips further back you’d lose the nice tension you got when the strips dried in place. Not so?

    • Hi Kalia – You don’t lose the tension – once the bark dries it’s tough as nails. So it might not be tight- but it’s not baggy by any means. And as you’ll see in my reply to Larry, the amount it moves back is not large at all – so that difference in length is pretty slight.

  3. I still have to pack my chair seat from last year. In terror that I’ll mess up the pattern.

  4. Hello,

    In the 5th picture I see, in the background, your bench with the crochet that has the hand screw “vise”. Sorry for the off topic question but I’m working on workbench improvements to my bench and I’ve long wondered about your installation:

    Do you find the hand screw useful? If you were building the bench over again would you still include it?


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