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.

scoring

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.

https://blog.lostartpress.com/2021/06/18/update-make-a-chair-from-a-tree-bandanas/

http://drewlangsner.com/Purchase_Books.html

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

Chairs on the brain

One of JA’s last chairs

 I spent a lot of time wtih Brendan Gaffney while I was at Lost Art Press last week, and chairs were our main subject. He’s gone bananas over Alexander’s (& Chester’s) chairs. https://www.instagram.com/burnheartmade/  

Earlier I posted a bit about a visit I made with Brendan to see a few of Chester Cornett’s chairs at the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead KY. He gave me a copy of an exhibition catalog produced there called “Chester Cornett: Beyond the Narrow Sky.” I see now it’s available online so for those of you who can tolerate reading stuff on-screen here’s the link:
https://scholarworks.moreheadstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1012&context=kfac_exhibition_catalogs

After the carved box class at Lost Art Press, I came home & finished up a couple of boxes, then launched into preparation for the JA ladderback chair class starting tomorrow with Plymouth CRAFT. I’m looking forward to shaving up some nice fresh red oak, should be fun. Smelly, but fun. 

While on the subject of JA’s chairs, after all these years I’ve been published in Taunton’s Fine Woodworking magazine.  https://www.finewoodworking.com/ 

Issue #277, Oct 2019 features an article I worked on about making a rectangular stool with a hickory bark seat. The focus is on the wet/dry joint so critical to this construction. It was Taunton Press that first published JA’s book back in 1978 that led to me being a woodworker in the first place. I’ve worked with FWW a few times, appearing at some of their events and it’s a thrill to now be presented in their magazine. Thanks to all on staff there that made it happen. It was an extra surprise to get a nice book review for Joiner’s Work from them as well, in the same issue. Thanks, Barry. 

If you need the book after reading the review, it’s here:  https://lostartpress.com/products/joiners-work

 

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.

Huck Finn is just ignorant, that’s all

ladderback chair
kid’s ladderback chair

Back when I started green woodworking, chairs were my thing. I learned them first from John (Jennie) Alexander’s book Make a Chair from a Tree, then slightly later from Alexander first-hand. In that book is the incredibly amazing technique of stripping hickory saplings for the inner bark, to be used as a seat-weaving material. To me, the best seating material going – looks and feels better the more you use it. (the notion for this photo came from one Tim Manney did a few weeks ago – thanks, Tim)

 

bark seat

Like pounding ash splints for basket-making, peeling hickory for the inner bark is a concept that amazes me every time I do it. I rarely get to harvest any hickory bark these days, but keep a stash of strips for basket work. I was lashing the rims onto some baskets the other day, and although I have some very fine smooth ash splints that are ideal for this work, I also have some leftover hickory bark. Unbeatable.

lashing

Working with it reminded me of two references to it in Mark Twain’s work – the first one I remembered is from the Autobiography, (the modern vol 1; for that matter the old volume 1 too) When describing his uncle’s farm in Missouri, he mentioned:

“Down the forest slopes to the left were the swings. They were made of bark stripped from hickory saplings. When they became dry they were dangerous. They usually broke when a child was forty feet in the air, and this was why so many bones had to be mended every year.”

In the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer is advising Huck Finn to get a sheet with which Jim will make a rope ladder in planning his escape. Huck has other ideas:

“Why, Tom Sawyer, how you talk,” I says; “Jim ain’t got no use for a rope ladder.”

“He has got use for it.  How you talk, you better say; you don’t know nothing about it.  He’s got to have a rope ladder; they all do.”

“What in the nation can he do with it?”

Do with it?  He can hide it in his bed, can’t he?”  That’s what they all do; and he’s got to, too.  Huck, you don’t ever seem to want to do anything that’s regular; you want to be starting something fresh all the time. S’pose he don’t do nothing with it? ain’t it there in his bed, for a clew, after he’s gone? and don’t you reckon they’ll want clews?  Of course they will.  And you wouldn’t leave them any?  That would be a pretty howdy-do, wouldn’tit!  I never heard of such a thing.”

“Well,” I says, “if it’s in the regulations, and he’s got to have it, all right, let him have it; because I don’t wish to go back on no regulations; but there’s one thing, Tom Sawyer—if we go to tearing up our sheets to make Jim a rope ladder, we’re going to get into trouble with Aunt Sally, just as sure as you’re born.  Now, the way I look at it, a hickry-bark ladder don’t cost nothing, and don’t waste nothing, and is just as good to load up a pie with, and hide in a straw tick, as any rag ladder you can start; and as for Jim, he ain’t had no experience, and so he don’t care what kind of a—”

“Oh, shucks, Huck Finn, if I was as ignorant as you I’d keep still—that’s what I’d do.  Who ever heard of a state prisoner escaping by a hickry-bark ladder?  Why, it’s perfectly ridiculous.”

————-

It’s November here now, no time for harvesting any bark. But come spring, I’m going to keep my eyes out for a good hickory sapling. My stash is getting low.

stash