White Oak Black Ash and Hickory Bark Bottoms

Chairs with bent backs and split splats need woven wood seats. White oak splits for baskets and chair bottoms come from the sapwood of a soft, straight, smooth-barked tree about three to eight inches in diameter. Split the log into pie-shaped sections, and then split off the heartwood as close as you can to the dividing line between the light and dark wood. Shave off the bark and any remaining heart, working it down until you have a piece of clean sapwood that is as wide in the plane of the growth rings as you want the splits to be and as thick as the sapwood is on the tree. From now on, make all splits in the same plane as the annual growth rings.

Take a stick and knock the blade of your jackknife into the middle of one end. Once started, work the split down the rest of the way with your hands. Keep the split centered by putting more bend into the thicker side.

Continue splitting each piece in half, always with the growth rings, until they are as thin as you want. Sometimes the wood on one side of a tree will not split out well, while that on the other side splits just fine. There can be as much variation within a single tree as there is between different trees. If you can't split all the wood right away, leave the log in a shady spot or in a pond until you can get back to it.

When you finish preparing the splits, gather them up and set them aside to dry. If you were to weave them now, they would shrink in width so much upon drying that even the tightest work would loosen up. When the time comes to use them, don't soak them in water or you will get the same kind of shrinking problem. If they seem too dry, just dip them in water for a minute or so to soften the surface.

When the splits are almost as thin as you want them, you can shave them smoother by drawing them between your knee and a knife held vertical to their surface. If the splits are wider than you want, you can cut them to any width with a pair of regular scissors.

Ash splints, like those from white oak, begin with a soft-barked, straight, and knot-free tree, about six to twelve inches in diameter. With ash, instead of directly pulling the wood apart into strips, you first pound on the billet to separate the growth rings so you can then pull them apart easily. Pounding crushes the big cells formed in the spring of every growth ring, while leaving intact the denser cells formed in the summer.

Oak and ash splits make bottoms and baskets.
Steer the split down the middle by bending the thicker half more sharply.
Pull the strips under a knife to scrape them smooth.
Shave off the rough outer bark of the hickory, then pull up strips of the inner bark.

Split the green wood down into rough billets and then shave them rectangular with the drawknife, carefully keeping square to the surface just under the bark. Set the billet on a smooth stump and pull it along as you beat on it with a sledgehammer or the rounded poll of an axe. Make this first pounding just hard enough to loosen any short lengths of the outermost and innermost growth rings. Clean these off with the drawknife and then trim the sides to the width of the splits you want. Trim the ends of the billet with your hatchet, or with the drawknife swung like a hatchet.

Now start pounding in earnest. Strike with even, hard blows of the axe head or sledge all the way down the billet's length, compressing the rings like hitting the face of a deck of cards. Turn the billet over and go down the other side. Never strike the billet edgewise to the rings.

The final beating works by shearing the cells crushed by the pounding, just as you would separate playing cards by bending the deck. Feed the billet over the edge of the block and strike at the overhang to rack the layers apart. The growth rings should separate easily by hand, but there may be some hangers needing further pounding or a cut with the pocketknife. Just as in working with white oak, shave the splints smooth by pulling them under your pocketknife.

Bark strips need to be made in the spring. In the spring, trees rush to be the first out with their leaves, and they need tons of water passing through a fresh layer of big, hollow cells. This fragile layer of rapidly dividing cells makes for easy separation of the bark from the wood. Moonshiners made pipes of hickory bark to run water to their stills — slitting a tree down one side, peeling the bark off in one piece and letting it return to its cylindrical form. Thoreau mentioned a boat on Walden Pond that was anchored by a cable made from strips of hickory bark and, of course, hickory bark strips also make beautiful and lasting bottoms for your chairs.

Look for a hickory tree that runs between six and ten inches in diameter. Smaller trees have thinner bark, sometimes too thin. Try to find a tree with few knots that tends toward the cylindrical rather than tapering heavily. Chop the tree down and cut the top end off at the point where you figure it becomes too small or knotty. I strip the bark off the tree immediately, but I understand that if you let the tree lie for about a week first, the bark will hold its light color instead of turning brown.

Prop the log up on its stump and, with a drawknife, shave off the outer rough, hard, scaly bark on the top side of the tree. Shave just deep enough to get through to the light-colored stuff. Now take your pocketknife and cut with the grain down the length of the tree to divide this underbark into strips as wide as you want.

Pry one end of a bark strip free from the wood and slowly pull it off down the length of the tree. Watch for snags and be ready to cut them free with your knife. Roll the strips around your hand as you go and hitch the end around the coil to keep it from springing loose.

You can weave with the bark just as it is stripped from the tree, but most folks split it into half of its initial thickness and weave only with the inner part. Some people split the bark but use both halves, including the outer, brittle stuff.

The splitting is the same as that used for working white oak. Take one end and work your knife into it lengthwise, giving the knife a twist to open the split. Take half in each hand and work the split down the length of the strip. As always, should one of the sides start to get thicker than the other, pull more sharply on it to bend it more than the other and make the split run evenly again. As the bark coils dry, they turn a deep brown color. Even holding them in your hands you would mistake them for leather.

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Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

There are a lot of things that either needs to be repaired, or put together when youre a homeowner. If youre a new homeowner, and have just gotten out of apartment style living, you might want to take this list with you to the hardware store. From remolding jobs to putting together furniture you can use these 5 power tools to get your stuff together. Dont forget too that youll need a few extra tools for other jobs around the house.

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  • roderic
    Where can I find hickory bark for chair bottoms?
    2 years ago

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