Instructables

Harvesting Birch Bark

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Picture of Harvesting Birch Bark
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Birch bark is a lovely material that can be woven, folded, and lashed into a great variety of projects. If done mindfully, birch bark can be sustainably harvested without permanently damaging trees.

The images in this Instructable were taken by Alex Kamerling at Week in the Woods: http://weekinthewoods.org/
 
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Step 1: Tools

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Bark may be harvested without any tools, but it is nice to have a short sharp knife, ladder, string, ruler, straight edge, soft wax, and scissors.

Step 2: Time of Year

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Birch bark should be harvested in the spring when the sap is running in the trees. In Alaska and Minnesota (and presumably many other places) the best time to harvest birch bark is when the wild roses bloom. When done at the right time of year the bark will literally pop off the tree. However, if done too late in the season the cambium (inner bark) will come off with the outer bark. If the cambium is damaged the tree may die. If done right, a tree will re-grow its bark over the course of 10-20 years. I have heard that the best bark comes from trees that have already been previously harvested, and traditionally people would return to harvest in the same grove over the course of several generations.
jenhelean5 months ago
Howdy fellow nature lovers! My name iss Jennifer, and I'm down here in Oregon, right at the mouth of the Columbia Gorge.. This last fall,I got to thinking "what to do for unique yet on the super cheap stuff can I make with what I have been gifted form our mother?" The things I decided on was a birch bark book that I made for a girlfriend of mine. peeld bark from some log rounds that had been felled a spring prior w/ box knife, putty knife, and 5 in 1 paint scraper tool. Then cut the base cover of book from HEAVY cardboard, the back of an old sketch pad should be about right, then scored one side of base to make shape of covers and spine, then pirced holes along new seams to be then took artificial sinew and reenforced the scoreing with stitches that made a double diamond pattern(One row on the inside of book to be one row on the outside of book to be) Once I felt the "scores" were reenforced enough, took to stitching cover together w/ peices of bark... used $ Tree Fix all Adhesive made by the super glue company to adhese stitched together bark on card board, but be aware, I had to glue then firmly clamp/weigh down in sections to make sure there was good adheseion. if you have questions, if I forgot a step, feel free to email me at foxyj2942@gmail.com Also, Betula bark makes super awesome coverings for any type of unfinished wooden boxes..if finished already, sand first then apply! Happy hunt and have a beautiful day!! Jennifer
milesnorth8 months ago
Me thinks I should have read through your entire instructable first :-) Nice information.
milesnorth8 months ago
I have never heard that it is ok to take from living trees. I live in Alaska and make birch bark baskets. I think it might be a good idea to advertise a "best practice" of taking from trees harvested for other reasons, beaver downed trees etc... Thats my theory, Would be interested to know where you get your information? Mine is second hand and I am not sure if it is valid or not really. Enjoy your projects.
Nice job! I'm into a lot of outdoor, survival, and stuff like that. Ive seen a lot on making birch containers, so i thought id look into it, and of course there's an intractable for that too!
Also, I think it'd be cool too try putting some sap glue in the flap of that container on the last pics, and it could be used for water or other 'loose' items.
Kudos for showing people the ecologically conscious way to harvest bark. I've harvested forest material for years, and it's disheartening to see the number of dead or dying trees in public parks because people don't employ common sense, and it's likely the reason for a sharp decline in white birch populations. I recall, as a child, you could strip a 4x8' piece of bark from a tree for canoe building. Now days, you're lucky if you can find a tree bigger than 10" in diameter. Keep doing what you're doing...It's working great.
aaronta1 year ago
Many people have asked about damaging the tree and the author is correct and wrong. Yes, as long as you do not cut deep into the cambium layer (layer just below the bark), the tree will live long after you take the bark. However, the bark that grows back around the cambium layer to protect the tree is black. The black bark is nothing like the pretty white birch bark you took off and will look VERY ugly.

I know this from firsthand knowledge because my mother has been harvesting birch bark for a couple decades. She found out about it the hard way when some family friends let us harvest bark from these very tall and old birch trees in their woods. After about a year, the once beautiful trees turned very ugly. Now, my mother only takes birch bark from recently cut trees (typically from professional loggers) or when the living trees are out of sight and the land owner does not mind what they look like.

With this being said, I love the birch bark things she makes and cherish the pieces she has made for me. It is very enjoyable to harvest the bark and make something wonderful out of it. The feeling of putting your hands between the bark and the cambium layer is a very tactile experience.
Luziviech1 year ago
This is a really great howto. Do you know, if it's possible to use birch bark strips like leather-thongs to braid straps or do they need to be folded instead of being bended?
I was wondering if there were any adverse effects other than if you cut and damage the cambium. Without bark, is there risk to parasites or the climate ect?
Boreal House (author)  charles_fox1 year ago
I do not think that barked trees have a significant impact on the global climate. However, the micro climate immediately around the tree does change at the time of harvest. The bark pops off the tree when it is slick with sap. Removing the bark releases moisture and sugars often attracts insects.

I am not sure weather a barked tree would be more susceptible to parasites. I know that the outer bark is a protective layer and believe that it plays a role in moisture retention, abrasion resistance, and fire control. Additionally, I know that our trees locally are having issues with parasites in the leaves and are facing moisture stresses. I'll consult with our lead botanist Jan Dawe, and try to get back to you.
the potato1 year ago
one of the layers is good paper for origami
Boreal House (author)  the potato1 year ago
I love it.
Wonderfully interesting.
Its too bad that our Birch died years ago but on occasion my dad still brings home chopped logs and sometimes we get a few pieces of birch. Probably can't use those.

Is it true that people can get aspirin from Birch bark as well?
a key ingredient in asprin is salicylic acid it can be made from the salicin found in Willow.
Boreal House (author)  Lorddrake1 year ago
Willow is a great material as well. I hope to post a willow harvesting Instructable soon.
Exactly true. Native Americans have used willow for their ailments way before North America was ever discovered !
Boreal House (author)  Treasure Tabby1 year ago
It is possible to use bark off of firewood, but it may take some patience. If the tree was felled in when the sap was running, and it was split green, the outer bark should fall right off. However it is much more likely that the tree was harvested when the sap was not running and the outer-bark is stuck hard to the cambium. If this is the case than the best recourse is to leave the firewood outside for a few years. The cambium will degrade before the wood, and both the cambium and the wood will rot before the outer-bark. Eventually the cambium will become brittle and powdery and it will be possible to peel the bark off the wood, and scrape the cambium off the outer bark.

Hope that helps,
Jesse
DoctorDv1 year ago
Awesome! I'll have to try this sometime!

-Doctordv
jpalka1 year ago
Dont Ever Take to Much!!!!! If you get rid of most of the bark the tree will die! Please dont kill the tree.
Boreal House (author)  jpalka1 year ago
The tree will die if the cambium is severely damaged or girdled. I have not heard of anyone killing trees because too large a percentage of the bark was harvested. Generally, people harvest the outer bark from the bole of the tree (the straight portion of trunk below the first branches). The entire bole can be harvested without killing the tree.

Perhaps, if the entire tree were stripped of outer bark it would be too much of a shock on the plant. However, this would be a very tedious operation and it would yield a lot of low quality bark (short pieces with holes where each limb protruded).

Do you have experience killing a tree because too much bark was harvested?
ynze1 year ago
I feel a bit sorry for the trees...

How much bark can you peel off a tree without risking to kill the tree? And how long does it take the tree to grow the bark back?

Y.
Boreal House (author)  ynze1 year ago
A tree will re-grow its bark over the course of 10-20 years. Generally, people harvest bark from the bole of the tree (the straight portion of trunk below the first branches). The entire bole can be harvested without killing the tree.
Lovely! This looks like so much fun.
Boreal House (author)  scoochmaroo1 year ago
We had a great time.
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