Tim Hintz shaving hickory bark.

One chairmaker who harvests hickory bast every year is Tim Hintz from Smithville, TN. This is Tim’s “Blue and White Settin’ Chair.”

Tim's e-mail is: freshchairs@dtccom.net


Prop the log up so that it’s at a comfortable working height, about 30 - 40 inches. The only tools needed are a good size drawknife, a sharp knife (shortish blade) and a bucket of water. The outermost bark will be hard, and sort of brittle. Cut through this stuff and you get into a more tough, pithy material. The outer openings in the bark are V-shaped in section. Towards the bottom of the V you expose a diminishing criss-cross network of material that will eventually develop into the tough but smooth inner bark. Now you have to be very careful, as you’re getting into the layer of bast that you want to save for chair seating. Try not to shave through to the wood! As you shave into the inner bark fibrous stuff will collect on the drawknife blade. Use a rag and water to clean the blade as needed.

To get an approximate idea of how deep it is to the sapwood, take the tip of your knife and poke it into the bark. Shave a long open strip off of the outer bark. When you think you’re at a good depth (the netting should be closing down, or disappearing as you shave deeper) stop with the drawknife. Use the knife to make two parallel stab cuts through the bark along the length of the exposed bast. I try to keep the cuts about 3/4-inch apart, but because trees taper, and there are inevitable knots, you’ll have to narrow the strip at various locations. In the end you’ll have strips of various lengths, and with full width and narrow sections. (Even the narrow stuff is fine if it ends up on the bottom side of the woven seat.)

Cut across the strip at one end. Use the knife point to pry under the bark. You should be able to get your fingers under the lifted strip. Carefully start pulling; you should be able to get strips off that run the full length of the shaved bark.

With one strip removed you can get a good idea of how deep to shave the remainder of the log. In general, thin strips of bast tend to be longer wearing than thick strips (which are more brittle). Some hickory bast can be re-split into thinner layers after peeling  sections from the log. But some bast will not sub-divide; you just have to try.

If your strips seem to be too thick (and won’t sub-divide) you can thin them now using a drawknife at a shaving horse. I like the material to be about 3/32 inch thick.

The peeled strips are usually tied into rolls and allowed to dry. They can be stored indefinitely, until you are ready to weave a seat. At that point, soak the material in lukewarm water, for about 20 minutes.

The usual weave is a herringbone pattern. For instructions on weaving hickory seating, as well as using  Shaker tape and natural rush, refer to Chapter 7 – Post-and-Rung Seating in The Chairmaker’s Workshop. A new author’s revised edition is available from The Country Workshops Store.

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