Retting hardwood bark

Discussion in 'Other Skills' started by Sandcut, Aug 12, 2018.

  1. Sandcut

    Sandcut Sed ego sum homo indomitus Vendor

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    @OrienM 's thread on retting yucca got me thinking about sharing one of my summer projects...retting basswood bark to make bast for cordage. I thought about adding this to his thread, but thought it different enough that I didn't want to do a hostile takeover of his thread. So here we are.

    I'm teaching several programs again at this year's Uitwaaien Bushcraft Gathering. Creek Stewart was the big, keynote draw last year and did a fine job in both instructing and in drawing attention to this new event in a sleepy corner in central PA. But, since Creek won't be there this year and I was planning on teaching rope making anyway, I volunteered to teach the cordage making program as well.

    I first had to source the basswood, which was surprisingly simple. I just called upmthe locsl logging company, explained what I was doing, and they told me to come on down and take as much as I wanted.

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    Now retting normally requires placing the bark into a pond or stream to promote decay of the stuff holding the plant fibers together, but I have neither a pond nor a stream. So I improvised with a garbage can full of water.

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    I stuck this stuff into the water the second week of June and have been brewing it since then.
     
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  2. Sandcut

    Sandcut Sed ego sum homo indomitus Vendor

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    From what I had read before, the retting should take 4-6 weeks. I'm at 8 weeks and it isn't done yet. I checked on it today and I think that I left the pieces too large to allow for moisture to penetrate properly.

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    The process was coming along, but I wasn't sure that it would be ready for the end of September. So I pulled it out and began removing the outer bark, splitting it into smaller pieces, and breaking up the grain to allow water and bacteria to enter.

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    Oops! Got company for dinner. I'll finish this up later this evening. Stay tuned!
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2018
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  3. Sandcut

    Sandcut Sed ego sum homo indomitus Vendor

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    OK, to continue...sorry.

    I'm not generally a fan of Condor knives, but I got this CTK3008B Bush knife for Christmas several years ago. It is a niche tool. It doesn't excel at any one thing. It's lighter than a hatchet, shorter than a machete and not as effective as a billhook as is a Fiskars Brush Axe. Having said that, for crafty-type work like what I was doing today and I suppose cutting/trimming material for baskets, etc. it is a really good tool. Good for close in work. Good for splitting/riving and shaving/shaping. I may have to try it some spoon carving.

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    Some of the wood was progressing well and was delaminating into strips well.

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  4. Sandcut

    Sandcut Sed ego sum homo indomitus Vendor

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    So, I whipped up some quick cordage to see how it would perform. It works pretty well.

    IMG_20180812_144026.jpg

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    This is the first time that I've attempted to process tree bark into usable bast. I've used pieces of partially decayed inner bark that I've found in the woods to make small pieces of cord before. But this is a whole other level of effort. I'm learning as I go.

    If anybody else has any experience doing this, please feel free to share what you know and don't forget the photos!
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2018
  5. actichy

    actichy Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    I've read about boiling bark in wood ash to speed up the process. I suppose it's similar to tanning a hide. I haven't found any specifics on how to do this to try it. I've seen it mentioned in Ellswoth Jaeger's "Wildwood Wisdom" and Kephart's "Camping and Woodcraft."
     
  6. OrienM

    OrienM Guide

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    Wow, we have parallel retting projects going, awesome! :dblthumb:

    I've never done much with bark bast, I'll be eager to see your progress. The sample cordage looks good already! Bad smells have been an issue with retting yucca, does your retting bucket have a pretty strong aroma?
     
  7. Sandcut

    Sandcut Sed ego sum homo indomitus Vendor

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    Yeah, that would basically make a lye solution, which would work faster, but would be caustic to work with and you probably wouldn't want to just dump it when finished with it without neutralizing it depending how strong you made it.


    Yeah, it has a bit of a piquant, manure-like aroma. It's not necessarily "bad", but some would find it objectionable. If you grew up in farm country, you may even find the scent nostalgic since it smells a bit like when you spread manure on your fields in the spring. My younger daughter's boyfriend came to dinner this evening. He's a farm boy and didn't even notice it. In order to prevent it from getting too awfully rank, I've been flushing the garbage can with fresh water every two-ish weeks. This may also have something to do with retting taking so long, since it may set back the decomposition a bit. I have washed my hands about 6 times this afternoon and they still smell pretty strong from handling the bark.

    The one thing that may be an issue is that I hope that the county vector control never comes around. I haven't checked yet, but I imagine there may be a few mosquito larvae wriggling around in that water.
     
  8. central joe

    central joe Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Watching to learn some more. joe
     
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  9. actichy

    actichy Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    Yep. The deer hide that I made into buckskin that was successful was soaked in a solution of 4oz of Red Devil lye and 10gal of water. I tried using wood ash the first time and got it too strong. The hide fell apart after only one day in the solution. The book I have states that there shoul be an area the size of a quater exposed on an egg floating in the solution when it's the correct strength.
     
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  10. NevadaBlue

    NevadaBlue Graybeard Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

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    Very interesting. If it wouldn’t hurt the process, pouring oil on the water will fix the mosquito issue.
     
  11. Sandcut

    Sandcut Sed ego sum homo indomitus Vendor

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    I'm guessing on this, but right now there is gas exchange between the water and the air. Oil on the surface will smother the skeeters, but it will likely make the decomposition go anaerobic, which will really be rank and may mess up the retting process (or not). But it will smell worse.
     
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  12. rsnurkle

    rsnurkle Supporter Supporter Bushclass I Bushclass II

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    Were the basswood sections green when you harvested the bark from them, or had they started to season while drying in the lumber company's area?
     
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  13. Sandcut

    Sandcut Sed ego sum homo indomitus Vendor

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    They were probably in the log yard for a couple weeks tops. The inside of the bark was still a little moist, but not wet when I stripped it.
     
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