Although there are many options for the seating on the green wood chairs made on our popular 'Make A Chair From A Tree' courses, elm bark is easily my favourite. Working with it feels like you are weaving with leather and looks fantastic, as well as being relatively hard wearing. Best of all, it is made from a part of a tree that is often discarded - something I find deeply satisfying.
In view of the difficulty in buying any more elm bark from our usual suppliers (we and other chair making friends have used the entire stock from the UK for this season) it seemed timely to try and make our own - something that we have been wanting to do for ages but never quite managed to get around to.
Smaller elm trees are surprisingly easy to source locally as they are not attacked by the Dutch elm disease carrying beetle when small, thus giving us the perfect excuse to fell and use them before they inevitably get the disease when larger. The problem is that the best time to peel the inner bark is when the sap is rising in the spring and we can't wait that long!
So, having taken the outer bark off with the drawknife we tried soaking for three days to see if that would help. It didn't. Then steam was tried using a steam box for a day. It still didn't peel easily. Obviously something more drastic was required so we then tried boiling for a day, something we know works well with willow.
We made a trough and built a big fire below, then patiently waited and watched. The result? Success! It may not be as easy as peeling bark in the spring (we'll compare processes in a few months) but it does mean that we can continue to make fresh bark throughout the coming winter courses and beyond - a great relief and, I think, a great additional aspect to our chair making courses.
I am a woodworker and designer running green woodworking and
craft courses in a woodland workshop in Dorset,UK. I am passionate
about wood and craftsmanship in general. In-between running courses I
take on commissions in green wood.