Sunday, 26 June 2011

Sweet Chestnut bark seating

Whilst running the intro to green woodworking course we took the time to peel the bark from the sweet chestnut logs before riving them down, with the aim of using it for weaving, principally for seating the chairs that I will be making this summer.

 Using inner bark for seating is common in North America and no doubt some other places in the world but has only very recent precedent in the UK. Hickory is the most commonly used bark in the US but as it doesn't grow in Europe we have to cast around and experiment a bit. Chair makers here have had good results with elm bark, particularly wych elm, which was first tried, I believe, by Mike Abbot, and detailed in his fine book, Living Wood.

Having no wych elm hearabouts I am hoping the chestnut will make a good alternative, being very leathery and flexible in nature, as well as tough and presumably, because of its high tannin content, durable and resistant to decay.

It is important to peel the bark at a time of year that the sap is running freely, otherwise it is too difficult to remove, ie spring to early summer. The chestnut is very easy to peel when fresh cut at this time of year and we have tried both peeling with one longitudinal cut, then removing as a whole slab, or cutting thin strips (3/4" - 1") one at a time.

The outer bark should be removed with a draw knife and this is best done before stripping. We didnt have the time and have since found it can be cut away with a sharp knife without too much bother.

Once cut into strips the thick inner bark fibres must be crushed and softened gently by rounding over a stick or between your thumb and forefinger, then coiled and tied ready for drying.

I am hoping this method will make a great alternative to rush seating which is quite time cosuming to weave therefore expensive. The beauty of it is that you can complete a chair using only one species of tree, and it is a quick and attractive way of solving the seating dilemma, ie suitabilty, comfort, cost, availability.

I will keep you posted on how well this all works when I make my next chair.. 


  1. Hi, hope all your courses are goung well, they sound great. We have a lot of chestnut and I would be interested to know how you got on using the bark fibre for chair seating (if you have tried this yet).

  2. Hello,
    Nice to see how you peeled the bark from the sweed chestnut logs. I have no experience in bark peeling, but for some project / experiment I would peel the bark from wild cherry trees. I wonder if you or other blog readers can help me with this one. The cherry tree(s) I found goes to 40 - 50 cm diameter. That is some 16 - 20 inch in diameter.
    Inner and outer bark must be harvested.
    I suppose June/july is the best period to do ..??