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Peeling Birch Bark

14 June 2009

By Dave Wilsey, UMN Extension

Charlie Nahgahnub offered sound advice for anyone interested in peeling birch bark. Bark has to be removed when the time is right, a period typically occurring between the end of May and early July.

Look for a tree with a good crown: if there are no fine branches at the top, a sign of blight, the bark won’t peel well.

Make a test cut: a small 1 inch “T” cut at the base will help you to determine if bark is ready to peel, and will give you a sense of bark thickness and quality. Basket and canoe bark have different characteristics. Canoe bark is 1/4 inch thick and of grandfather trees more than 50 years old.

If you find a tree, make an offering: Lay down some tobacco and offer an explanation to the tree of why you are taking its bark. Remove bark by connecting circular cuts – at the top and bottom – with a single vertical cut. Then roll the piece with the outside bark to the inside, packing with ferns or leaves to retain moisture.

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