willow bark cordage

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Natural cordage comes in a number of guises – from plants (bark, stems, roots, leaves, and in some rare cases even the seed fluff from whorled milkweed and cottonwood) and from animals (guts, sinew, hide, and even hair). Bark cordage is very versatile mainly due to the continuous lengths you can create, reducing the need for labourious and weaker joining of strands.

Although many barks can be used and experimented with the most frequently cited come from young limbs (where the bark is smooth and thin) such as willow and the bark (often the trunk or a main limb) of the lime (linden) tree. Two different processes are involved in this process – the former is making thin strips from the bark to weave or twist together and the latter a process of harvesting sheets of bark and then wretting (rotting) the bark in water over a period of time to release the fibres from the bark – only then combining the fibres into cordage.

There are also certain times of year when harvesting bark is easier – usually in the spring and summer when the bark is looser due to the moisture and sap. In winter bark can be hard to separate from the the limb or trunk. If you have to source bark in the autumn and winter months then it can still be loosened by pounding the limbs in a gentle manner using another piece of wood. But be careful, you can weaken, split or damage the bark unless you tap/hammer the bark softly!

Here is a step-by-step guide to making willow cordage from a small diameter limb.

At the end is a video clip of how to make the cordage using two-ply pygmy roll.

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Small limb, slit lengthwise the bark, either tap softly to loosen the bark from the underlying wood and/or run your fingers under the bark to separate

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Remove the very outermost later of skin from the bark by scraping with a back of a knife. Removing this will lead to a more flexible and less brittle cordage than leaving it on when it dries.

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Stick your knife firmly into some wood and then draw the unfurled sheet of bark through the stuck knife thereby creating long strips

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The resultant long strips

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Boil the bark strips for several hours in a pan filled with water and a generous handful of campfire ash. This not only stains the bark but increases its flexibility and durability for when it dries. Then partly dry it.

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Video of how to twist fibres into string: the 2 ply pygmy roll method

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