Debarking Cedars, Oaks, and Madrones

After we cut the timbers, the next task was to debark them.  We had a small window to accomplish this.  Most conifers have lots of moisture under their bark at the end of spring.   After the last rain, your clock starts ticking.  In most parts of the northwest, you will be able to debark relatively easy until mid June and if your lucky mid July at the latest.

Debarking a Cedar after spring rains is fast and easy

The other thing to remember is that once you cut down your timber, its best to debark the tree right away.  The longer you wait, the more the sap will dry, and the harder it will be to debark.  We had a chance to debark a tree that we cut down a week before, and one that we cut down the same day.  I will never wait more than a few days again.  It was 10 times faster to debark the same day, and in most cases, we were able to pull the bark off in one long piece from top to bottom.  In fact we made a slide out of them.  When debarking cedars and madrones don’t wait more than a week after cutting them down.  Debarking an oak, is best done within a few days of cutting it down.   In the order of easiest to hardest, madrones are the easiest, then cedars, pine, doug-firs, and the hardest are the oaks.  Even when the oaks are freshly cut, it takes a lot of energy.  But it’s well worth it.

Oak tree after it’s been debarked, you can see the stringy lines, it looks and feels a bit hairy. Nothing a sander can’t fix after it dries.

Oaks are different, you will need the flat bar to be a bit sharper, and you will just shave small pieces at a time.  The under coat of the oak is stringy, so be prepared to use your gloves to pull the strings off once you are done.  The oak will need to be sanded once it dries, so do the best you can while it is still wet to save time once it dries.

A flat bar, a small hammer, and gloves are the best tools to use when debarking a tree.  You will need to use the hammer and the flat bar at the end points to get the bark started, but then your hands and gloves will do the rest.  After you get used to it, you will be able to pull a long piece of bark from one end to the other.

Wesley sliding down several long strips of cedar bark that came off in long strips. The sap on the bark was very wet, and made it easy to slide down hill.

The next step after you debark is to use vinegar water, in a 1 to 5 ratio, (one part vinegar to five parts water.) Spray on the vinegar solution once the tree has been debarked.  This will clean off most of the sugars found in the sap, and will protect it from dry rot and mildew. Another way to avoid dry rot and mildew is to get the trees off the ground.  You can sticker them with other logs.

Miguel, Wesley, and Pablo relaxing after debarking and cleaning off the sap from the Cedar trees

Words of caution, don’t use a sharp chisel to debark, or a draw knife unless you are being very careful.  When using a flat bar, don’t press too hard on the tree, it will scar it.  Let the end of the bar and your hands do the work.  If you do scar it, it’s okay, you can sand it out later.  But the less sanding the better.  The wood is beautiful as is, the less you need to sand, the more it’s natural beauty can shine.  Other natural builders use wooden knifes to debark.  I’ve heard that wooden knifes scar less, but I haven’t found that to be true.  Anything sharp, will scar it.  It’s all about being careful.  I prefer the metal bar because I don’t have to take time to make a wooden knife and the thin handle of the flat bar makes it easy to use.

Till next time……..

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This entry was posted by Natural Living School.

5 thoughts on “Debarking Cedars, Oaks, and Madrones

  1. Thanks for this article! We built our own house and used a couple oak logs for collar ties. But we were lazy and waited four years to debark! Now we are finishing off that part of the house and spent some time debarking. My question is, what type of sander would work best for oak? We have an orbital sander, would that work?
    Thanks again?

    • Hi Audra,

      Thank you for your comment. You can use an orbital sander. Just start with a scraper first to get the big pieces of bark off. Then start with an 80 grit sand paper and work your way to 180. Oak is hard and very easy to work with once its dry. You will have to do some hand held sanding too. But only on spots the orbital cant reach. Good luck.

  2. Along that same line, I have a section of Oak I am going to make a bench out of. The tree was cut down a week ago and I have debarked it (no stringy stuff left) but it needs sanding as it has plenty of little brown patches of bark remnants similar to in your picture above.
    1. How long should I wait before it is dry enough to sand? I tried a little but that oak is HARD wood!
    2. All I have is a belt sander. Would that work okay?
    3. I plan on staining it later. How long do I need to wait to do that and should I seal it with something else?

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