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……..

Sourcing Round Wood Timbers From the Forest

It’s been several months since I’ve written.  The main reason is because we were overwhelmed working on the natural building, and hosting the many great souls that joined us this summer.  Anyway, now that our building season is over, I would like to take this time to fill you in on all the events and processes during our last three months.  Let us start at the beginning.  The week of May 22nd.

The first week started off with the arrival of Miguel, our first 2012 apprentice.  He was joined by Wesley a week later.  The weather was great, not too much rain, not too cold, and not too warm.  

Miguel after debarking one large cedar tree

The main task during our first weeks was to source the lumber for the timber framing, so the timbers would have 60 days to dry before we put them up.   We spent three days in the forest shopping.

Shopping in the woods is one of my favorite things to do.  There is nothing like walking into the woods among the giant oaks, doug firs, ponderosa pines, madrones, and cedars… all the while respecting the poison oak’s space on the forest floor. 

Shopping in the woods, Cedars, Oaks, Doug Firs, and Madrone trees

The objective was to source only the trees that were crowding an older tree, giving the established trees room to grow.   The other objective was to make sure that when we cut the tree down, there would be the least amount of damage to the forest.  We needed to make sure that we were not going to take down large branches from older trees, or damage any smaller trees on their way to maturity.

We were fortunate enough to locate several cedar trees in two locations not too far from a road on the property.  Felling trees near road access is helpful so that we cause the least amount of damage dragging the tree out from the forest.

After we sourced over 40 trees, we sat down and went over our shopping list to make sure we had everything we needed and more. Then we walked around the property and made sure that the trees we picked were okay to cut.  After the final approval, we started harvesting our timbers for the project.

After cutting down the cedar it is best to debark them right away
A tall cedar grown on the north side can generate two posts and a rafter
Get the most out of one tree; find long trees that can give at least 3 usable timbers

We started with the largest cedars, because we found that these conifers will yield at least 4 logs per tree.  Once we finished harvesting these larger cedars, we reassessed our shopping list and started harvesting the next largest trees.  The idea was to harvest the cedars that yield at least 3 usable per tree.

The other task we did the first week was to assemble the two inch water line to the building site.  Because California building codes now require water sprinklers to be installed in any new building, we needed to make sure there was enough water getting to the site.  A two inch water line is what they recommend to be compliant.

Stay tuned ……