When you picture a log cabin or a rustic piece of furniture made with wood that someone milled with a sawmill, you might imagine some bark somewhere on that wood.
But if you're interested in using the trees you've felled to create furniture, fencing, or housing, removing the bark from the wood is one of the most practical steps you can take.
Debarking your logs takes time, but it can help your logs look neater and last longer. Luckily for you, you can find plenty of tools and tips to make the job easier.
While a tree is growing, its bark provides a layer of protection against harsh weather conditions and pests like fungi and insects that can wound or destroy the wood underneath.
Once a branch has been cut or a tree has been felled, however, instead of providing protection, the bark can sustain conditions that might cause damage:
Debarking your logs isn't just good for your wood. It's also good for the tools you use to work with it.
You can use all sorts of tools to peel bark. Different tools are better suited for logs of different sizes:
If the log or branch you're stripping is less than 2" in diameter, a chainsaw is likely to prove unwieldy. Instead, hold the branch vertically, and slide a knife or a small hand axe beneath the bark lengthwise to remove the bark in peels. This technique works well with saplings.
A draw knife is a bow-shaped, two-handled knife that's recommended for debarking medium-sized logs 3" to 8" in diameter as well as for planing logs to square their surfaces.
To use a draw knife, lay your log in a steady place where it won't roll. Stand, sit, or crouch at one end of the log, wedge the edge of the knife just beneath the bark at a point far across from you, and carefully pull the knife toward you, taking care to stop the knife several inches away from your body.
If you're peeling bark from a log larger than 8" in diameter, chances are that you'll keep your log lying on the ground while you work. This might make turning the log to peel every side more difficult, which makes a tool as wide as a draw knife less effective.
To debark the largest logs, turn instead to a bark spud.
Imagine scraping the bottom of a pan with a spatula after you've cooked dinner, and you have an idea of how to use a bark spud. Simply slip the beveled edge of the bark spud beneath the bark and push against the handle so that the bark peels away from the wood.
Tools like axes, draw knives, and bark spuds are effective and inexpensive, but they can be exhausting to use. To keep yourself from getting fatigued, consider using a chainsaw-powered bark peeler instead.
Bark peelers like the Log Wizard attach to almost any chainsaw and use the saw's power to strip bark from the wood. They also can be used for several other chores:
Your chainsaw bark peeler might require a longer chain than you typically use with your chainsaw. Read the bark peeler's manual to determine how much longer your chain should be, and make sure you choose a chain with the right pitch and gauge for your saw and bar.
The best time to debark your logs with any kind of tool is springtime. During the spring, trees are actively growing, which makes the layer just below the bark slippery, wet, and much easier to peel than it would be in autumn, after the wood has had time to dry.
If you're stripping bark from drier, more difficult wood, you might find that a draw knife provides the most stability and is the easiest tool to use.
To strip the last tricky pieces of bark from a log, some people have found a powerful pressure washer to be a helpful tool. This has the advantage of also removing some of the slippery residue that might be left after the bark has been peeled.
Whether you're a forestry professional, a furniture maker, a woodworker, or even a farmer or rancher, you can get the most out of trees you fell and branches you cut by repurposing them - and you can keep them in the best condition for reuse by debarking them.