I was wrong about that

The last post was about hickory bark, peeling it, and the ease of weaving. I know more now, though I’m not exactly sure what I know. We wove 15 seat bottoms at Woodcraft within Berea College over the past couple of weeks. Plenty of time to try different approaches and techniques. The first few were woven with the thick, dark bark just as we received it. Just put it in the seat. It required too much wrestling to get into place and yields a dark brown bottom, but it stayed in place, looks good and is plenty durable.

We started peeling the thick bark into an outer and inner bark. It gave a more consistent light brown look. It was MUCH easier to weave and splice. We ended up with shorts, run-outs and poor areas in the bark that cannot be used – but this was a minor issue.

The more significant issue is that larger gaps appear as the thinner bark dries. It significantly shinks across it’s width. I do not believe that I kept it in the hot water for too long. I placed the bundles in hot water for 30 minutes or so before weaving. It was still partially stiff, yet plenty flexible to weave, pull taught, and press the rows (and weaves) closely together. Even so, larger gaps appear as the seat dries. This is a fairly typical apprearance with hickory bottoms and it looks good on the stools (and chair – more on that in the next post). The image above shows some of the varience within the stool bottoms.

The thicker bark didn’t seem shrink as drastically as the thin stuff. Why? Maybe it’s something I did during prep. Maybe it’s the species of hickory we’re using. It’s possible that the bark was harvested during an extremely wet period of this past spring.

My current working theory is that the inner bark, closest to the cambium layer, shrinks at the highest rate. The thicker bark, and the outer bark, doesn’t move as much as it dries. So thicker bark keeps closer to the wet, woven shape, while the thinner material shrinks mightily. Of course this is just a thought. But it’s the best one I’ve got right now.

more about hickory bark

I recently visited Covington, KY for a Lie Nielsen handtool event held at Lost Art Press. For some unexplainable reason, I figured it’d be fun to demonstrate seat weaving on a small stool for a group of tool event attendees. Not that weaving is upleasant or unworthy of demonstrating, it’s simply that it can take a while to get a good weave (at least for me) – especially if the bark has knots or other issues that need addressed. I wasn’t as confident in completely weaving a seat in a short period of time with an audience. The last seat took two hours to weave (the weave from the previous post). I was fearful that boredom might set in at that rate.

The freshly woven bottom from the tool event.

A quick breakdown of how I went at the bottoming at the event:

  • tacked the starting edge of the bark roll twice against the side rail
  • began wrapping the warp (front to back) around the front and back rails – with the smooth, tree side of the bark to the inside
  • notched and joined pieces on the underside when the bark had knots or voids
  • pulled the warp tight at every opportunity to keep weave tight
  • at the end of the warp, on the underside, tuck bark around leg and begin the weft (see image)
  • herringbone pattern – a simple, repeating pattern after four rows. Essentially under two, then over two, with the leading edge changing each time
  • same pattern on the underside
  • kept each weft row tight to the previous row – to keep the gaps to a minimum upon drying
  • finished by weaving the lead edge into the seat on the underside – no tying required

Forty-five minutes. That’s what it took. And no blood – that’s atypical for me but nice when working in front of a crowd.