Finding and Collecting Cottonwood Bark
By Alex Bisso
Part 4 — Bark Cleaning and Storage
Bark Cleaning and Storage
All of the bark that I collect is moved to my bark work and storage areas. These are the areas where I do the final cleaning of the back of the bark and break or cut the bark into reasonably sized pieces for sale and storage. To minimize required movement of the bark I find it helpful to have my work area close to both my rough bark storage areas and my sale-ready bark storage areas. My rough bark storage is kept outside and includes mostly bark that has not had the back cleaned yet and possibly has not had the outside hosed or swept.
When stacking bark in the outside storage areas, I always put down some timbers to hold the stored bark off the ground, primarily to help keep the bottom of the storage pile dry. I stack each layer of the bark parallel to the one below it so I can get as much bark as possible in the area available. Alternating the direction of each layer would provide more ventilation but this would take up a lot more space and make the piles larger and harder to cover. I have found that stacking the bark as closely as possible still leaves plenty of spaces in the stack for ventilation and I have never had a problem with that practice. However, I definitely recommend keeping the storage pile covered, especially through the winter and any rainy weather. Another important thing to have in the bark storage area is a good-sized stump to use to set the bottom end of the bark on as you work to clean off the back of the bark. The two main benefits of this is that it allows you to clean the bark without too much bending over and the end of the stump helps protect the blade of you knife as you chop down on it. I rake up around this area weekly (prior to garbage collection) to keep it reasonably clean. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of hours here. In this photo you can see a covered storage area on the left side of the photo.
I should note that I posed for this photo and was not actually cleaning the bark, which is why I am not wearing gloves. I keep my bolo knife very sharp and have learned to always wear gloves when doing this – it guards against not only a bad cut from the knife but also from wearing out fingertips on the bark. For winter I will restack the bark along the house and at least cover it with a piece of blue construction foam.
My primary storage area for ready-to-sell bark is a large (10′ wide x 20′ long) tarp shed. Besides the stored bark, I have a 6″ jointer/planer and a 14″ band saw in this shed. The band saw is extremely useful for final trimming and dividing up sections of bark. I also use it sometimes to cut bark into small blocks or planks or rough cone shapes for trees when I get requests for such items.
The shed includes metal shelving for short pieces of bark in the front left as well as metal shelving standing in the middle that I use lengthwise for long pieces of bark.
In the primary, ready to sell, bark storage areas, I ccasionally label the kinds of pieces stored in a location to facilitate selecting pieces for an order. Although you cannot read the labels in the photo, the top of the shelf here is designated for pieces for lighthouses and/or pieces for Santas with trees. The middle shelf is for pieces for regular whimsical houses. The table level shelf is for pieces that make or can be cut into pairs for in-the-round houses.
A similar arrangement for bark storage exists in the back, left area of the tarp shed. In general, I have found that going vertical and storing the bark on several accessible layers of shelves makes it much easier to find pieces that fit the requests of my bark customers.
In addition to a large tarp shed, a 10′ wide x 8′ deep steel storage shed is also used for bark storage. Like the tarp shed, this is an excellent way to store the bark because it keeps it protected from moisture. As you can see, especially on the left side of the shed, it could be hard to look through this bark to find pieces without creating a barkslide. Like in the tarp shed, all of this bark is cleaned and ready to sell and hopefully some of it will be moved into the better organized tarp shed soon. There are also two large storage piles along the fences in my yard, soon to be covered by tarps. Storage capacity is about maxed out but that is good as we are into the winter season. Collecting bark in the winter is difficult because access to many potential areas is prevented or limited by unplowed road;, because snow makes traveling through wooded areas difficult and seeing what is on the ground difficult; because bark on dead trees is often frozen on and not to be removed, and because bark on the ground is often frozen to the ground. Experience has taught me that it is best to stock up before the winter than to have to try to collect bark under winter conditions.
Coming up in Part 5 — Hazards of Collecting and Other Comments
Alex Bisso is a woodcarver, and collector and seller of cottonwood bark and other found wood. To view some of Alex’s carvings and cottonwood bark supply at Be So Good Wood, click HERE.
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