Gathering Birchbark

Birch trees that grow among the tall spruce trees are usually very dark inside and not pliable enough to make into a basket.

The birch trees that grow in the willows usually have good quality bark. Cut a small piece of bark from a birch tree and test it by folding and bending it to see if it is good pliable bark for making baskets. Scrape off a layer to check if the color is right. If it is good bark, a vertical cut is made about three feet long or longer. The brown inner bark is left on the tree so the peeling does not kill the tree. When making a vertical cut, make sure the cut does not go through the thick orange inner bark and cut the wood, or it will kill the tree.

The bark is carefully peeled off going around the tree. It is common to use a knife or a long willow to separate the bark from the inner layer.

In the month of June when the sap is running, the bark is very easy to peel off and does not need to be dampened and scraped clean. It just needs a little sanding and it is ready to be used. The bark can be difficult to peel off in the early spring and late summer.

After the bark is peeled off, it is rolled up with the inside facing out. The bark is then stored in a cool dry place, either in a plastic bag or stored flat between two plywood sheets and covered with tarp to keep from drying out. It can also be stored in a freezer.