Chopping Bark for Tanning Leather, how I do it

People ask pretty often how I chop or grind my bark for tanning.  The truth is that I’ve chopped the vast majority of it with a hatchet.  It is slow work, but the potential for it to be tedious can be mostly obviated by an attitude adjustment.  I’d say most of us in this modern context tend to view long repetitive tasks that could be done by a machine as tedious and often beneath us.  I would posit though that engaging in such tasks can really be a positive influence in our lives.  In order to not only tolerate, but find a place that we can actually enjoy such work and see the benefits of it, we have to slow down and wrap ourselves around a different paradigm.


Personally, I am ready to move on.  I would like to be tanning a lot more skins in the next year or three and I have much else I’d like to do as well.  So many projects, so little time.  I’ve always wanted to build a stone wheel crusher for olives, apples, bark, charcoal and whatever else needs smashing and grinding, but I’ll probably end up fixing up a fairly heavy duty hammer mill type of shredder that is laying around the place.   But, I’m really glad that I’ve chopped so much bark by hand.  I’m more comfortable with it than ever and enjoy it more than ever.  Any stress I might have is really just around prioritizing my energy for other things that I might feel like I need to do, or just want to do.  In general, like being a person that can and will take the time, and accept the humility, of doing things by hand that take a long time.  There is nothing beneath us about this work.  It requires skill and concentration.  Almost any task can be improved in execution and efficiency, as you can see by watching one of these efficient worker videos, which if you've never seen one will blow your mind.  Unless you're a very unusual modern person, I can pretty much guarantee that if you and I sit down to chop bark, my pile is going to build up faster and look better than yours.  That is no accident, and it is not limited to this one thing in my life.  By extension I'm also good at other things, and aspects of those tasks similarly relate back to this job.  Those things are a consequence of my choices and priorities.  It is also just good and honest work that puts us in the most direct relation to the materials and work at hand.  Nothing really wrong with gearing up and getting something together that can shred out some bark.  I know I plan to, and at this point the sooner the better.  I've paid my dues.  but this type of very direct work has it’s up side too.


How does a person make a 9 minute video on shredding bark with a hatchet?   Of the technical part there is only so much to say, but of the philosophic part, the engagement in this sort of task in the modern era where we are increasingly impatient, weak and whiney, in essence, unsuited physically and emotionally to take care of our own needs, there is much that could be said.  And that part is really the main hurdle, except maybe sharpening, which is sadly become an uncommon skill.


I wish I could recommend a hatchet, but I couldn't probably recommend anything new at this point for under 100.00 and then I'm sure only with reservations.  This forged Swedish hatchet would be okay for chopping bark, though it is on the heavy side.  I have a bunch of other issues with it though and will be reviewing it at some point before I send my review copy off to ebay to get some of my 40 bucks back.  It's too bad, 40.00 for a hand forged quality hatchet should be a steal.  I just think the design is dumb, or at least of limited use, and the potential for modification is limited.  I'll keep looking though, because I think everyone should have a hatchet :D.  Just about any used hatchet should be fine for chopping bark if you have a good handle on it, or can put one on.  (I'd prefer straight, especially for this task.  As long as it is high enough quality to sharpen and no one has ruined the temper of the edge.  chop chop!


Posted on November 14, 2015 .