Q: I hope to use local red cedar logs as posts for a client’s rustic porch. What’s the best way to remove the bark without damaging the wood underneath?
A: Craig Aument, a timber framer and founding owner of Cascade Joinery, a timber-frame company in Ferndale, Wash., responds: We’re often asked to include natural logs in the timber-frame structures we build. The tree shape creates an interesting contrast to and visual juxtaposition with the milled timbers that make up the rest of the frame. Red cedar, with its natural rot resistance as well as its fairly easy workability, is an excellent choice for unique-looking porch posts.
We’ve found that cedar logs cut in the spring, when the sap is running, are a joy to peel. Loosen a strip of bark at one end of the log with a draw knife or peeling spud. (A peeling spud has a steel blade about 6 inches long and about 2 1/2 inches wide that’s mounted on a long wood handle. The blade is slightly curved and sharpened on the end as well as on both sides.) Once you’ve separated a section of bark, pull up; you can usually peel full-length strips from the log. Native Americans in my area harvested basket-making material from live trees this way. They did not strip the whole tree, but usually took just a 6-inch to 8-inch strip from one side, so the tree wouldn’t die.
When the sap isn’t running, the bark is a lot tougher to peel. In this case, work your way down the log using a draw knife or peeling spud, taking off the outer layers of hard bark and being careful to stay in the right layer to avoid cutting into the log. This can get tricky around the knots or branches, but you don’t need to get all the way to the wood in these areas, just the harder outside layer of bark.
Regardless of when the tree is cut, it is best to get the bark off as soon as possible. Otherwise, moisture and bugs can get under the bark, staining and burrowing into the sapwood layer.
Once you’ve taken off most of the outer bark, carefully pressure wash the logs to clean up the inner layer. Then begin working them to make your posts. Usually by the time you’ve finished with the fabrication, the logs are dry enough to be finished. In most cases, we use Sikkens Cetol Log and Siding to seal the log and bring out the natural color of the wood.