Recent progress with natural cordage

Just before we moved last month, I harvested some willow bark with the intention of honing my natural cordage-making skills. I knew that if I wanted to make some decent cordage, I’d have to process the bark a bit beforehand. A common method is to boil or simmer the bark in water with wood ashes for 1 hour or more (as long as overnight), depending on who you listen to.

Having no wood ashes available in our apartment (and I wasn’t about to touch Aunt Bertha’s urn ;)), I decided to use the household item for which ashes are often substituted in the field, i.e. baking soda. Also, instead of boiling the bark, I just put it into a container with boiling water, which cooled off gradually. I let the bark soak in the solution of boiled water and baking soda for about an hour and then let it dry before making the cordage.

Surprisingly, preparing the bark “the lazy/busy man’s way” ended up working out very well. It was more flexible and resilient than bark which is allowed to dry without being processed. I also really like the color taken on by the inner bark as a result of soaking it with the outer bark still on (most of this fell off while it was in the water). The outer bark of willow was traditionally used for dying cloth, and I can attest that it works well!

I’m happy with this latest batch of willow bark cordage, as I think it looks and works better than my previous attempts. I think I might try using stinging nettle fibers in my next attempt, just to see how they compare.


8 comments on “Recent progress with natural cordage

  1. Marm :):) says:

    Aunt Bertha will be happy and proud!!!!! Cool cordage.

  2. Ron says:

    So….. you haven’t had much outtime either, huh?
    Looks good. How strong do you think it is? It is a skill I have yet to start working on.

    • I hiked 17 km at a national park last Saturday and will be meeting a fellow blogger tomorrow for a day trip. I think I’ve been getting out as often as I can. 🙂

      I don’t know how strong the cord is, but I’d have to pull hard to break it. I guess I could test it by lifting different weights. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is once you try it!

  3. Sam says:

    Hi my name is Sam and I’ve been reading your blog for some time now and I get some great ideas and inspiration from it. I live in Tennessee U.S.A and it’s a great place to practice woodlore. I was wondering if the cord you made would be strong enough for a bow string. Thanks.

    • Thanks for the comments, Sam! Glad you like the blog. 🙂

      Good question. Unfortunately, I have far too little experience both in cordage making and archery/bowhunting/bowmaking to give you a meaningful answer. Willow cord and rope can be some pretty strong stuff, but I don’t know what kinds of properties bowstrings have to have. Ask around the forums and blogs, and I’m sure you’ll find somebody who can help you!

      BTW, I just glanced at your blog. Looks good. When I have a free minute (yeah, right), I’ll take a closer look!

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