Making Cordage from Tree Bark (Part 2)

Part 1 of Making Cordage from Tree Bark.

When Chubby Checker said “Let’s Twist Again” he could have been talking about making cordage. Twisting is the name of the game now we get into the nitty-gritty of actually making our cordage. As I noted last time, in a wilderness setting cordage is a valued commodity because of the effort that goes into it. It’s an often underrated but very important bit of bushcraft.

Last time you prepared the inner bark for your cordage. Now you’re going to take the strips of inner bark which were left to dry and use them to make cordage.

To recap, if you used the strips as they came off the tree, damp, they’d shrink once twisted into cordage and the result would be poor. By drying them out you avoid this. Having said that the first step now is to make them damp – if you feel the dry strips they are stiff and difficult to work. A little warm water – just a quick dip rather than soaking them – will make the bark strips more pliable.

Getting Kinky

Select a strip and we’ll begin. Hold the bark strip at both ends, between the thumb and index finger of each hand. Twisting both ends in the same direction will make the strip twist and start to want to kink somewhere along its length.

The rule throughout is once you’ve started twisting in one direction stick to it. If you forget which way you were twisting halfway and changing your cordage will not work. In all the examples here I’m twisting the strips clockwise.

Unless you have a strip long enough to complete your cordage you will need to add more strips as you go along. To avoid weak spots you should avoid adding two new strips at the same time. For this reason, it’s a good idea to make the kink in your first strip off-center.

From now on the description may make as much sense to you as if I wrote it in Klingon so I’ve made some short video clips. Clip 1 shows the kink:

Starting the twist

Once the strip has kinked hold the kink in your left hand (I’m speaking right-handed here. If you’re left-handed you may need to reverse the instructions!). This will form one end of your length of cordage. Now things get difficult to describe. I’ll refer to your strips as strip 1 and strip 2. Hold strip 1 maybe two fingers breadth from the kink. Twist strip 1 clockwise until it just starts to want to kink.

Clamp it off between fingers 2 and 3 of your left hand. Repeat with strip 2 and clamp this off between the next two fingers. If you now let go of the end of your cordage (the bit in your left hand!) it will naturally want to twist together. Help it by twisting it anti-clockwise with your left hand.

Splicing in more strips

To add length it’s just a matter of repeating this movement. After a bit of twisting one of your strips will start to run out. A few centimeters before the end of the strip select another strip and splice it in. For even cordage think about tapering the end to maintain overall thickness. Simply add the new strip over the one that’s running out and twist both together as one until the old one is used up.

Tidying Up

Once you have the length you require the little tag ends left from the splicing in of new strips can be cut off. The cordage may benefit from rolling between your hands to even it up and release any other loose fibers. At this stage running it through a flame will take off any small stray fibers.

It will take a bit of practice at first to get even tightly twisted cordage. As I said, this is an often underrated bit of bushcraft. It’s something that’s so easy to do wherever you are so it’s easy to master. To make natural cordage for real-world applications where quality matters, such as a bowstring, your technique must be spot on, and the effort you make now will pay dividends.