Birch bark is the most versatile material natural material available in the Northern Forests. In Finland birch bark has been used for a variety of different purposes. It has been used to make containers, boxes, pack-packs, shoes, sheaths , rope, as net floats and as roofing material.
|1. Finnish man harvesting birch bark in 1927.|
Birch bark has been so important in the Nordic countries that it has its own name to distinguish it from the bark of other trees. It is called näver in Swedish and tuohi in Finnish. Birch bark was typically harvested of living trees in June- July as the bark is easy to cut loose from the trunk. The use of birch bark was at one time so popular that it was in fact almost impossible to find birches with intact bark close to villages and settlements.
|2. Braiding birch bark.|
Harvesting birch bark will not kill the tree unless the important inner bark has been damaged. The birch will continue growing after the bark is removed and eventually grow a dark, thick layer of stiff birch bark on the scarred trunk, called Kårt-näver in Swedish. This type of birch bark is not suited for crafts, but could be used as resilient roofing-material.
|3. Folded birch bark axe blade cover.|
Birch cannot be harvested without permission and should be done with discretion, avoiding trees that grow in scenic and open locations. Knowing how to use and harvest birch bark is an important skill for the modern hiker due to its versatility. Birch bark can quickly be made to replace missing cups or even replace a lost axe sheath. In Finland there are at least two known models of birch bark axe sheats; the quick, folded model and the more time consuming plaited model.
|4. Folded birch bark sheath on a Billnäs 12/3.|
Birch bark was the most common material used for making sheaths for axes in Finland. Axes were mostly carried in hand when travelling in the forest. Sometimes it was necessary to strap axes on backpacks and this was an obvious safety issue that made it necessary to cover the blade. Carpenters would also carry a toolkit containing several specialized axes and unprotected edges would quickly become dull and damaged.
|5. A plaited birch bark axe sheath in the Pargas Local History Museum.|
A educational video on how to make a quick, folded axe is available by clicking on the image below.
|How to make a birch bark axe sheat|
1. KK1482:414 - Ethnographic collections of the National Board of Antiquities in Finland.
2. KK1739:203 - Ethnographic collections of the National Board of Antiquities in Finland.
3-5 Marcus Lepola.