How To Use A Bushcraft Knife To Help Remove Tree Bark

posted in: Tips & Tricks 16


A Quick Bushcraft Knife Tip For Removing Bark

In the above tips and tricks video I share with you a handy technique for using your bushcraft knife to help remove bark.

The shape of the back of your knife – specifically where the bevel comes up to meet the back – lends itself very well to helping remove tree bark while you are out in the woods.

Removing Tree Bark

Why might you want to remove tree bark?

Well, there are all sorts of reasons.

In particular, you might want to remove birch bark for lighting fires.

You might want to remove sweet chestnut or ash bark for making containers.

Or, you might want to remove willow bark for making cordage.

There are, in fact a whole host of reasons why you might want to remove bark with your bushcraft knife.

How Your Knife Can Help Remove Tree Bark

Start off by scoring the bark with the tip of your knife blade.

Be careful not to cut towards yourself. Bear in mind that carpet fitters have been known to cut themselves badly while cutting in these types of position. Pay particular care to the positioning of your body relative to where you are using the knife. Knife safety is always paramount.

If you are removing a sheet of bark, cut two parallel lines then join them up with cuts around the circumference of the trunk. Again be very careful. Cut away from your body.

Once you have cut through the various layers of bark, you are ready to start lifting the sheet of bark.

This is where your knife comes in useful in a different way. Insert the tip of the blade into the cut that is farthest away from you, with the back of the blade facing the section of bark you want to remove. That is, with the sharp edge of the blade facing away from you and away from the sheet of tree bark you want.

Then, use the width of the knife to start to prise the bark away from the wood and lift the sheet of bark at one edge. Once you have run your knife along once or twice and can get a decent hold of the edge of the sheet of tree bark, then you can use your fingers to pull back the bark and remove the sheet.

Lifting birch bark from a log with a bushcraft knife
Inverting the knife and using the width of the back of the blade helps life the bark. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Obvious When You Know How

This is a relatively simple trick and obvious when you know how.

But I’ve seen enough people struggle with removing sheets of birch bark for the purposes of fire lighting to know that this tip is worth sharing.

If you like it, please click ‘like’ and/or let us know in the comments.

And if you think other people could benefit from this tip, then please feel free to share this page.

Thanks for reading and watching!

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Paul Kirtley is Founder and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog. He is the author of Wilderness Axe Skills and Campcraft, as well as having contributed to several other books. Paul has been involved in teaching bushcraft since 2003. He is also a Canoe Leader, British Canoeing Level 3 Canoe Coach and UK Summer Mountain Leader.

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16 Responses

  1. Stuart Dart
    | Reply

    To be fair Paul, it’s mainly the amateur carpet fitters who cut themselves really badly in this style, the pro’s probably manage a lot better than I did. But still, valid point, watching your life blood spurt away from the opening in your femoral artery is not a great experience. Learning where to put yourself in relation to the knife and the thing that you’re cutting can save an enormous amount grief later on. It’s a lesson well worth learning.

    All the best,


    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Oh, I don’t know Stuart. I wasn’t just going on your anecdotal evidence 🙂

      Check out Tom270’s comment on this forum thread (3rd from bottom).

      He doesn’t, however, elaborate on the proportion of amateur to professional fitters…. 😉

      Either way, you are right – “It’s a lesson worth learning” – and, in this case, much better to learn from the mistakes of others than first hand.



      • Stuart Dart
        | Reply

        Interestingly, Tom270 appears to be a paramedic from Derbyshire, spooky 🙂

  2. Liam Gadd
    | Reply

    Hey, that is sooo true about carpet fitters, I know I used to work with them.
    Also Stuart I find the experienced people ”sometimes” make more mistakes with their knives, due to being over confident and ”knowing” better.

    where as a new carpet fitter / or craftsmen (any body with sharps) may be more aware of their lack of experience, and heed more caution.

    If any of that makes sense.

    Another great article, It is good as I have tried to remove bark to attempt to build a container… I just couldn’t get a decent size in one piece. I kept tearing it or when easing it with my knife cutting straight through it. So I gave up to do more research first. Now Paul you have provided the answer. (although I also think my choice of tree’s had something to do with it)

  3. James Harris
    | Reply

    Another great article. Knife safety is such an important thing to learn, I know from experience what can happen when you get complacent with a knife in your hand. Great tip Paul, I was going to make a couple of birch bark containers when I go on the castaway challenge ( hopefully there will be some birch were we’re going) so I’ll use this technique then.


  4. Steve Bayley
    | Reply

    Another good tip Paul, thanks for sharing. I managed to spoil several potential sheets of birch bark I was trying to remove from a fallen tree last month until I hit upon this technique by trial and error. Even using the back of the knife I managed to damage some bark by cutting it with the tip so I ended up making a couple of tools from a piece of hazel to help me. One was like the tool we make to strip bark off a tree-root (but without the notch) which helped get started, and the other much like a paper knife / letter opener. These tools are really just blunt levers but very effective at getting large pieces of birch bark off in good condition for making containers. The real difficulty in getting big sheets off is that one often can’t work all around a fallen log because the side on the ground is inaccessible. If I’d have had a bucksaw to hand I’d have managed to get larger sheets simply by sawing all the way through the tree first and then rotating the log as I worked around it.

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Steve,

      Yes, it can be really useful to make some additional tools to aid the removal of large and complete sheets of bark. We do this on our Intermediate course when making bark containers. It also helps if you have a course-full of people to rotate the tree trunk to access it all the way around 😉



  5. ruud
    | Reply

    always great to see new articles on this blog!

    I like to drag the knife towards me by “pulling” it with my other hand on the spine of the blade, gives quite a lot of control.


    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      I think that’s the thing Ruud – as long as it’s safe, do the thing that you find most comfortable or, least awkward. Control is the key thing whenever using a knife.

      Warm regards,


  6. Steve Kent
    | Reply

    A very useful tip, no knowledge should ever be wasted 🙂

  7. Duane Yates
    | Reply

    Hi Paul
    Great article, as always very clearly explained.
    Knife safety should never be underestimated bleeding to death can put a major downer on a day in the woods.

    Take care Mate

  8. Anthony
    | Reply

    Hi Paul, thanks for letting us know about the tips on how to remove tree bark through a bushcraft knife. Clearly explained through video. I think we should be more aware of using a bushcraft knife in case of removing tree bark as there is a chance to occur accidents, if we do not know properly the techniques and do not feel comfortable grip with the knife. I also used several times bushcraft knife for removing bark for making fire, But after doing this my hand got blister due to uncomfortable grip. Paul , what do you think about comfortable grip?

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Anthony,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I think a comfortable grip is important. Also, the more you use the knife, the more conditioned your hands will become.

      Warm regards,


  9. Drazen
    | Reply

    Hi Paul,

    thanks for the tip, I learned very much from you, and this technique discovered by myself. It is obviously that you remove bark from dead tree but it is worth to emphasize that removing the bark should never be employed on live trees because I saw many damaged live trees for the purpose. Humans are sometimes bad and stupid animals.

    Best regards, Drazen

  10. Dave Howard
    | Reply

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for sharing this useful tip, and emphasising the danger of knife misuse. the other useful thing your knife can do is make some wooden tools to assist with the peeling process.
    All the best, Dave.

  11. Dave Cox
    | Reply

    Thanks Paul-really useful. Much appreciated

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