Lime bark cordage


Back in early June Nicola and I spent an awesome day with Will Lord working on natural cordage.  One of the materials he introduced us to was lime bark.  It’s a fabulous material and makes excellent cordage.  So I thought that I’d put together a guide on how to prepare lime bark to make your own cordage.  The first few photos were taken on the day in Will’s back garden.

Clearly first up you need to source the materials.  You’re going to need a green stem so that you can remove the outer bark and bast layers (the fibrous layers just below the outer bark).  Remember, the longer the stem the longer the fibres you’ll end up with.

You have 2 options now depending on whether you want to make use of the outer bark.  If you don’t, then simply scrape off the outer bark with a blunt machete or draw knife first.  If you do want the outer bark, well just leave it on for the time.

Cut a deep, straight line down the length of the log and then a second a couple of inches over.

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

Starting at one end, peel the bark and bast off the log.  Repeat this process until the stem is stripped.  Lime is a great material for friction fire lighting, so don’t get rid of the log or burn it!!

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

Now you can separate the outer bark from the bast layers.

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

The next part of the process is called retting.  This is where we soak the lime bast so that the cells between the individual layers of bast are broken.  Traditionally this was done in running water but as we don’t have convenient access to a stream we’re soaking it in a tub instead.

Coil up the bast and tie it off.

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

Pop it in a tub.

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

And add water.

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

You can see in the photo above that the lime bast floats so I weighed it down with a rock.  The photo below was taken about 10 days into the retting process.  You can see a scum developing on the top of the water and the bast itself is slimy to the touch (it also smells pretty bad!).

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

We left the bark to rett for 6 weeks, at this point you can see bubbles in between the laminates.

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

Give the strips a good showering or washing off to get rid of the slime on them.  Once you’ve washed them, you can carefully start to separate out the individual laminates.  Make sure that you give your hands a good wash at this point.

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

Hang them out to dry in the wind before storing long term.

lime bark cordage | bushcraft | Kent | south east | London

Check out this post to see how to turn the fibres into cordage; we use nettles in the post but the process works just as well with lime bast.

We make natural cordage on our Cordage & Containers day as well as on our IOL Bushcraft Course and 5 Day Bushcraft Course.  You can see lots of photos of participants here as well as on our Facebook page.


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About Gary

Lead Instructor at Jack Raven Bushcraft, teaching bushcraft, wilderness and survival skills to groups and individuals.

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