How to Keep Bark on Your Wood Projects with Glue, Shellac and Wood Choice
posted on by

Q: I am starting a few craft projects using whole chunks of tree limbs, limb crotches, and natural divides. I want to keep the bark on the pieces. I’m going to cut pieces to length, and then need to use some kind of sealer on the pieces before I start carving or sanding, and I want to retain as much of the bark as possible for the look I am trying to get.

My question: Is shellac as good a sealer as anything else, as far as being able to penetrate into the bark and make it stable enough for a belt sander or router? I’m leaning toward shellac because its viscosity may allow it to penetrate the bark more easily than a thicker liquid like polyurethane.

Wood Bark Becomes Art If you want your bark to stay attached while you're working with it, try a bark friendly type like walnut or basswood wood.

A: Keeping the bark on chunks of wood, in my experience, is a hit-and-miss business. Some species are reputed to shed their bark regardless of treatment (hickory is one with a bad reputation in this regard), while others are more likely to not shed their skin — walnut and basswood have a good reputation here.

Basswood Piece Basswood bark's tight bond makes it ideal for bark art, as it is unlikely to be disturbed in the process of completing your project.

There are a couple of things that you can do to improve your chances of keeping the bark on your wood. The first thing is to cut the stock in the winter when the sap is not flowing. Bacteria or mold growing under the bark will reduce its bond to the wood, so the next thing to do is to store your harvested pieces in a cool, dry place. Or, if you can put it in a kiln right away — that is even better.

Before I answer your question directly, if you find loose chunks of bark, CA [cyanoacyrylate] glue (the thin stuff often used by turners) can be used to secure them. You can indeed use shellac to help stabilize the bark for machining, but it won’t “glue” loose bark back onto the log. What I have done is thin the shellac down by 50% and really soak the bark. This allows it to get into small cracks and crannies. Then I apply a thicker coat of shellac which reinforces the first one. I used Zinsser SealCoat the last time I did this, and it worked well. You can then apply poly over the shellac should you choose, but you would not need to do so.

posted on December 1, 2011 by Woodworker's Journal
previous post next post

17 thoughts on “How to Keep Bark on Your Wood Projects with Glue, Shellac and Wood Choice”

  • B.C. Thompson

    I have found species and age of tree along with time of year it is harvested to be the biggest bark tight determiner. Most of my bark on projects have only involved saplings up to about 6 inch diameter and have been oak,hickory and sourwood; mostly cut in the late fall and winter up until late February in the central Kentucky area. All of these were dried in my gas stove using just the pilot light for anywhere from 7 to 14 days and the bark stayed in place thru turning and many years or use with a thin coating of polyu.

  • Mando

    I am new to using wood bark and treating it, and wonder if there is a resource where I can research the different methods of treating and using bark for various projects. I am interested in working with mahogany bark specifically. Can anyone point me in the right direction? Greatly appreciate any guidance that could be provided. Best- Mando

  • Kim

    I happened on this site trying to find a way to preserve a piece of bark my husband and I retrieved from a fallen pine tree he had carved our initials into some 20 years earlier. We found it in spring of 2013. The bark was laying on the ground wet & already very crumbly. We let it dry out on top of a refrigerator in our garage. Can we soak it in 50% shallac/water and it will absorb it w/o ruining the bark? It needs preserved in some way to make it sturdy enough to mount it into a shadow box. Do u have any suggestions on how we could preserve it? Or how to attach it into the shadow box for hanging? It's our 30th anniversary this year and i want to surprise him with it. I would appreciate any suggestions anyone could give. Thnx

  • mashal

    i want to keep the bark of a felled tree intact and extract the wood from it. You can picture it as a hollow tree. Is this possible?

  • Matthew Reeves

    To Woodworker's Journal:

    Thank you for the advice. I have two questions:

    1) Application: I attempted a 50% mixture of Bullzeye Shellac Clear, and it gummed up/coagulated when added to water. How do I make sure I prepared it correctly?

    2) Clearness: I am preserving aspen. How do I ensure there is a truly clear coat? The clear shellac has a yellow tint. Is there another product?


  • Michael Johnson
    Michael Johnson October 26, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    What is the be way to keep my wood from cracking during the drying process? I want to perserve the bark at the base of the carving, while keeping the carving as one solid piece.

  • Rob


    I am trying to make a handle to turn on the water in my shower. Id like to use a piece of a stick that I found outside which has bark and a little moss and lycon. What can I use that will clear coat the whole thing and preserve the aesthetic as much as possible while being water proof/resistant. I mostly don't want to worry about water or mineral soluble, toxic components of the clear coat leaching out of the handle. Many thanks for any advice. Best, Rob

  • Mary Wartko

    A special crabapple was cut down. I would like to preserve several slices. How can I do that? How soon after cutting should it be done?

  • Jo

    I have a large palm tree leaf. I say leaf but it is a bit like a bark it is the part that is at the end of the leaf and attached to the tree. I hope this makes sense! I have cleaned dried and clear varnished it and stretched it to the shape I want but it still changes shape I think when the air is moist? I would like to apply something to maintain the colour but make it hard and waterproof. . I also used a silver chrome spray paint on one leaf and attempted to use a resin to make it hard and water proof but this did not work.. The resin also did not have the right effect on a plain leaf. .

  • Luke

    The caption on the image says to use hickory where the article says the opposite. Which is right?

  • Diane Nalepinski

    I want to save bark on two pieces of wood, to make book ends. Do I need to dry these before I shellac them?

    Thank You

  • Linda Way

    I have a slab of wood with the bark on and I would love to keep the bark attached so I can make it as a decoration in my house. Can you tell me what I need to do to make this happen. Thanks

  • gordon kitson

    i have a home with alumni siding on it and i want to get some slabs and put that on for my siding should i take the bark off first or leave it on i prefer to leave it on i thank you and may GOD BLESS YOU

  • Tish Brouillette
    Tish Brouillette November 4, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    What do you use to dilute the shellac 50%?
    Thank you.

  • Nicole

    I was curious to know if Mod Podge might work to preserve the bark on my piece of wood?

  • Renee

    I want to make some Nisse Santa's and have a bunch of green logs all cut up. The ends are still very wet. Is there any thing I can paint on the ends to keep the moisture in and still paint a design on the ends? Or, do I have to let them dry for at least a year before doing any craft painting? Thanks so much for your time!!

Leave a comment

What People are Saying:

I have been using Rockler for years, your products are always the best that can be purchased and your prices are very reasonable. Ann you have always done your best to make me feel as though I was your very best customer. Thank you for great service."

- Daniel F.

What People are Saying:

I have been using Rockler for years, your products are always the best that can be purchased and your prices are very reasonable. Ann you have always done your best to make me feel as though I was your very best customer. Thank you for great service."

- Daniel F.
Feedback X