Why a ‘Stobi’ for stripping medicinal bark?
We have never found just the right tool for stripping medicinal bark from slender branches. Young tree branches are full of medicinal secondary metabolites, designed to protect the young and fresh growth. These are the kind of branches that are two to three years old, such as those from coppiced or pollarded trees at Holt Wood. In the past, people used bark spuds for paring off bark from tree trunks such as Oak when cut for timber, and the bark was sold for tanning. You can still obtain debarking spuds from specialist suppliers like the Woodsmith’s Store in Whitley Bay. But, sadly, the straight-edge shape of a bark spud is not ideal for working on thinner branches. Instead we have found other curved blades such as carving knives more useful – though never ideal.
Our Stobi design
So we came up with an ideal custom version of a small bark stripping tool on the back of an envelope (literally). This new tool had to be multipurpose to pare off bark cleanly from various stems of medicinal trees from Ash to Willow. While chatting to master craftsman Sean Hellman at a fair, we discovered that one of his specialities is making knives, and he offered to help us. We are now delighted that our design has been superbly crafted for us by Sean who runs a workshop on the edge of Dartmoor, Devon, UK (www.seanhellman.com).
How it works
The Stobi has three usable parts: (a) a chisel edge, handy for debarking larger branches and logs with flatter shapes, (b) a curved edge, ideal for debarking uneven and smaller branches and probably the most used part, and (c) a sharp corner point which is good for scoring bark on branches which peel readily. And the Stobi has a very comfortable wooden handle with easy hand grip for extended use. The Stobi is great to use, and we think is a fantastic addition to our toolkit.
Stobi, the wandmaker
Our first trials with the Stobi coincided with a Radio 4 Willow programme in the Natural Histories series which included a short interview with Anne at Holt Wood Herbs. The programme started off with another contributor giving an explanation about making a wand from a Willow branch. So we thought to try our hands at using the Stobi to make some wizard Willow wands, Harry Potter-style. The Stobi proved up to the task, and likely will save us a lot of time in peeling bark next season – maybe wands can be a byproduct for us!
And the name?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a ‘stob’ is a medieval word for a ‘stump’, ‘stick’, ‘stake’, ‘peg’ or ‘post’. So we have given this tool the name of ‘Stobi’, which aptly describes a tool that can be used to fashion a peg or stake, producing useful shavings of bark (and of course not anything to do with Anne’s surname which is Stobart!).