Penknife and String No:2 Elder Bead Necklace

The Elder is a brilliantly versatile native tree.   From its flowers and berries you could make elderflower cordial, fizzy elderflower champagne, elderflower frittas, elderberry jelly, the list goes on.

Apparently a sprig of elderflower in the brim of your hat and rubbing elder leaves onto your skin can act as a natural mossie repellent.. Haven’t tried it myself but next time I have the opportunity I will.   I have recently discovered, from a forest schooling friend, that the wood of the elder also has some interesting uses, including the opportunity to make little wooden beads.

My oldest daughter is having a forest school style party for her seventh birthday (Seven! Really?), and we are going to have a bead making session so we had a practice in the garden the other day. Conveniently, there is a large elder bush behind our house, but there are loads around if you look out for them. Anyway, here is a short tutorial in how to make elder beads and yes it could be done with just a penknife and string, although a few more tools will make it a little easier!

So, firstly locate the right type of wood, you need a good long straight branch, approx the thickness of an adult finger.  It should be quite green too.  Ideally cut it off with a small saw (if camping, you could quite easily just snap a branch off).

Making elder beads

Some stripped and unstripped branches.

Now, strip the bark off.  It peels off quite easily, you can do it with your fingernails but to get a bit deeper, to the lighter wood, use a penknife, or for children a potato peeler is brilliant! (This is probably my favourite bit and I could happily sit whittling away at sticks in front of a campfire for hours, very therapeutic, oh yes, the kids love it too.)

Very satisfying!

Next, you will need to chop it into bead size lengths.  This is up to you, but around an inch as a guide. Depending on the thickness of your branch you may need a saw or some loppers, you may be able to use the ‘saw’ tool on your penknife.

The next part is the magic bit.   The core of the elder is soft and fibrous and will push out easily. Get something like a tent peg and push out the middle of the bead.  Sometimes, it pops out in one neat string-like length, sometimes it squidges out.  Lots of fun!

So now you have a ‘bead’.  It can be decorated in different ways, you could stain them with wood stain to keep the natural look or (better for kids) let them loose with some felt tip pens to make the beads colourful.

Finally, thread them onto your choice of string, cord, wool, whatever floats your boat!

One proud girl and her elder bead necklace.

Some helpful hints:

1) Don’t remove the core until you have cut the wood into beads, it is prone to squashing and splitting when you cut it if it is already hollow.

2) An easy way for little  kids to thread beads onto string is to wrap the string over the top of the bead and then poke the string though the hole with your tent-peg.

3) When at the whittling stage the bark can be taken off in alternating strips to create a striped effect bead.

4) Elder wood is slightly toxic, don’t let kids chew on the sticks, it might give them a bad tummy.  (Just in case you often feed your kids sticks for snacks!)

You can also make elder candles, using the fibrous core dipped in oil as a wick, and elder whistles!  How great is this tree!

I have been inspired by this very basic whittling experience , now I want The Little Book of Whittling by Chris Lubkemann.  Yes please!

Click for link through to Amazon.

Have a look at these:

Inspirational Outdoor Play books’

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