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littleknife posted some links to Victorian era stick making in the thread "The walking sticks of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson" One that i read mentioned the sticks were packed in wet sand to make them more workable.

Early on, I tried soaking old found sticks in the spray from a yard sprinkler. The bark did become very soft, and I peeled it away. And then, about a day later, the stick split along the length. I'm pretty sure getting the bark damp will make it easier to remove, but it I'm sure caution is required.

I have a Mora batoning/farrier knife that is very good at letting me hack away thick bark. Cost about $12, not including shipping. Even after 4 hours of turning bark to mulch, it doesn't need sharpening. Also a good way of working off steam.
 
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