Finding the right tree
Birches are among the most beautiful trees of the northern hemisphere. The chinese consider them a symbol of female beauty and grace, while in Scandinavia the birch is the tree of love.
The tree species you should look for is either the Downy Birch (Betula pubescens) or the Silver Birch (Betula pendula) which both grow natively mainly in Europe and Asia. The North American Paper Birch is not so well suited (which is one of the reasons why birching was never popular in the U.S. and the paddle became its replacement - along with the fact that the Paper Birch grows only in the northern United States).
You will need to find a "friendly" birch. That's a birch that has twigs hanging low enough to the ground so you can cut them easily without requiring a ladder. It should not be a very young tree because you'd harm its growing too much by the cutting. Low branches of a bigger tree are perfect.
Cutting the twigs
Cut the thin twigs that hang down vertically (see Figure 1). Normal scissors will do because you should only cut any twigs that are thinner than 4 to 5 millimetres (0.16 to 0.20″). Cut these as long as needed, between 50 to 75 centimetres (20 to 30″). Cut no more twigs than you need - you'll want the tree to regrow by next year. Perhaps you'll need more than one tree to harvest enough twigs for one normal-size birch rod.
Defoliating the twigs
Unless it is winter, you will need to strip the leaves from the twigs (see Figure 2). The best place to do this is outdoors, e.g. in your garden, on your terrace or porch. You don't have to do this leaf by leaf: put one twig between your thumb and index finger, apply the right pressure and pull the entire twig through this narrow opening to strip off the leaves. When you come to the end of the twig, be gentle or you may break off some of the thin tips.
When you are done with all twigs, you'll need to wash your hands: they will be green!
Trimming the twigs to size
Now is the time to trim the twigs so that they are all the right length. Take a look at the twig in Figure 3. It is too big. If you cut it where indicated, you'll get 7 twigs of well-usable length (Figures 4 & 5).
Tying up the birch
Begin with the longest twigs and arrange about 20 twigs in a bundle, as if making a nice bunch of flowers. Discard any twigs that are too crooked. You'll want the twig tips at the "business end" to be as close together as possible. You can trim the twigs at the handle end if required — don't trim the tips!
When you are happy with your arrangement, bind the handle firmly with a string (Figure 6). A simple but effective trick: make a knot, then pull the string between the twigs, parting the group in two halves. Then wrap the string round and round the handle as tight as you can. Finally cut the string and tie the end tightly.
For a more beautiful and stylish birch, you can use a band instead of the string — for example a velvet band.
Instead of the traditional technique of tying the birch up with a string or band, you can make your life easier by using adhesive tape of any kind (see Figure 8). This, of course, will result in a more modern-looking birch. Just wrap tightly and you're done.
Spread vs. narrow impact
The special effect of a birching comes from the fact that 20 or more twigs impact the skin simultaneously in different places. Each of them is so thin and lightweight that it hardly hurts at all. It is the sum of all these mini-impacts combined which creates the effect.
Some people prefer having a smaller and therefore more precise impact area, which can be reached by binding the birch further up, as demonstrated in Figure 9 below.
|Birch • Carpet beater • Rope's end • Stinging nettle • Baccalà • Clothes hanger|