This article is rewritten from a previous essay and examines the proper construction of a genuine birch rod.
Although birches can be constructed from the twigs of many different trees, those from the European White Birch are best suited for this purpose. All Academy birches are constructed from the twigs of the White Birch because they are strong, thin, straight and flexible. This combination produces a birch that lives up to its reputation as the “Queen of the Rods”.
The birch: material
Birch trees are not found in all parts of the U.S. but are abundant in California, and the Northeastern states. We are fortunate to have a very nice grove on the Academy grounds from which our birches are constructed. Early Spring before the buds form is the best time for cutting twigs for a rod. Their suppleness and flexibility are at their peak at this time when the sap is rising. Twigs can be cut from the tree during any season and a formidable rod constructed, but it is more difficult because leaves and buds need to be removed. For a standard birch, 12 to 15 twigs will make an admirable birch rod. I select the straightest twigs possible and cut them between 26 – 30 inches in length. The offshoots should be trimmed off and the twigs bundled together in a nice conical shape. The ends and tips should be trimmed so the rod is approximately 26 to 28 inches long. The handle end is then bound with either cord, tape, ribbon or leather for about a third of the length of the rod. Academy birches are bound with ribbon in the Victorian style, and finished with hanging loop and bow. The finished birch rod should taper gracefully from handle to tip and feel comfortable and balanced in hand.
With proper care the Birch Rod should last a long time. The rod should be soaked in water before each use, preferably overnight unless it has been freshly cut in which case soaking is not necessary. The wood is water retentive and the soaking process increases the rod’s suppleness and flexibility, thereby ensuring that its unique sting will be properly felt, and the life of the rod extended. Although some proponents claim that soaking the birch in brine or vinegar toughens the twigs and increases its sting, I have not yet proven this and find that soaking in plain water is ideal.
The birch has been called the most feminine instrument of discipline, and certainly its sting is quite unlike anything else, at once deeper and more intimate, gentler and more severe. The birch does not strike or cut in the way a cane or a strap does. It is yielding rather than hard, and its stroke is not so much the violent blow of one solid against another as a curious caress.
Superficially cruel, a well-made birch is in fact a merciful instrument. The lightness of each individual switch means that its penetrative power is small, and only in company and harmony with a number of other switches of approximately equal length, size and weight can it do its work at all. Then by its unique combination of penetration and “spread”, it punishes like no other instrument: not deeply – a birch leaves no lasting bruises though its stripes can sustain for days – but sharply, as a good rod should. A birching is a special kind of correction, the most profound of chastisements.
Finally, here is an older birching scene from Lady Jane: Hot!