baskets old & new

baskets old & new

Remember those ash splints I pounded out this season?

I’ve been little by little working some into baskets lately. But to do so, I have had to re-learn much of what I used to know in spades. In the mid-to-late 1980s I made lots and lots of baskets, but since then I have only made a few each year. And those were fairly simple examples. But lately I have a renewed interest in them, so decided to get more involved in them. First thing, that meant re-acquiring some reference books – I had kept a couple of these, but then went out and ordered replacements for Shaker Baskets by Wetherbee & Taylor and A Key into the Language of Woodsplint Baskets.

reference materials

reference materials

In the short video that my friend Rick McKee shot, I pounded the growth rings apart, then showed how to peel them in half, leaving a smooth, shiny surface for weaving. You  can peel these bit by bit with your fingers, holding the  splint between your knees like I do in the video, but it’s faster if you make a device that I think of as a tiny riving brake. It’s two pieces of white pine, with a 2″ wide groove plowed in  one, about 1/4″ deep. Then they are glued face-to-face, so the groove is now in the midst of the thickness.

Soak the splint in warm water for a few minutes. Then score the splint near the end to create a tab to begin pulling it apart. Slide it up through the slot in the pine boards.  Now pull quickly, spreading your arms full-width. Presto!

peeling the splint apart at the tab

peeling the splint apart at the tab

pull

pull

pull quickly

pull quickly

Here’s a detail shot, showing the surface of the inside of the splint.

satiny finish

satiny finish

Here’s one of my old basket, showing a detail of the attachment for the swing handle. I learned this one from the book Legend of the Bushwhacker Basket, by Wetherbee & Taylor. I’m going to make a couple of these this winter…the basket is ash, the handle & “ears” are white oak. Lashing is hickory bark.

swing handle detail

swing handle detail

A small favorite over the years – it’s made it on the blog before here & there. Ash, with hickory rims and bark lashing. So there will be more of this when I get a bit further along.

ash basket, 1989

ash basket, 1989

 

Lately I’ve been able to use some of my all-time 2nd-favorite local hardwood. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog a while know that it isn’t walnut.

 

white ash bolt

It’s ash. Down here in southeastern New England it’s white ash. My whole furniture career I have used this wood, at first I made JA-inspired ladderback chairs out of it quite often. Way back when…

At the museum, I have mostly used it for turned chairs, like these three-legged monsters.

three footed stool, ash & cherry

Four legs too.

ash chair, oak slats. Hickory bark seat

It turns so nicely, not as well as maple, but the combination of strength, dead-straight grain, great splitting ability, and good turning details makes it well suited for chair work. 


I have done some joinery with it from time-to-time, recently I put up some photos of my bedstead at home, and it has lots of ash components.

bedstead foot board

I have a joint stool frame made from ash too. Historically, you find some joiner’s work in it. Not a lot, but some. It has little decay resistance, especially compared to oak. Victor Chinnery told me that this chest at the Wadsworth Atheneum is made of ash. It’s eaten alive, so maybe Vic was right.

joined chest, Devon England c. 1660-80.

 

But there were several years, maybe 6 or 8, where I made lots and lots of baskets from ash, in addition to the chair work.

two baskets, c. 1988

Traditionally, basket splints were pounded from the whole log, crushing the early wood pores to separate the growth rings into splints for weaving. Here is the end grain, showing the ring-porous growth rings. It’s the open pores of the spring wood that crushes, leaving the more dense growth as the splint.

white ash end grain

That’s the best method to use if all you want from the log is basket splints. There’s very little waste that way. But if you want to make some chair parts from the same log, it’s best to rive out blanks and work them this way & that – some shaved & turned into chair work, tool handles, and others pounded apart into splints.

ash splints pounded


Many visitors to my shop comment on the smells of the wood. I don’t notice them as much as most folks just walking in. But this ash log I can smell, mostly because it’s not that often that I have some. And the scent of it brings back great memories of my earlier days at green woodworking. Funny how olfactory stuff is so tied to memory.

With the onslaught of the Emerald Ash Borer problem, I have often thought of how much I like ash timber, and how I would miss it if it disappears. Such a shame if future woodworkers won’t get to use wood like this. To that end, I am trying to make the most of each log I get from ash. Hoping that somehow the objects can stand if the tree is gone…it has made me re-think my feelings about the romantic sound of a wooden baseball bat making contact with the ball. Ash is the “traditional” wood for bats, ideally suited for it. But given the dubious lifespan of a bat, I think we’re better off with chairs, baskets – let’s aim for something that’ll be around a while

This log is going into some tool handles, a cupboard, a joined stool and some baskets. I guess I should make some shaved chairs from it for old times’ sake too…

Here’s some video shot by my friend Rick McKee from the Plantation showing how I pound apart the splints.

I have said it before, but be sure to go read Rick’s blog the Riven Word. I don’t miss a post – great tone, filled with fun and information. 

http://blogs.plimoth.org/rivenword/

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