extra-curricula work, baskets & spoons

I’ve just started working with a white ash log I got some time ago, I have  been splitting it open and starting some turned chairs. Ash often grows very straight, and splits & turns beautifully. Strong, but not too heavy, it is an excellent choice for chairs. I have worked with it for as long as I have counted myself as a woodworker.  One very disturbing thing about ash is the effect the emerald ash borer is having on this tree. see http://www.emeraldashborer.info/ I hate to think that we might see this tree wiped out, much like the chestnut and elm… 

small ash basket


One thing I use to make a lot of from ash is woven baskets. I learned basketmaking in white oak to begin with, at Country Workshops back in the mid-1980s. But here in southeastern Massachusetts, ash outnumbered white oak by far.  So I ended up learning how to produce splints from ash (as opposed to “splits” from oak.) The way ash splints are made is to pound apart the growth rings in the wood. Using a heavy hammer (I use a 3lb hand sledge hammer) you pound upon the growth-ring plane of the log. The early spring wood crushes, and the growth rings come apart. These become the splints. They can then be split apart, or scraped to produce smooth material foe weaving baskets.

One method I learned about making ash splints was to pound billets of wood, instead of pounding the whole log. First the log is riven just as you would for chair parts; halves, quarters, eighths, so on. Then small sections are shaved at a shaving horse into pieces about 1 ½” wide by maybe 1” thick. I hold this billet of wood on the stump, and pound upon the growth ring layer with the sledgehammer. Each blow overlaps the previous. I pound all down the length, then flip the piece over and pound the same way on the opposite face. At this stage you can see the early wood crushing and the growth rings separating.

pounding ash billet


Once I have hammered the whole thing, I stick one end out past the edge of the stump, and hammer on this overhanging end. This makes the whole thing flap apart. Presto, you get many, many layers of splints in a hurry.

pounding splints apart


growth rings delaminating


I am just using the off-splits from busting this log apart for chairs. There are some nice, slow-growing sections that will give me a bunch of splints without too much effort. The stock is pretty short, so that means small baskets; but I’ll make some for the kids to hold their junk in. Maybe I can get rid of some more plastic stuff. Before I became a joiner, I made lots of baskets; and I still have some of my favorites around the house.

basket of spoon stuff


One keeps my spoon carving gear. As some of you have heard me go on about, there is a great class this summer at Country Workshops in carving Swedish-style spoons and bowls. I keep my spoons-in-progress in this white oak basket; along with the knives I use for that work. I have been reviewing some of the articles, etc about spoon-carving. Among that stuff is this roughed-out spoon Jogge Sundqvist made during the shooting of his video in 1988. It was split out from a rhododendron branch, then part of the shape was sawn with a small frame saw. A little knife work and the spoon was well-defined. I don’t remember why he didn’t finish it, but I have kept it as an example of the first stages of forming the spoon.

Jogge's roughed-out spoon


another view


Here’s another of his, I have used this one for 20 years now.

jogge sundqvist spoon 1988


side view


Here’s some pertinent links:

the class at Country Workshops, and the video available from them as well:



Kari Hultman is gearing up for the class as well. See her posts here:



Jogge’s site:


Del Stubbs’ site. This one takes time, there’s tons of stuff to see there


18 thoughts on “extra-curricula work, baskets & spoons

  1. I must try that on the local woods (no ash this far north…). I’ve seen Finns splitting pine down to basket splints (starting wiuth wedges and using a knife in the end).

  2. Lovely baskets, Peter. Techniques like you show in pounding the ash to make splints always make me wonder who first came up with the idea and how they figured it out. Maybe some woodworker from long ago was having a bad day and was tired of sawing splints and took a hammer to the piece instead? ; )

  3. Beautiful baskets!

    Now, will that technique work on the ash I buy at the lumber yard, which is almost certainly kiln dried? I’ll have to give it a try.

    Are the handles steam bent? Naw, knowing you, probably “green bent.”

    Thanks Peter for showing the technique.

    • Bob: save yourself the effort. Green wood only applies to this pounding technique, also, it needs to be riven along the tree’s growth rings. Lumberyard wood won’t work. Sorry, it’s off to the woods with you.

      I used boiling water poured over the shaved parts for handles, rims, etc. to limber then enough for bending.

  4. Hi Peter

    That is amazing the way the ash splits, I shall have a go next time I get hold of some.

    I am one of your readers in the UK and have learnt loads from reading your blog. I hate the noise of power tools and find the old techniques fascinating. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.


  5. How does pounding ash splints differ from under bark collecting? Is that all peeled, or do you hammer it first? Probably just sliced lengthwise and peeled away?

    • Trent

      Pounding these splints is quite different from harvesting inner bark. The splints are the wood itself, and can be pounded any time of year.

      Inner bark, like that of hickory, can most easily be harvested in the springtime, when the sap is running in the tree. I’ve never cut it any other time. Some have; but with difficulty, I’m sure.

      And then, it’s only one layer that becomes the weaving material. It can often be split into two thicknesses, but even so, there is a limit to how much material one tree will yield. That being said, for seat-weaving – bark is tougher & better than ash splints.

  6. Lovely baskets, Peter. Perfect for holding a spoon carving kit. The shots of the pounding and separating process are great. More clear and simply put than anything I have seen or read before. Is the wrap around the basket rim ash also? Looks like it might be hickory bark.

  7. Peter,

    Is the ash you use black ash? Down here in Tennessee our ash is usually white or green so do you happen to know if those work also?


  8. White ash is what I have used for many years. My understanding is that black ash works best; but here in southern New England it’s not a common tree. I believe the green ash is a subspecies of white ash, but I could be wrong.

  9. Peter,

    Thanks for the information, I’ll try a piece of green ash this weekend and see how well it works.


  10. Peter,

    This is awesome and I had been looking for some pictures of this technique. Thank you so much for posting them.

    Quick question, could I cut the billets with a saw instead of splitting them by hand? I was thinking of a power saw application here..perhaps cutting the log in half with the chain saw and then cutting the pieces down with a table saw.

    • well, Tom – the quick answer to your question is that you can do whatever you want of course. I would not consider it, because that’s not the way I prefer to work…the beauty of a nice ash log is that it splits easily & accurately. and quietly.

    • Louis
      none that I know about. Some others can be split into basket materials; white oak in the Southern United States is one. In parts of northern Europe there is a tradition of making basket stuff from coniferous woods; pine being one. I know next to nothing about this work though…

  11. I just hammered a bunch of splints but I am not having much luck splitting them in two. Some of them are thicker growth rings and they tend to want to split to one side and break. Any advice on what I can do to have better results?

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