Basket-making continues

I’ve had this ash log for a month now. I’m just about done pounding splints from it. I had made some chair parts early on, too, but most of it is basket stuff. I have two more 5 or 6-foot sections to work up. And about 16 baskets in the works. Below is one of the remaining billets, you see it’s as straight as a tree can grow.

But not all the material in it is usable. The first 1 1/2″ below the bark grew so slowly as to be useless. Those splints were breaking on me as I tried to pound them. I reached a point where I gave up, there’s only so much time in a day, and it’s not worth fighting over.

The good parts of that stock I split into three billets, and shaved them to then pound them apart.

I use a 3-lb. hammer to pound the billet along its top & bottom surface. Overlapping hammer blows all over.

Then I hang an end of the billet over a rounded piece of wood (in this case, a reject chair part) and smack it. The growth rings then begin to separate.

Then start pulling them apart. Over & over.

Coil ’em up and soak in water before using. Can be stored for ages & ages.

When it comes to the basket-making, I approach it differently than I do the oak furniture I make. When I make furniture, I try to keep close to the originals I study. I don’t mix a Connecticut carving on a box based on one from northern Massachusetts for example. But with the baskets, I’ll pick this or that characteristic and throw them into most any combination.

Many baskets are woven with a continuous weaver going around and around the basket. To be able to alternate the “over/under” scheme as each row climbs up the basket, you need an odd number of uprights. Often this is achieved by splitting an upright, like the one here just to the left of the right corner of the basket.

Another way to get the continuous weaving is to add a “twill” or a skip in each row. At one point, I go over two, instead of just over one. Then each succeeding row this “skip” moves over one upright. The finished effect is a spiral trailing around the basket. No split upright, continuous weaving. You see it here about 11 rows up on the right, then winding to our left.

From the book Shaker Baskets by Martha Wetherbee & Nathan Taylor I learned about added uprights – a method the Shakers used to get an odd number of uprights. The first weaver has a long tail winding up at a corner, and when the weaver comes around, it treats the end of itself as the odd upright – it’s the narrow one here at the corner. It comes down from the top, turns left as it begins weaving around the uprights.

Time to finish some of these so I can make some more. All this basket stuff will be covered in videos – I’ve shot lots of it.

My basketry library is pretty small, but all of these are must-haves if you’re interested in this sort of basket.

Legend of the Bushwacker Basket, Wetherbee & Taylor, Appalachian White Oak Basketmaking, Rachel Nash Law & Cynthia Taylor, Key into the Language of Woodsplint Baskets, various authors, Shaker Baskets, Wetherbee & Taylor.

reference materials

Ha! While looking for that photo of those books, I found that, as usual, I wrote this same blog post before – five years ago – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/some-basketry-thoughts/

9 thoughts on “Basket-making continues

  1. it’s the next series, but first there’s two stand-alone videos. And I shot ridiculous amounts of the basketmaking, enough to try people’s patience & lose scads of viewers. Soon I’ll have to go back to furniture-making.

  2. Thank you Peter, it is enjoyable to watch your work. I was fascinated to see you pound the billets in order to more easily split them. I had wondered how you were able to make them so uniform.

  3. As usual, I learn so much from this blog – the woodworking and the assorted techniques are great. I just wanted to say it’s nice to see Peter wearing suspenders (yeah, another form of brace) I finally gave up trying to cinch everything together with a belt! The button versions of suspenders are amazing – they don’t give out at all the ‘wrong’ times and don’t shred pants like an alligator with a cloth vendetta. Thanks for all the useful inspiration, and keep up the good work. Well done that man.

  4. Have you ever tried making splits like this with any species other than ash? My brother and I cut down a medium size maple tree for bowls and I noticed some similar delamination.

    • In the US there are also white oak split baskets. Those growth rings are split apart, not pounded apart. As far as I know, ash is the only wood that you pound apart. there are some hickory splints prepared the same way as white oak, split.

      • Yes, I was referring to the pounding method. I have made a couple of (crude) white oak baskets. Inherited a nice collection of them from my parents that includes a couple of really fine Mary Prater egg baskets.

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