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/

Making parts of things

I got a call from my friend Michael Burrey recently. Was going log shopping, did I want anything? Well, I hit the jackpot. Ash, hickory & red oak. I brought the ash and hickory home first, they don’t last as long as red oak in the log. So I’ve been working them into pieces of things – basket & chair parts mostly.

The ash log was first, and I wrote some of that here – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2020/04/30/fraxinus-nostalgia/

I’ll get back to that when I begin making baskets from it soon.

Because I can’t deliver logs down to my shop (there’s no vehicle access) I split both logs at Michael’s yard. Here’s some of the hickory, it split open with ease. They both did actually.

I’ve been able to harvest some of the inner bark from it, I’ve never taken bark strips off split sections before. It’s not my first choice, but better than wasting the bark. Here I have a 7′ long split up on the bench and am shaving down the thickness of the inner bark. It’s been sliced into widths on the log, then thin it down, & peel it up.

Getting under there with a knife & snipping uncooperative inner bark.

The wood is dead-straight and nearly perfect. I’ve been riving & shaving it into chair parts like these rungs:

And I’ve shaved and bent several sets of hickory posts – and some earlier of ash. There’s also some spindle-blanks for another version of Curtis Buchanan’s democratic chair. I bent some crests for those too, but they’re already up in the loft. The glue is to seal the ends so they don’t check. Hickory can be temperamental.

Stuff that was too thin for chair rungs gets saved for basket rims/handles/ears. These are shaved with a slojd knife to thin them out for bending.

And here they are bent & tied. These become “ears” for swing-handle baskets. Hickory is ideal for these, white oak is another wood I’ve used for them.

I don’t often get hickory around here, so I’m making the most of it. Thin stock is riven & shaved, then bent into basket handle blanks. I usually make the basket first, then make handles to fit them. Because the hickory can get pretty difficult to work with it it dries out, I’m splitting and shaving everything I can from it now. Handles on the left (& in back) the ash splints on the right. Older rungs above. I have to make some chairs to make room for more chair parts…

Daniel & I are working on the last two videos in the joined stool series. Should have them in the next couple of days. Back to riving & shaving tomorrow, some axe handle blanks to store for my old age.

Fraxinus nostalgia

First. some blog updating – long-time readers of the blog will have noticed an increase in video-action recently. And a drop-off in the written-text-and-photos approach. Today’s post is all still-photography. I am not turning away from that format, it’s my main interest in the blog. It serves several purposes, one of which is purely selfish. It’s my journal. For the past 12 years almost.

I’m enjoying the videos (now that I don’t have to learn editing, thanks Daniel) and will continue to add them. The goal is to have both formats in regular rotation. I have nothing but time, right?

When I think of die-hard gamers who spend a lot of time blowing stuff up on computer monitors, I think of Mary May, the woodcarver. She just seems so at home with that gamer scene. (that’s a joke) – yesterday I was a guest on her livestream https://www.twitch.tv/search?term=mary%20may%20woodcarver

Mary’s there 5 days a week at 1pm eastern time, carving away or having guests present stuff. When all of our travelling woodworking circuses got cancelled, several of us were adapting one way or another, and Mary’s response was to dive head-first into live-streaming her carving work. Watch them live, or catch them later, they’re archived on her site there.

Now onto what you came here for. Michael Burrey nabbed an ash log for me the other day. I went to his place, mask & all, and split some to bring home. These bolts are eighths of the log. They’re probably about 5-6 feet long right now.

I was planning on mostly making ladderback chair parts from them, with some basket splints and other bits. But when I got to riving it, I saw that the outermost 2″ is so slow-grown as to be hideously weak for chair stuff. Look at this section, just over 2″ – and has over 40 years of growth. (ten years between each pair of pencil marks.)

This got pounded into basket splints instead of becoming a chair post. There are chair parts in the log, the earlier portions are still nice & straight, and grew more quickly. This is a finished shaved chair post, 1 1/4″ thick (at the foot) – just about 11 1/2 rings to this piece.

My work for the past 25 years or more has mostly been making oak furniture, but way back when in my chair-making days, I spent a lot of time making ash baskets. And I still do make a few every so often. Here’s how I go about pounding the sections to make the splints I’ll use to weave the baskets.

After riving out the stock, I carefully shave it so I end up with a piece about 3/4″ – 1″ thick, maybe up to about 1 1/2″ wide, by whatever length I can get that’s dead straight & clear. In this case, about 3-4 footers (they were split for chairs initially, remember). The goal is to have the growth rings running horizontally through the width of this “billet” and shaved very carefully so the top & bottom surfaces are each a full growth ring plane.

Then I take a 3-lb. sledge hammer and pound along the top and then the bottom of the billet. Hard. I make sure the piece is well-supported on the surface of the stump. An anvil is better…but I don’t have one. Railroad track is excellent as well. Don’t have one of those either. Top & bottom, overlapping the hammer blows.

Now I hang one end beyond where the billet is supported, in this case on a reject chair post. And smack that overhanging projection. This causes the layers to delaminate.

Here’s a detail of the end grain. You can see the open pores in each growth ring. These are the “early wood” or “spring wood” growth. These get crushed under the hammer blows. What remains is the more solid part of the growth ring, the “late wood”, or “summer wood.” Ash is the only wood I have ever heard of that delaminates this way. Black ash is the traditional wood for baskets in northern North America, but white ash (which is what I am using) works too. I’m told by my friend Jarrod Dahl that black ash pounds a lot easier than white. I’ve never had the chance to work it.

Keep pounding and then repeating the overhanging smack and things keep coming apart.

Sometimes a couple layers will stick together in places. You can get in there & pull them apart, carefully.

I coil them together like this, then tie them together to store them til I need them. Later I’ll be showing how I dress the splints and weave some baskets. And I shot video of this work too, we’ll get to see that another time. (you can see a snippet of it on Instagram from today https://www.instagram.com/p/B_myVA5nI9R/ )

For now, as I pick each bolt of ash, and rive it apart, I earmark some for splints, some for chairs. I go through the whole billet, making materials for later use. Then onto the next billet, etc. Ash logs don’t last long, so I’m working to get through this one before the warm weather gets here.

There’s no success like failure…

ash basket detail 2

there’s many different ways to weave the round-bottom baskets; but I only know one. well, I used to know it. I use 16 uprights, laid out in 2 batches of 8. One of the first 8 uprights is split to create an odd number so the weaving can continue in a spiral up & around the basket. I’ve woven these for years, formerly more often than lately; but I did one just two weeks ago to prepare for Plymouth CRAFT class I had a week ago.

at that class, I fell flat on my face. The students were amazing, they took to pounding out ash splints like crazy; and each of them wove up either a square-to-round basket or rectangular to oval basket on the first day. (group photo by Marie Pelletier) 

 

I went home that night thinking, this’ll be great – tomorrow they can make more splints and we’ll weave the round bottom…except they got tired. And I lost my way – and couldn’t get the bottoms started right. For the life of me, I couldn’t see what was wrong…I had several examples right there in front of me. I almost took one apart! I knew the problem was when to bring in the 2nd batch of 8 uprights. That’s what I kept messing up.

I came home & the next couple of days I wove 4 of them. Got it nailed, now. I never really taught basket making before, and having to explain something really pushes you…here’s how I actually weave a round bottom (also termed a “double bottom”) basket. I make 16 uprights. These were about 15” long, I made a mark the mid-point of each upright. Just fold the strip in half, and scribe with a pencil. then mark out from that in both directions, say 4”. Take a pair of scissors and cut an hourglass shape on each upright. This cut comes in just beyond the outer marks, tapers down quite narrow for where it crosses the mid-point. the idea is to make these uprights narrow where they all fan out in the middle. ‘

Now, take the 1st eight, and lay them down with the inside of the basket facing up. First two form a cross, then diagonals each way.

4

 then keep adding pairs of uprights, splitting the spaces. the eighth one has been trimmed so one end of it down to the mid-point has been cut in half. This creates the odd number of uprights. As I said, there’s lots of ways to lay these out; this falls under the line “You do it like that?”

8

Now a narrow thin weaver starts right in at the split upright. I snug the end into the split, and then over one/under one as it winds around the spokes formed by the uprights. this is tight curves, so the weaver wants to be thin. and narrow. but I already told you that…

close up first set

a few trips around and it begins to look like something. Soon, you’ll need to add the 2nd set of 8 uprights. These get laid in place, one by one, and woven down to the mat created by weaving the the first 8. And this is where I messed up. But what I found out is it matters where and when you add the next uprights. You want to start laying in the new batch when the weaver is coming from underneath the split upright.

1st one of 2nd set
first upright of the 2nd eight getting woven down to the first eight

This way you’re binding the new uprights down to the first batch. It’s so simple and logical, but my fuddled head just couldn’t get it while under the gun.

success 2
All sixteen woven together now

Good judgement is the result of experience, and experience is the result of poor judgement. yeah, right. Like that. 

double bottom

Greenwood Fest 2016 instructor April Stone Dahl

 

One aspect of green woodworking that never ceases to amaze me is ash basketry. Every time I’ve pounded apart an ash log, I‘m in awe when I see the growth rings delaminate perfectly. The resulting splints by themselves are rather fragile – but when woven together create a basket that will last generations. I’ve been concentrating on basket-making this week, so it’s fitting to introduce our next instructor for Greenwood Fest 2016, April Stone Dahl.

april 2

I have not met April, but have followed her work, and her husband Jarrod’s, through their website and blog, http://woodspirithandcraft.com/ When we at Plymouth CRAFT began talking about a festival for greenwood crafts, I knew I wanted to invite April to show us her basket work. The requisite blurb:

“April is a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa/Ojibwe. She began her study in black ash basketry in the spring of 1998 after her husband had woven his first basket.  After spending the remainder of the year examining his basket and how it worked, a great understanding and respect for what the basket had showed her took hold.  In the spring of 1999, she wove her first basket.  From that point on, her time was spent weaving one basket after another.  Through this process of being mostly self-taught, she was able to learn firsthand how ratios and proportions and thicknesses played a role in the making of aesthetically pleasing utilitarian baskets, as well as suitable tree selection and harvesting living trees from the swamp.  In the fall of 2000, she taught her first class.

Since the humble beginnings of her work with ash basketry, April has not only learned a great deal about this type of splint work, but shares it with anyone who has an interest.  She has provided demonstrations and tailored workshops for after school programs, libraries, college classrooms, folk schools, high risk youth programs, art centers, tribes and cultural events, while working out of her home, in her community, regionally and internationally.

Through the years she searched for other native basket weavers in the area, which historically had many, but found only a few and many were not currently weaving. She came to realize she was the only ash basket-weaver making baskets in her band and among just a hand full in all of the northern Chippewa/Ojibwe in Wisconsin.

In the near 17 years that April has spent weaving, selling, teaching and researching black ash basketry, she has gained much insight into what makes a really good splint basket. She lives with her husband, Jarrod, and their 4 children on the Bad River Indian reservation in northern WI., where she enjoys reading, home-schooling, eating good food and exploring her cultural connections with handcraft.”

April’s work helps us to see that green woodworking is more than spoons and chairs. One more reason that even I can’t wait for this event. Here’s some pictures, this first one I love – I think of it as “In with the old, out with the new” as the basket replaces the plastic bag…

Some may see this as problematic as the bag is a plastic facsimile of the real basket. I see this as a slow movement back toward using baskets again through changing our cultural opinions/views by using the image of the basket in use again.

product shots 12-6-12 110.JPG

pack basket full view

April's baskets

Version 4

Version 2

another basket underway

weaving

I’m having so much fun working at making ash baskets lately, in preparation for the upcoming class at Plymouth CRAFT – http://plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=wood-splint-baskets-with-peter-follansbee that I feel like I’m skipping work. Today I wove up another rectangular-body basket, this time with what I call a “filled” bottom. All that I mean by that is instead of the usual weaving pattern that results in square spaces between the pieces in the bottom, there are extra fillers woven in to fill these voids. There’s lots of ways to achieve this, – earlier I showed one version:

filled bottom

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/baskets-continued/

This time, the filler strips were woven continuously, whereas on the one above, they are individual strips woven between each row. those fold over on  themselves. These don’t. (this view is what will be the inside of the basket). Here as I add each wide piece, the narrower weaver wraps around it and winds down the sides…so the white one on the right will bend 90-degrees, and I’ll lay in the next wide piece, then the white one will run down beside it. and the one on the left will do the same, but going up the other way. And on & on.

filled weave

I hadn’t done this weaving since 1990, it took me a couple of false starts to “get it” again. It helped that I was using some newer material mixed with older stuff – so bright white weavers against the aged-looking uprights.

Here’s the view from the bottom:

bottom view

Got it woven up to the point where I now have to let it dry. This one has individual horizontal weavers. That’s how you can work in some narrow & some wide weavers for a different look. This basket is about 10″ x 14″ by maybe 7″ high. I’ll make the rims from white oak, as a demo in the class.

time to dry it

Time to clean up, so I can do some carving tomorrow. And then more of each…

 

 

some basketry thoughts

I spent yesterday sorting basket splint leftovers. Prep for my Plymouth CRAFT workshop next weekend http://plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=wood-splint-baskets-with-peter-follansbee

I used to make baskets a lot, often a dozen at a time. Now, I tinker with them. I wish I had more time for them, they are something that really connects with me. I think I’m happiest making things to put stuff it, baskets, chests, boxes. Hmm, a theme. But the baskets – the scraps are godawful unruly. After sorting & weaving two baskets, there’s still scraps.

scraps

Pounding ash splints is so much work, I hate to throw any of it away. So I tend to save as much as I can, thinking – “well, I can make a smaller basket with the scraps.” Sure. But, I had a shelf full of bits & pieces, and was able to soak the material enough to unravel it, then sort it by width, thickness & length. Some goes for the uprights – these are heavier thickness, slightly wider. Thinner narrow stuff for the horizontal weavers. I wove one round bottom basket, and one rectangular basket. These will be the basic models the students will look at next weekend when I teach a 2-day class with Plymouth CRAFT. But I’ve been looking at lots of examples in preparation.

2 baskets

One thing basket makers know is “over one, under one” – that’s the most basic weaving when you are winding the body of the basket. But, to get that weaving to work, you need an odd number of uprights. Or some forethought. One way around it is to use an individual weaver for each row. So row one is over one, under one. Row 2 is under one, over one. and they alternate each row. This can be quite effective, a lot of Native baskets in New England are done this way. You can alternate wide & narrow weavers for very striking effects this way. But, it can be slow, and there can be some waste, when you have some longer weavers that you need to cut down to size.  Here’s a couple of mine done that way.

single weavers

small rect basket

A Native one we saw at Harvard’s Peabody Museum – made here in Southeastern New England:

local basket Harvard


Using a continuous weaver means you need the odd number of uprights. Here I used the most common method to create the odd uprights – I split (halved w scissors really) one upright, you can see it on the front side of this basket (2nd from left) – once you do that, you can just weave a spiral all around the basket, and each successive row will alternate from the previous row. Overlap a new weaver as the old one runs out, and keep on going. You need to taper the end of the weaver near the top edge of the basket, because the weaving is spiraling up the basket.

split upright

Some don’t like to split an upright. You can intentionally put a skip in the over one/under one, and go over 2, then shift this “over 2” one upright over each time around the basket. This creates a spiral winding around the body of the basket. some call this a “twill” but I think of a twill as when you weave the whole basket with over 2, under 2 and skip a step all around. Another day perhaps. 

twill or spiral weave

Another technique I learned was in the book Shaker Baskets by Martha Wetherbee & Nathan Taylor. The Shakers would start the weaving with a piece that laid in beside the uprights, then turned to become the first weaver. So one end of it acts like the odd upright, then when the weaving makes the first trip around, it weaves over itself. Then keep going. This is the one I use most often in square or rectangular baskets, in round ones, I split an upright. Hard to see in this photo, but there’s a very narrow upright right on the corner, that comes down and turns to our left to become the first actual weaver. There’s a single weaver that makes one trip around before it, just to confuse you. 

corner upright