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, 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.

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pack basket full view

April's baskets

Version 4

Version 2

That was basket week…here’s part of it

Last week was basket week – and today I’ve started some new work, but I’ll show you what I did last week. Basket work will go on, but as a time-filler. I have enough baskets woven, or started, that I can pick them up here & there for an hour or two. Like many woodworking projects; most of the effort in basket-making is preparing the materials. I have written before about pounding the splints from an ash log   – here’s links to old posts on the subject. I have some new posts coming up about peeling the splint, but in the meantime…

But right now, this post is about weaving up the basket bodies. Handles and rims are for another time. The basket itself is made up of the uprights and weavers. “Uprights”  is  something of a misnomer, because although they bend up to be the sides of the basket, they also form the bottom. 

Uprights are generally heavier (thicker, and wider most often too) and weavers thinner and narrower. So a big part of the work is sorting and sizing the material. 

If the splint is too thin to divide (or peel) then I scrape it smooth. This makes it less fuzzy, and also thins it some. Better for weaving. These pieces are uprights in the basket. To scrape it, I pull the splint across a piece of leather on my knee – then hold the knife in place to scrape it as I pull back…don’t do it w/o the leather! My them braces the knife blade so it stays stationary. 


Then you have to trim them to the desired width. The baskets I was working on last week had around 25-30 uprights. Round baskets have 16, another time. those pictures are on a different camera. 



Once you have all your uprights and weavers; you lay them out, this basket has long and short weavers; to form a rectangular bottom. I start with 3 going each way, and weave them one under the other, this way & that. Then add pieces side to side, and north & south. Here, I am weaving a single thin weaver around the perimeter of the basket’s bottom. This binds them together, keeps them from shifting around as I begin weaving the body. Some refer to this piece as a “keeper” – it keeps the uprights in place. 


Some baskets have independent weavers – each horizontal row is a separate weaver. This is easy to do, but wastes a lot of material. So there’s lots of ways to weave a continuous spiral around the basket. But to do this and keep alternating where the weaver goes under and over the uprights, you need an odd number of uprights. You can split one, or add one. (or do one of several other approaches – but I usually split or add)  – Here I added an upright, and tapered it to become the first weaver too. It’s towards the upper right hand corner of the photo – follow that bendy upright, and you see it weaves into the others. Then you just keep adding & overlapping each new weaver as one runs out. I overlap them for 2 uprights. 



added upright & wever



Then you just keep on weaving. I periodically dunk everything in the water, especially outdoors in summer. I want this stuff damp. Once I’ve gone around a bit, I gently bend things up and then cinch the weaver in tight as I go. 



basketry 3

A basket like this has an “open” bottom – there are spaces between the uprights. That’s the most common form I make. but there is one we have around the house that is closed or “filled” in the bottom. 

filled bottom before turning fillers up

Next time I’ll show you how I lay that up. 

Don’t forget – the spoons are posted and ready to go. The spoon rack I had sold, and one reader asked if I would make another – of course I will! Anytime you see something like that – if you missed it, and would like to order one, I’d be happy to oblige.


right now it’s baskets; but spoons & more for sale

The spoons, a frame-and-panel and one spoon rack for sale now – the top of the blog, or this link. .  If you’d like to order something, leave a comment. I can send a paypal invoice, or you can send a check. As always, I appreciate everyone’s interest in my work.


Meanwhile, but here’s today’s blog post. I have some stuff underway that I haven’t put on the blog much, because I haven’t made more than a few baskets a year in 2 decades. This is the scene these days. Baskets, and more baskets. I used to make these a lot, before there was joinery. It really is exciting to explore them again; but I’m having to re-learn stuff I used to know pretty well.  Today I had to make a slitting tool too, to slice up the narrow horizontal weavers. I’ll shoot it tomorrow when I use it again. I had one once, but it got lost in the shuffle 20 years ago I guess.


the scene

I decided to dedicate a whole week, maybe more, to making baskets. It’s been so long since I made more than one or two…and the only way it’s going to come back to me is for me to do it over & over.


basketry 1

basketry 2

basketry 3

Earlier in the week, I was shaving and bending some white oak for handles & rims. I’ll fit those on this weekend. I like the white oak even better than hickory for bending. The King of Woods, Daniel O’Hagan used to say…

riving white oak

shaving horse work


peeling ash splints

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 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


If it ain’t oak…

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.