Basket tour part 1

 

The past two weeks or so I’ve been pounding ash splints for making baskets. I’ve started weaving a few of them, and have lots more coming up. Baskets used to be almost a weekly thing for me, back in the 1980s and early 1990s, before oak furniture took over my thoughts. But I always come back to them, they’re so much fun to make and even better – to have around.

While getting ready to plunge deeply into them in the next couple of weeks, I’ve been studying some that I have hanging around here. Unlike the baskets I’m starting these days, all these are white oak baskets. You split white oak growth rings apart, instead of pounding like you do ash.

First, some I got when we cleaned up Jennie Alexander’s house after her death. JA loved baskets, and collected lots of them, but especially white oak baskets. I brought home a couple. This one is by a Maryland basketmaker JA knew, James McCrobie.

Here is Mr. McCrobie, as Alexander referred to him, shaving oak at a fair in Maryland.

The bottom of this basket:

And the inside view:


This one’s special because it’s by our great friend Louise Langsner, for Alexander. Way back when Louise used to make white oak baskets. Later, she began growing willow & using that to weave baskets. This white oak basket has hickory bark lashing on the rims.

The bottom:

The inside:

Louise used to peg the handles to the rims. I learned that technique there at County Workshops about 1986 or so. I had read it before that in Drew’s book County Woodcraft. Watch Lost Art Press for an updated version of that classic book (I’ll post about it when it happens too…) – in it is a chapter by Louise about making her oak baskets.

Here’s my first oak basket from that class – the instructor was Darry Wood.

In 1989 I made this round bottom white oak basket for Alexander. It came back to me after her death:

Inside:

Bottom, with hickory bark reinforcements

The hickory handle has a double notch, the lashing is hickory bark.

This one’s mine too, from 1988, I probably made it at Langsner’s – that spring & summer I was the intern there. White oak, hickory handle

I’ve used this basket a lot. Usually it holds all my spoon-carving gear, mostly tools & spoons-in-progress. The bottom features two “skids” shaved hickory bent up into the body. These reduce wear & tear on the bottoms.

One more white oak by me – this one’s from 1990. I’m working (again!) to re-learn how I weave those “filled” bottoms. So I swiped this one back from my wife, emptied it, and will this time keep track of what I did to weave it.

But it’s all ash here now. I haven’t made a white oak basket since this one probably…here’s a real favorite, but very small basket in ash with hickory rims & handle, hickory bark lashing. It’s about 6″ x 8 1/2″ and the basket is 3″ high. I wish I could make them this good all the time. Better go practice…

These new ones still have potential…

here’s the last time I re-learned the filled bottoms. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2015/11/01/another-basket-underway/ 

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.

my, what semi-perfect ears you have…

For some reason, I have always referred to these things as “ears” – musta heard that term somewhere. They are the bits that a swing-handle fits on for a basket. I make them from white oak or hickory, white oak is the 1st choice. Those on the right in this photo are semi-perfect; those on the left are perfect; the middle ones might make it, they might not. They tore up on the outside of the bend. Might be enough wood to shave away & still have something left behind. Bending white oak basket stuff is what I did today; after running around doing chores first. 

semi perfect ears

I didn’t take shots of the process – it’s too hard to do it & shoot it too. This photo shows some ears and other handles. I rive & shave them from green wood, then steam them in a steambox, a pretty simple one I cobbled together back in my windsor chair days. 

handles & ears

 

Here’s an un-bent ear; for an idea – these are 3/8″ squares; the shaved portion is 3″ long. Quite small. 

unbent ear

 

 

Here’s my newest swing-handle basket = a big one, about 14″ in diameter; about 10″ high to the rim. White ash & white oak. 

 

 

swing handle basket

This style of swing handle is one I learned from a book – The Legend of the Bushwhacker Basket, by Martha Wetherbee & Nathan Taylor

Here’s mine with the handle propped up, as it will be in use…

 

swnig up

And here are the ears in detail; they cross the basket from inside to outside; and fit in a hole bored in the handle. Then the ears are notched, and the rims fit into the notches inside & out. the ends of the ears are shaved thin, and slide under the basket’s weaving. Then the lashing binds it all together. 

installed ear & lashing

installed ear