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 –

Beginning the basket/cradle

Today was basket weaving, or more accurately, cradle-weaving. The project is a woven cradle for the Old House in Cutchogue, Long Island. I’m using white ash splints I pounded off a log some time ago. I soaked them in water for a while, then began “dressing” them. Sometimes this means scraping the splint by pulling it under a heavy slojd knife; like this:

Other times it’s peeling them apart. Score across the splint, bend the “tab” back to begin to divide it, then pull. Here’s an old, brief clip:

Once they are cleaned up, I cut them to the widths I need. Sometimes just a pair of scissors is all that’s needed. The uprights are heavier; both thicker & wider, than the weavers (horizontals). I had measured and photographed an old woven cradle at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, that was the basis for this one. I started in with the base woven like a large placemat. Below I’m adding in the short uprights:

Then measuring to arrive at the right size base. My uprights were a little wider than those on the old cradle, so I used slightly fewer of them, but just stopped when I hit the right dimensions.

I need lots of weavers for this project. I made a slitter for slicing the weavers. I’ve never seen one of these tools in the flesh, so I made this one up. It has a series of X-acto knife blades embedded into the end of a narrow pine offcut. Then I screwed a cap of oak to the end grain to keep the blades from slipping:

Then I pull a splint across it, slicing the ash into weavers. I’ve rarely used such a tool, I usually just use scissors. But this basket requires a lot of weavers…


Because I’m pretty new to using a tool like this, I don’t really quite “have the technique” yet. Here’s a short view of the action


It’s always cumbersome getting the big ones going. They want to flop around a lot…I keep it moist, and bend each side as I weave around it.

After a while, it begins to take shape and I can coerce each “wall” upright, then weave around & around.

It’s beginning to hold its shape on its own.

I weave with a continuous spiral around the basket; here I’m overlapping a new weaver under the end of the previous one.

Next up is figuring out how to weave the hood; I’m splicing in 9 side uprights so they’ll reach across and loop over the top. The long bits to my right form part of the hood at one end of the cradle.

I got this far & quit to take Rose to her violin lesson. Tomorrow I’ll pack these rows down tighter (after they dry overnight) then add a few more to bring the main body of the cradle to its finished height. Then tackle the hood.

two white oak baskets

Look what fell in my lap – a great white oak basket, from Kim L, via Martha. thanks to both.

basket from kim side

It’s a large, heavy-duty basket. All white oak. Some things about it remind me of the Taghkanic baskets from eastern New York. Very thick rims, large stout weavers and uprights. The bottom seems different from what I know about those baskets, but my knowledge is limited to the book Legend of the Bushwhacker Basket by Martha Wetherbee and Nathan Taylor. It’s about a foot high to the rim, and about 17″ in diameter. Here’s some views:

basket from kim top

basket from kim

The double-woven bottom is reinforced with added splints that are then slipped into the weaving on the sides of the basket. That might be why this basket is still around. Very tough.

basket from kim bottom

While we were out at Bill Coperthwaite’s place, I noticed a nice white oak basket there too. I got to look at this one with Louise Langsner, who made a slew of white oak baskets over the years, before switching to willow…this one seems to have had a lid that would have fit inside the small rim woven above the actual rim. It’s hard to see, but every upright has been split so the lashing can be very closely spaced.

white oak basket top

Here you see the bottom is filled in with extra splints. Makes me think sewing basket, or something like that. When a basket’s bottom is filled in like that, little things don’t get lost out the spaces in between the weaving.

white oak basket bottom

One of our stops on the mini-tour was Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine. We saw some Shaker ash baskets there, and a nice large round white oak one too, but no photography allowed. Drat.