Sometimes, you just want to take the piece of wood and beat the hell out of it. Thankfully, the other week when Phil, Frank and I did just that it was for good reason and not just to release some built-up frustration.
In the US there’s a whole branch of basketry based on ash splints, thin ribbons of wood created by separating the growth layers by pounding either the whole log or a prepared billet. I’d seen it done in some videos and when Jarrod was over for Spoonfest he brought some small samples with him to use in his bark sheath workshop. Jarrod’s wife, April makes beautiful splint baskets from ash, see them at Woodspirit in the gallery. Several UK makers were interested in the process and discussed trying pounding our native ash, spurred on by some old references to the technique.
It’s always easier to actually get on and try these ideas if there’s two of you so I mentioned it to my mate Phil Bradley who’s a basketmaker. He was immediately excited by the possibilities and the video links I sent so we met up on a damp day earlier this month for what we refer to as a ‘play day’ but should probably come under ‘continuing professional development’ or something.
Phil’s mate Frank came over too and we each took turns hammering the billets we’d cleaved and drawknifed out of a green 6″ diameter log. It was satisfyingly easy to do and didn’t need as much hammering as I’d expected, just a series of overlapping blows top and bottom (perpendicular to the growth rings) to break the bonds between layers and then angled strikes to separate them. This gave us splints about 1.5-2mm thick which we split further using a pocketknife to start a split and then pulling it apart. The inside has a gorgeous silky texture which seemed ready to use.
Phil kept the splints and plans to use them as highlights in his willow basketry, I just wanted to see if it would work and have a day out in good company.