Last month I was invited down to Surrey to teach a group of fine furniture makers how to make ash splint baskets. Aidan Turner runs a school for aspiring furniture makers and wanted the course to broaden the students’ experience and introduce them to other interesting materials.
Aidan had sourced a lovely ash log locally so the first morning was spent with me showing them how to pound a log to delaminate the growth rings and produce splints. We took turns in pounding and also riving down the thicker material to make splints suitable for weaving.
Once we had a good amount of splints and had warmed up from the work we set about making the basket. Aidan and I agreed that, when learning, it’s useful to have a relatively simple project so that you can concentrate on the processes and techniques involved. It was interesting for all of us to see how the furniture makers, used to working with boards and to very fine tolerances, approached the different skills required in basket making. I’m looking forward to seeing how they take this forward and incorporate it into their other work.
I teach ash splint basket making courses around the UK, details on my courses page. I can also teach your group at your own venue, please email me with your enquiry steve[at]stevetomlincrafts.co.uk
After a difficult start to the scythe season, it was great to be back with a group learning to scythe at Bell Sykes farm in Lancashire. Bell Sykes is the Coronation Meadow for the county and the meadows are a beautiful mass of flowers. We spent the morning setting up the Austrian scythes and practising honing them before heading out for a couple of hours mowing a wildflower meadow with a great mix of species.
If you’d like to learn my next Learn to Scythe course is on 4th Sept at Chapel-le-Dale in Yorkshire. To book a space, please email me steve[at]stevetomlincrafts.co.uk
With all the things that are going on this year, it’s easy to lose track of the months. Happily, nature’s calendar is still reliable and a great way to keep in touch with the seasons. As we shift from the all too short summer into the first hints of autumn, the berry season is starting and I’ve been out picking the first of the blackberries for making wine later in the year. This Devon stave basket is from my latest batch. The others were all made to order but I decided to keep one for myself and put it straight to use.
New salad servers ready for the summer! I’ve been using some of the lockdown time to work on my tiny back garden. It’s mostly flagstones but I’ve built a small raised bed along one wall and have got herbs and salads growing which is super exciting. It lead me to think about making some salad sets so here they are.
The ebonised handles is something I do a lot on my stirring spoons and works really well with the cherry wood so you get the red wood colour coming through the black. I also decided to experiment with some pyrography after seeing some Japanese tattoos. The cherry blossom seems fitting for the cherry wood. Which do you prefer, let me know in the comments.
These are for sale now in my etsy store. I’ve only made these few so don’t delay if you want a set.
I’m just back from Cumbria where I was invited to teach a scything course for some of the gardening team at CGP Publishing. The company is housed in an amazing house and formal garden just outside Broughton in south Cumbria. Most of the grounds are mown regularly my machine but there are many areas where access is more difficult or they are leaving the grass to grow into a wildflower meadow. These are perfect conditions for using a scythe.
The team already had some Austrian scythes and wanted proper training on how to set them up and mow effectively. The mowing areas were mostly on slopes with tall grasses and wildflowers. Theses are difficult to learn on but everyone did really well and we cleared a large area while the team chatted and worked.
I teach scything courses around the UK and can come to teach you either as an individual or in a group at your own venue. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details
I’ve been working on a few ash splint pack baskets lately, which has been great to keep me busy during lockdown. In preparation for them, I always like to make some smaller baskets which has resulted in a couple of these harvest baskets being available for sale.
These are a classic square-to-round construction starting from a checkerboard base which flares up to the handle. I’m really pleased with how they swell and the continuation of those curves into the bale handle. The handle is jointed and lashed to the basket along with the rim.
Each basket is 18cm approx high to the rim, 35cm high overall, 26cm diameter at the rim and currently available for sale in my Etsy shop with more photos there.
If you’re interested in learning how to work with ash splint and make your own baskets, I teach a number of workshops each year at venues around the UK. Please visit my greenwood courses page for details or sign up to my newsletter for updates on courses and dates.
The top handle of my pack baskets is a steam piece of ash which is fun to make and surprisingly quick once you’ve got used to them. It’s all small scale with the centre section just 6mm thick so care is needed to make it even so it will bend sweetly. The jig has been through a few iterations as I’ve refined the shape over the years. The curves were good but I wanted to adjust the width so simply inserted different pieces between the two halves to get what I wanted. Twenty minutes in the steam and they’re ready to go. They set almost straight away and can come off the former ready to do the next.
Ash splint basketry requires slow grown timber whereas these need to be faster grown stock for strength.
My scything season has been very disrupted by the current global situation so it was fantastic to be able to get out and teach a socially distanced workshop at a private venue in the Yorkshire Dales.
Mike and Aelred were brilliant company for the day and we managed to arrange the course so everyone felt safe while also having plenty of fun. The scythe is a tool that naturally encourages safe distancing! The wildflower meadow they are planning to manage with the scythes is already in great shape and made for lovely mowing in gorgeous weather.
Here’s some feedback from them both
Thanks for a great day today- we really enjoyed your enthusiasm for scything. Your instruction was excellent- very patient and thorough and I think you have 2 more converts to the cause.
I love cycling around the city and using my bike to explore the countryside around me. Thankfully, I don’t go through so many inner tubes but my local bike shop clearly does and was very happy to provide me with an armful I upcycled into this robust and weatherproof stool seat. It’s very comfortable and an idea I’ll be working with more in the future.
From time to time, it’s important to make something that allows you to play with ideas. Meeting up with friends to carve wooden spoons is one of these times for me when, rather than make familiar spoons from my standard designs, I enjoy making something unknown.
It’s a useful practise for many reasons. I like to challenge my skills, which includes the use of the tools but also the accuracy of my eyes in judging balance, shape and design. The process is more like sculpture, cutting carefully and slowly to search for the unfamiliar shape in the wood. It reminds me what it’s like to be a beginner which is invaluable in my main work of teaching spoon carving and other craft courses.
Often these sessions produce nothing more than a useful experience and an underwhelming spoon but sometimes things come together really well as in this serving strainer I carved from some lovely rowan wood. I added the strainer holes with my friend John Mullaney while we were demonstrating at a show together.
The bowl shape was partly influenced by the wood I had but I deliberately wanted to get some double curves into the bowl and I love how it came out. That became the star of the show so I kept the handle fairly simple in shape but decided, since this was turning into a special piece, that I would add some chip carved decoration along it.
Finally, I baked the spoon in the oven to darken the wood and bring out the grain pattern. It gives the wood a sort of instant patina and highlights the chip carving.
I’m happy to say that this spoon now lives in the home of a very good friend of mine but I sort of wish I’d had a little longer to enjoy it and maybe even make a copy. It’s definitely something I’ll revisit, maybe on another sunny play day.