We’ve recently held our Cordage & Containers course and so took the opportunity to get some photos of the process involved in making a sweet chestnut bark basket. I wrote about this same subject here back in 2013, but to be honest the photos aren’t all that good, so hopefully this will give a much better idea of what you need to do. The best time to do this kind of work is when the sap is rising; I’ve tried in March and it was fairly hard work to remove the outer bark and I’ve tried in October and found the same thing.
First up you need to gather the materials. Find a sweet chestnut stem that is straight and doesn’t have too many branches or evident knots as they will be troublesome when you come to make the basket. Once you have your stem, cut it into lengths of 1 metre or so.
You then need to remove the outer bark. I tend to use the back of a folding saw to do this. I’ve found that bringing the back of the saw towards me has the best impact.
Exercise a little care as you want to remove all of the outer bark without digging in to the inner bark.
Make yourself a ‘spud’ or ‘spudge’, essentially a small wooden chisel. You’ll need this to peel away the inner bark. Use a knife to cut a straight line along the length of the log and then use your spud to gently peel away the inner bark from the wood.
Knots can be tricky so take particular care not to tear the bark.
You should end up with a single sheet of bark. Now you need to cut the bark into strips of about 10mm. Use a straightedge to make sure that the strips are straight and even.
Once you have your strips, you can start to lay them out in a simple lattice. I generally put all the strips the same way up, but you can also alternate to get interesting patterns in the finished basket.
Go for an odd number of strips on either side; I find this makes it easier to add in the sides later in the process. Clearly the more strips you add, the bigger your basket will be. Get the strips as tight to each other as you can manage as there will be some shrinkage as the bark dries out and any gaps present at this stage will be magnified after shrinking has taken place.
Bend the strips over all along the ends to start preparing to add in the sides.
Once you’ve bent all the strips over, tie them together at the top.
Weave a strip around the side making sure that you keep the same ‘over under’ pattern going.
Overlap the ends of the strip. To forewarn you, it’s a little fiddly at this stage!
Now add in further strips to the sides.
Once you’ve added the side strips, bend the original strips over and tuck them in. I generally tuck in strips on the outside of the basket first.
Simply trim them off and then trim the remaining strips so they can be folded inside the basket. If you’re finding it difficult to tuck in the strips, use your spud to create a little space.
Repeat this process on all the remaining strips and you should end up with a basket something like this.
It’s now a simple job to add a handle. We use 2 strips and then wrap some bark around them as it makes the basket sturdier.
Here’s a photo of a basket we made 4 years ago with a new handle as the old one was broken.
And these are some of the baskets made on the course.