- Handle question from Laurie Sweet:
I am in search of information on how to make the wooden handles for the
baskets I weave. My retired father is experimenting with this on a small
scale and has set up a steamer. So far, on two tries, the wood has
turned black. Any information and/or references would be very much
Answer from Judith Olney:
Most of the people I know use green wood to make their handles. The wood
is split from the log (start out with wedges as if you were splitting
firewood, then progress to a fro for the final more precise splits)
Eventually you end up with a billet slightly wider than the handle you
intend to make. The bark and the wedge of sapwood have been split off.
this point you progress to a shave horse and drawknife to carve the
finished handle which is bent while it is still green and allowed to dry.
The biggest advantage to making handles in this manner is that, having
split along the grain lines of the wood, the handle follows the grain so
there is no splintering, and rarely any breakage, when it is bent or used.
I gather that you are creating handles from wood that is already dry and
steaming them. I also suspect that the reason your handles turned black
that there is iron in some form in your steaming set-up. I am also going
hazard a guess that you used oak for your handles. Oak is extremely high
in tannic acid, which reacts with iron very readily to turn the oak black.
When you are splitting oak for splints just using a knife to start the
splits will turn your hands purple and leave a black mark on the oak!
Other woods also contain tannic acid--not as much as oak, but enough to
turn black or grey when exposed to iron.
Although it is more work to make handles from dried wood, it's perfectly
alright to do it that way so long as the handles follow the grain of the
wood. If they don't you will eventually have trouble with the handles
breaking where they've crossed the grain lines.
You will, however, have to develop a strong attachment to black handles,
eliminate the iron from your steaming set-up. I have not done so myself,
but believe others have had some success using PVC plumbing pipe for
Please ask if you have further questions.
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