Picnic Basket

Weave in new woodworking skills as you make this wood carryall.

Overall dimensions: 21 1⁄2"w × 13"d × 11" h

Consultant: Dennis Chilcote

While it may not have occurred to you, weaving a basket presents a whole different way to work with wood. As you build from the base up, you’ll learn how to integrate the special materials used in basketmaking into the design. This includes soaking and bending weavers (the horizontal bands of wood), reeds (the rim material), and other wood parts around a mold or form (Figure 1). It’s this process that ensures consistent basket and handle shapes, respectively. Making the remaining parts comes down to simple woodworking. Once you complete the basket, organize its contents by cutting out and adding the simple dividers.

As shown above, I used cherry for the base, lid parts, and handles, and maple for the weavers. You could, however, choose another wood combination. Instead of the maple used here, you can go with ash weavers and contrast it with walnut. To get started, purchase the maple weaver material (called splints), reed, sea grass, and sinew—shown in the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide.

Make the base, basket mold, and spokes

1 From a planed piece of 5⁄8"-thick stock, cut the base (A) to size using the Cut List. Referring to Figure 2, use a compass to lay out the radii on the corners. Bandsaw the corners and sand smooth.

2 To make a mold to form the basket, cut seven 11 15⁄16 × 20" pieces from a sheet of 1 1⁄2"-thick rigid foam. Using the base (A) as a pattern, trace and then bandsaw the foam to shape. Join the pieces, face to face, with construction adhesive. Make sure that the edges are flush.

3 Cut three 1 1⁄4"-dia. × 6" dowels to make handles to remove the mold from the basket. Center and drill three evenly spaced 1 1⁄4" holes 3" deep along the length of the mold’s top face. Glue the dowels in the holes and let dry.

4 Make two lines across the top of the mold, dividing it into three sections from end to end. Extend the lines down the sides of the mold, angling them at 10° toward the center to define a wedge. With a handsaw, cut the mold along these lines to form three sections as shown in Photo A. Label them for easy orientation.

5 From a 10 3⁄4" length of 3⁄4"-thick stock, rip at least forty-four 1⁄16"-thick strips for the spokes (B) as shown in Photo B. Joint the sawn edge of the stock before cutting each spoke to ensure each piece has one good face.

6 Draw centerlines on the top face of base (A) where shown in Figure 2. Now, center four spokes (B) on these lines along the edges of the base and staple them in place, good face out, so that they stand at 90˚ to the base. Next, add four corner spokes where shown. Attach the remaining spokes, equally spacing them about 9⁄16" apart.

Weave the basket

1 Using scissors, cut eight pieces of 1"-wide maple weaving material to 36" for the four lower weavers (C). (Figure 1). Note that lower weavers wrap around only half the circumference of the basket, which makes them easier to push down around the spokes. Leave the five upper weavers (D) to full length (60"). For the top maple false rim (E), draw a line down a 60"-long weaver marking it 1⁄2" wide. Now soak the weavers and false rim piece in a pail of warm water for a day. Scissor the false rim to width while wet.

2 Set the basket mold within the spokes (B) and on the base (A). Mark the spoke locations on the mold at the base. Remove the mold, and then use the marks to extend square vertical lines down its sides. (During the weaving, you’ll use these lines to maintain spoke positioning.) Return the mold within the spokes, resting it on the base.

3 Starting at a centerline spoke (B), fit the first lower weaver (C) down and through alternating spokes until its bottom edge is flush to the base (A). Complete the row with a second 36"-long piece. (Temporarily remove the mold if you have difficulty pushing the weavers down.) Remove any slack in the weavers, and then cut the ends so the same-row weavers overlap at a spoke as shown in the Photo C Inset. Offset the weaver ends of subsequent rows by a few spokes. With the lower weavers in place, press down a full-length upper weaver (D), as shown in Photo C.

To overlap mating weaver ends so both are hidden, place one end over the back spoke as shown; then overlay it with the outside weaver end, tucking it under the neighboring spoke.

Saw the rigid foam basket mold into three sections to easily remove it following basket construction.

With a 10 TPI (teeth per inch) 1⁄2" blade, bandsaw 1⁄16"-wide basket spokes using an auxiliary fence.

Fit the flexible weavers around the spokes, snipping off any excess that extends beyond the terminating spoke.

Trim the spoke ends flush with the false rim using a Model Maker’s Razor Saw.

4 Add the remaining upper weavers (D) and false rim (E). Do a final alignment of the spokes, and let the basket dry a day with the mold in place. Then remove the mold and let the assembly dry for a second day.

5 Starting at the bottom, push down the weavers so that they fit tightly to each other.

6 Sparingly glue the last upper weaver (D) to the spokes (B). Use spring clamps to hold the pieces as the glue dries. Raise the false rim (E) to create a 1⁄64" gap between it and the upper weaver. (This space is later used for lacing.) Glue and clamp the false rim in place.

7 Insert the mold in the basket, and then cut off the spoke ends as shown in Photo D.

Nail on the bottom rim with one nail at each spoke. Glue and nail the scarf joint after it’s cut to fit.

Form the outer rim and join the scarfed ends, fine-tuning them with a sanding block. 

Add the rims

1 Soak the reed material in a tub of warm water for a day. Cut the bottom and outer top rims (F) a few inches longer than the lengths given in the Cut List. Use a fine-tooth handsaw to scarf-cut the outside face of one end of the bottom and outer top rims (F) as shown in Figure 1.

2 Center the scarfed end of the bottom rim (F) over a centerline spoke and nail it to the base (A) with 3⁄4" escutcheon nails. Continue bending and nailing the rim around the basket as shown in Photo E. Stop nailing after the last corner. Cut the mating scarf end to fit on top of the other. (I cut this scarf long, and then nibbled away until it fit.) You don’t want it short! Use a knife or coarse (50 grit) hard sanding block to make the final fit. Then nail the remaining rim portion in place.

3 Cut the crossbar (G) to the size in the Cut List. Drill countersunk holes in the part for attaching the lid filler (J). (Figure 1.)

4 From 3⁄4" scrap plywood, make a pair of outer rim forms following the shape and dimensions in Figure 2.

5 Remove the mold from the basket. From scrap, make a 3⁄4 × 3 × 10" temporary cleat. Center and fit it under the outer rim forms and crossbar (see Photo F). Snug and flush the forms and crossbar (G) together and screw the cleat to them. Now, squeeze that assembly into the top opening of the basket. This centers the crossbar. If needed, trim the form widths (inside edges only) to fit. 

6 Adjust the crossbar (G) so it’s 1⁄8" above the top edge of the basket’s false rim (E). Now, screw the crossbar in place where shown in Figures 1 and 3.

7 Leave the top outer rim (F) long, and clamp it wet to the formed basket. Let it dry a day to form the shape. Now, mark the mating scarf, remove the rim, and cut it. Fit the scarf joint as shown in Photo F. Finally, align the outer rim’s bottom edge with the bottom edge of the false rim (E), and glue and clamp it in place, including the scarf joint. Let dry and remove the forms and cleat.

8 Using water-soaked reed cut slightly long, trim and fit the two inner rims (H) in place. Clamp to form them and let dry for a day. Next, glue them in position and in alignment with the bottom edges of the false rim (E). 

9 Press sea grass cord in the channel between the rims. Extend the ends 1⁄4" beyond the inner rim and crossbar intersections.

With a coiling needle, “sew” the lacing around the rim. Start at the crossbar, go halfway around the basket, and then work back.
Trace the basket’s rim shape onto the lid parts. This ensures the lids fit perfectly on the basket. 

Carefully clamp and bend a “steamed” handle around the form. Expect a failure or two.

Lace the rim and add the lids

1 Create the lacing (I) by cutting a 12' length of sinew, splitting one end with your fingernail, and then separating the split end by hand. Using a blunt-tipped coiling (or tapestry) needle, sew the lacing around the rim. Referring to the Rim Lacing Detail, Figure 3, start at a side center spoke (B) at the crossbar and lace one way along the rim to the other end of the crossbar. Then sew back along the same rim section to the starting point as shown in Photo G. This results in an X pattern. Carefully align the lacing as you go. Pull it tight, but not so tight as to damage it or the rim. Now lace the other half of the rim.

2 Plane and cut the lid filler (J) to size. Round over just the top ends, and then screw it in place to the crossbar (G) where shown in Figure 1. The lid filler is intentionally 1⁄32" thicker than the lids so that when the lids are attached they won’t bind on the basket rim.

3 Plane enough stock for the lids (K), and cut the pieces to the oversized dimensions in the Cut List. Attach them to the lid filler (J) with the hinges shown in Figure 1. Flip the basket over and trace the shapes onto the lid pieces as shown in Photo H. Remove the lids and cut them to shape, sanding the sawn edges smooth. Now rout a 1⁄4" round-over along the top outside edges. 

Add the handles, then finish

1 Plane straight-grained stock for the handles (L) to 3⁄16" thick. From it, cut the pieces to the sizes in the Cut List. Radius the ends and drill the bolt-mounting holes where shown in Figure 1.

2 Make a handle-soaking tube from a 32"-length of 2" PVC pipe. Cement a PVC cap on one end. Clamp a spring clamp onto an end of one handle (L) and slide in it the tube. (The spring clamp will hold it down and centered in the tube.) Supporting the tube upright, fill it with boiling water and let it sit overnight. At this time, make the handle form as shown in Figure 4.

3 Boil another pot of water, exchange it with the water in the tube, and let it sit 10 minutes. Then, quickly pull the handle out of the tube and clamp one end to the handle form. Very slowly (to avoid breakage) bend and clamp the wet handle around the form corners as shown in Photo I. Let dry for one day, and then remove the handle and tie a piece of twine across the ends to retain its shape. Let dry another day. Form the remaining handle the same way.

4 Cut a pair of grips (M) from reed to the sizes in the Cut List. Center and glue them to the formed handles (L). Use a rasp and sandpaper to flush the handles with the grips, removing waste and smoothing the pieces together.

5 Make the handle mounts (N) as shown in Figure 5. Screw them to the basket where shown in Figure 1, approximately 5" from the center of the centerline spoke (B). Drill the bolt holes, and attach the handles with bolts, washers, and small brass acorn nuts to make sure everything operates smoothly. Take care not to overtighten the acorn nuts, or they’ll break.

6 Make the slotted dividers (O and P) as shown in Figure 6 to organize food and cutlery in the bottom of the basket. Slip them in the basket and fit the slots together.

7 Remove the handles and lids, finish-sand the hardwood parts (but not the weavers) with 220 grit, and apply an oil finish. Let the finish dry, reassemble the basket, and head to the park!

About Our Designer/Builder

Bruce Kieffer is an author and woodworker residing in Edina, Minnesota. You can see a collection of his work from the past 32 years on his Web site at kcfi.biz. Dennis Chilcote has won 9 blue ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair over the past 8 years. View his work at mnartists.org/dennis_chilcote.

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