Weaving Willow

basket &bodkin

One of the workshops being run by the Walter’s Tools project was in willow basket making by tutor Helen Elvin. She popped over before hand to hook out some basket making tools from the collection, including a knife, a reindeer antler bodkin, and a rapping iron. She also discovered a wool gathering basket that Walter had made years ago, lurking in the depths of his old barn.

Friends of the project and workshop tutors in tool handle making and blacksmithing, Sam Robinson and Shaun Bainbridge, had kindly sharpened up the tools so we could use them in the course. At the start of the course, Walter talked us through his small collection.

Then 6 of us set to making a round willow basket over the course of the weekend, that Helen had grown herself in her woodland in Wasdale. The variety of colours were beautiful – greens, yellows, browns. It was very physical work and totally consuming.

We learned a fair few new words in the process too ~

Structure/ process:

slath – the cross structure made at bottom of basket
staking up – when you put the side stakes into the base and bring them up into the pyramid
waling (wale ) – weaving 3 or more rods in sequence for the start of the sides
randing – weaving with a single rod at a time on the sides


rapping iron – to make weave tighter
bodkin – to make a space to weave through
slype – a slanting cut made on rod to ease threading it through a gap
border – weaving the stakes along top of basket to finish top.

Helen teaches

It was interesting to see the different forms each basket took, despite our making it from the same basic pattern and principle.

Tim basket making

Janet basket making

A finished basket

a finished basket

 All photos ©Dayve Ward 2014

basket cases


Make Hay While The Sun Shines

walter gets stuck into scything

Walter getting stuck into scything his meadow

Next up in our series of workshops once the grass had grown tall enough in mid July, was a weekend of scything and hay making, with tutor and Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust Craft Scholar Steve Tomlin,  and we were blessed with the right weather.

We looked at Walter’s English scythe blades, which unfortunately were too tired to renovate, and compared them to Austrian Schröckenfux blades, which would learn to use, sharpen and peen over the course of the day.

After learning how to mount the blade and handle accurately – something which varies person to person and greatly affects your technique, we made our way into Walter’s field and made some headway.

mounting scythe blade


ally mowing


sharpening scythes


repairing hay racks

We raked the cut grass into rows and turned it in the sun to expedite the drying process. We were able to make use of some hay rakes and pitch forks from the Walter’s Tools collection for this stage. We were also able to repair and make use of Walter’s hay racks, upon which we would later throw the cut hay once it was partially dry.


 As the A framed hay racks are propped against each other,and the hay piled on top air can circulate through and underneath. By the time some light rain came later in the afternoon, the outer layer of the hayrick was sufficiently dry to act as a sort of thatched roof, protecting the less dry hay underneath. To complete the circle, the hay would be used to feed Walter’s son Tom’s Fell Ponies in the field next door.

Photos by Dayve Ward

Well Handled

Graham Fell

The next in our series of weekend workshops was a tool handle making course, run by coppice worker Sam Robinson. I was lucky enough to participate, and there is an incredible stillness and focus that comes when you sit on a shave horse with a piece of wood and a draw knife, slowly sculpting it to its useful form. We had six participants and all became engrossed in what they were doing.

One of our regular volunteers, David Pilling, attended this course and as he is a former woodworking tutor, he was a dab hand at churning out new handles at quite a rate. We were kindly donated a bag full of ask blanks by another regular volunteer, Graham Fell (top photo). So much was learned by all, and we made good progress in terms of renovating Walter’s tools.

We shall be having a volunteer workday on 7th August in Kendal to fit these handles, in collaboration with a blacksmith, who will make the ferrules (metal hoops to reinforce join between handle and blade). If anyone is interested in joining in please email walterstools@gmail.com.