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“We have a lot to do today! We have got to put a bottom on our rocking chair… and tie these rockers on pretty good otherwise you’re going to go to orbit on your first try.”


Roy’s working with white oak today, and that means another log. “If you’ve heard anything about getting white oak…” (Of course, Roy! Me and the boys chat about logs over beers every Friday.) “The one thing you’ve probably heard is you have to go into the bottom of a deep cove on the dark side of a mountain where the cows have not grazed in twenty years and a meteorite landed…” Thankfully it’s all bunk. All you need is a 4-6” tree with flakey white bark, and no knots. “What we’re after is the sapwood” which means some froe work to remove the heartwood and the bark. It’s actually pretty amazing to watch how clean and straight the long billets split with a twist of his froe. I’m not sure if it’s his skill or the grain of the wood, but I’m inclined to think he might be using some sort of extra-sensory mind waves to will the fibers apart. He’s that in tune with the trees.


You have to work this wood wet, which either means working it the same day you cut the tree down, or else you can toss it in a pond until you’re ready. I recommend the former as the latter can mean a nasty confrontation with a crocodile. Roy seems to prefer this method too, but I’m not betting against him in a croc fight.


Splitting the wet sapwood into thin strips is a lot even easier than splitting the heartwood would be, which is why Roy said to use the sapwood in the first place. If you split parallel with the growth rings and pull the thin, pliable strips sharply down… well, you just have to watch him do it. “Very satisfying work.” And very satisfying to watch, if I do say so myself!


At this point a surprise guest knocks on the door and in comes Bryant Holsenbeck, a basket maker with a much prettier face than Roy’s. Getting right to work almost as if her arrival was planned in advance, she takes over the strip “skinning”, using a knife against her thigh to get each strip as thin and smooth as a white oak baby’s bottom. Meanwhile Roy starts weaving his chair seat, front to back with long loops. Of course his strips aren’t nearly long enough to wrap the entire chair. As I see it, there are two solutions to this problem. You can find a hundred foot tree and split your strips down the entire length, or you can watch how Roy splices the shorter strips together, end to end. As he makes his splices with a sharp knife it seems certain that he’s headed for another injury. “No thumbs McCoy taught me how to make these…. He’s easy to recognize in a bar”. I sigh with relief as his thumbs remain intact, at least for one more episode.


While Roy is practicing his best pirate voice “It’ll never come free, aye…” Bryant is beginning a basket with the same pile of strips. “Everybody does this differently, and I’ve been told you used to be able to tell whose white oak basket was whose by how it was lashed together.” Roy suggests she sing an “old folk ditty” as she works. “Like come, butter, come…” He appears bored with his job already. “I’m glad you’re here, Bryant, because putting a chair bottom together is a lot of the same thing…Are you whittlin’ some ribs there?” Roy has a tendency to speak with an entirely different accent when addressing his friends. He turns into a regular southern country boy at times. Hints are seen in this episode, but later he really falls into it when he visits a neighborhood flea market. But that’s a future episode and for now he has to finish his seat weaving. It’s almost become a race between Roy’s seat and Bryant’s basket. At times he appears to stop and watch her, either impressed by her skill of distracted by her constant use of the term “supple”. Bryant knows her stuff, that’s for sure. After this appearance on The Woodwright’s Shop she goes on to become an environmental artist whose work “documents the waste stream of our society”. She’s won several awards and even writes a blog today, 34 years later.


Roy is working on a herringbone effect, a design that looks a lot more complex than it really is. He demonstrates the “over-over-under-over-over-under-reverse…” pattern and now he’s moving right along, and so is she as the camera switches back and forth between them. I won’t spoil it by telling you who finishes first, or if they finish at all. But it ends with a tag team joke that may have been rehearsed but is nevertheless well executed. Roy (examining one of her double baskets): “This one is for people who don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket.” Bryant: “You might have laid one there.” I’d say their two personalities weave together quite nicely.



Season One, Episode Seven: Chair and Basket Weaving

The following article is a commentary written by Stumpy Nubs which includes his description of the episode and thoughts as he watched it. Only the phrases within quotation marks are the exact words of Roy Underhill.

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