It’s Greenwood Week in the Mortise & Tenon Apprenticeship Program, and our students from around the world have been felling trees with axes, riving, hewing, and carving their woodworking projects! In our Apprenticeship Forums, there’s been a lot of discussion about different greenwood projects that we can do. One of my favorites is making balsam whisks.
I use balsam fir for these because it’s the most prevalent conifer in our woods, and because it’s super easy to find nice, symmetrical whorls. Five or six branchlets is ideal, and hunting for just the right whorl is half the fun.
After finding a few good whorls, I bring them home, peel them, and bind them to dry a bit. This step helps to “set” the curve of the whisk, so it’s important to get everything nicely aligned before pulling the knot tight. I usually work out a few handles during the drying stage – they can be chip-carved, painted, or just some nicely figured maple. In a couple days, the whisk is ready for final assembly.
I bore a hole in each handle to receive the “tang” of the balsam whisk, countersinking a bit so the ends of the bound branchlets disappear neatly into the handle. The whisk is re-bound firmly with hemp cord, copper wire, or split spruce root, then the assembly is driven into the handle with epoxy to hold it. Yep, I use epoxy for this. It works.
Raw linseed oil (other cooking oils can work, too) will keep the whisk from drying out and becoming brittle. These things are fun to use, and yes, they make a great gift.