Making a Trug

Trugs are not technically difficult to make but they can take a surprising amount of time to complete. The main reason is the number of curves and angles; straight edges are always easier to work with, having said that, I have worked out a process to make it a bit less painless.

Like all things involving recycled timber the first step is always to mill the rough wood into the sizes you want, for this I use machines. The thicknesser takes a fair chunk of the surface off; because the surface is usually quite damaged I need to clear as much of that as quickly as possible even though the finish is not great (would help if I had a bigger and better quality thicknesser). With the wide surfaces done I then run the edges over the jointer; once again this is not perfect but it is quicker than hand planning at this stage.

Making A Trug 04
Trug sides shaped and planed.

This gives me the bare timber I’ll be using, the next step is to rip the boards into the approximate sizes I need and I use one of my table saws for this. They are quite accurate and give a nice square edge; the boards are now ready for hand planning. I hand plane everything before I do anything else for a few reasons: the surface becomes beautifully smooth, I can clean up any tear-out and remove all machine marks, any warping or twisting can be planed out and the boards can be precisely sized. At the end of hand planning I have finished material that is smooth, square and sized to perfection with the added bonus of a good physical workout.

Making A Trug 02
Testing the joints.

Before I cut any shapes or curves I start the jointing; the reason for this is that it is far easier and faster to cut joints in squared timber; once you add odd angles or irregular shapes it becomes very hard to produce accurate joints. I vary the joints I use depending on strength requirements and what’s going to look good (and what I feel like at the time). I use rebates mainly to attach the handles to the sides then through dowel them; the rebate stops the handles moving and the dowel gives it strength. To attach the top carrying part of the handle to the side handle pieces I use anything from mortise and tenon to bridle to dowels and this is often dictated by the pieces of timber I’m using. Bridle joints look great when the timber end grain is good but you can’t beat a mortise and tenon for strength.

Making A Trug 03
Handle shaped.

Once I’m happy with the joint fit up I’ll start the shaping of the sides and the handles. I don’t glue anything yet; once you glue something you’re stuck with it – if you have forgotten to shape something it can be very hard once glued. I cut the trug basket sides using a jigsaw (I don’t have a bandsaw) then clean them up with a Stanley No 4 plane – seems strange since they are curves but it works surprisingly well. The handles I shape with a spoke shave; it is fast and I have a good deal of control – I actually love using spoke shaves.

Making A Trug 05
Glue-up for the ends and handle.

I now sand everything; this is not a finish sand but it is easier to do the bulk of the sanding before it is assembled. Then I attach the bottom slats and glue-up the handle pieces and leave overnight to fully set. Finally just a light sand with fine grit and touch up any defects in the wood and it is ready for oiling.

The trugs are finished with boiled linseed oil; it is an inert oil in that it is edible (not that you’d actually want to drink the stuff) and, as far as I know, allergy free. It also smells nice and, of course, brings out the grain in the timber. I use a spray gun for applying the oil; it is fast but more importantly allows the oil into all the tight spots that are hard to reach with a cloth. I leave it to soak in and dry for a few hours (sometimes overnight) then just buff off any excess. Occasionally I’ll apply some beeswax polish if I feel it needs it but usually the linseed oil is enough.

Making A Trug 07
A bunch of trugs freshly oiled.

There you have it – a finished trug. I usually work on several at once due to the drying time of the glue so a single trug takes a few days to finish, but all going well should last for many years if not a lifetime.


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