Making a Sussex Trug

While watching Edwardian Farm, we noticed that they were using a really nice wood strip basket to collect fruit in. After looking all over the internet for what it was called, I found that it was a Sussex Trug. The design of the trug was developed over the last few hundred years and is renowned for its strength and durability in the garden.

The internet is an amazing resource where you can always find something on a specific topic. My topic was, “how to make a sussex trug”. Nothing. Then “how to make a trug”. Nothing. All I found was people protecting their trade secrets. Fair enough I suppose, but I just needed some basic information! In the end I found a video that at least discussed materials, and after a few paper models, I’d figured out the sizes and form of the strips.

Traditionally chestnut and willow were used to make the trug. Seeing as neither of those were readily available, I substituted with Baltic birch plywood. This isn’t your run of the mill plywood you get at the local big-box store. This is high quality, voidless, incredibly strong plywood. To simulate the thickness, I used 3-ply (1/8″-ish). The strips were cut with the grain into 60″ strips for the rim and handle, and 30″ strips for the basin.

To bend wood or plywood, you can’t just work it over your knee. The wood won’t shift, and if it does, it will snap. In the past I’ve built steam bending boxes, but at 60″, the strips were too big to construct a box for. Instead, I soaked the plywood in water overnight in a trough I made from some down spout and plastic sheeting. In the morning after soaking for 12 hours, I emptied the cold water and refilled with boiling water.

Soaking the strips of Baltic birch plywood

After another half an hour, the strips were fairly pliable. To create the desired shape of the handle and rim, I made two forms out of two 3/4″ pieces of MDF (medium density fibreboard) laminated and cut to the right size and shape. I lined the edge of the forms with wax paper to protect the MDF from soaking up any excess water from the strips.

MDF trug forms

With the forms ready to go, I worked quickly to bend the 1 1/4″ strips around the form, securing the strips with a ratchet strap. I left the forms with the Baltic birch wrapped around them in the sun to dry for the afternoon. That evening, I removed the bent pieces from the forms. At this point they loosely hold the shape, but need to be set in place to stay true to the shape.

The trug rim and handle after drying in the sun

Both rim and handle, are made up of three strips laminated together with waterproof glue. To do this, each preformed hoop is placed back on the form with glue between each hoop. It is important to alternate the seam of the hoops to avoid creating a weak point where the hoop will break. With the strips in place with glue between them, the ratchet straps went back on, and the pieces were left overnight to cure. Before bed I plunged the strips for making the basin into the water trough to soak.

The next day I added hot water to the trough as before, and removed the laminated pieces from the forms. After filing and sanding the edges round, I assembled the rim and handle. To hold everything together, I used copper nails. These nails will never rust, and when hammered into the wet basin strips, they leave blue marks in the wood which is pleasing to the eye. I think finding the right nails was probably the most time consuming part of the whole process. After going to Lee Valley and Home Depot, I found copper nails at Canadian Tire that were a little long, so I snipped a little off the end of each one.

Another feature of the trug is the wood feet to keep it upright and from spilling your harvest all over the floor. I used some leftover white poplar from our kitchen cabinet doors that I shaped and sanded to best match what I found on the internet.

Poplar trug feet

With the handle and rim assembled, it’s time to start the tricky part of nailing down the basin strips. Starting in the middle, the largest strip is nailed to the bottom of the handle hoop, then the feet, and finally the rim. As the wood is flexible from its night in the bath, it can be bent, with a little force, to conform to the desired shape. Strip by strip, the basin is assembled, overlapping each strip and carefully nailing each into place. Once complete, the rough looking trug is set out in the sun for the afternoon to finish drying which will set the pieces to their new bent forms.

On the final day, I trimmed all of the excess from the ends of the basin strips, and voilà, the trug is complete!

Side view of the trug

Top view of the finished trug

The trug is now waiting for the first harvest of the season so it can do its duty. At this point, I’m guessing that harvest will be weeds we’ve pulled from the garden. But don’t throw those weeds away! There are lots of things you can make from them. More to come on that in the following days.