Caring for your basket is not brain surgery. In the simplest of terms it requires only an annual or perhaps semi-annual "wash and wax."
Washing the Wicker
This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Using a scrub brush, bucket and mild detergent, wet down the entire basket inside and out. Scrub vigorously back and forth (in the direction of the weave). Rinse thoroughly.
An easier method is to make a trip to you local "25Ę" car wash. Wet the basket using the high pressure wand, scrub with the brush attachment, if available and again, rinse with clear water. the advantage of the high-pressure wash is that it will help to loosen the dirt between the wicker and especially the crud that can accumulate around the bottom of the floor and the scuff leather.
Optional methods Iíve heard of (but never tried) include turning the basket upside down over a lawn sprinkler or dunking the basket in a swimming pool. Try these at your own risk! Of course, before you begin any washing, remove everything from the basket-tanks, cushion floors, tool pouches, etc.
If the basket has become distorted you may want to hang it with weights or use a rope truss to reshape the basket while wet and pliable, leaving it to dry itself back into shape.
First try to determine if any finish is on your basket. Usually evidence of the finish can be seen between the individual wicker strands where they criss-cross each other. If a finish is present you can recoat the basket with a good quality urethane. You can use either a gloss or satin finish to suit your personal preference. Apply at least two heavy coats with a brush and expect to use about one quart per side (inside or out), more if the basket has never been treated.
Some manufacturers recommend not putting any finish on the wicker. That is to allow the wicker to absorb moisture and keep it from becoming brittle. The best advise is to consult your own aircraft maintenance manual. For example, I fly a Thunder & Colt basket. My manual says to revarnish the outside wicker with a "good quality flexible product rather than a hard (floor) type of varnish." This method gives you the best of both worlds, protecting the exterior from wear but allowing the wicker to absorb the moisture it needs through the untreated interior surface.
If your maintenance manual doesnít specify a refurbishing treatment, call your local repair station or the manufacturer and ask how they do it.
Itís best not to remove the top leather unless you plan to replace/repair it, but take care to keep it as dry as possible. If you have suede trim itís best to leave it alone. A good brushing with a suede brush (a brush with soft brass bristles) will help restore the nap although little can be done for suede that has been rubbed smooth and "glossy" from excessive use.
Todayís popular smooth leathers can be cleaned with a good saddle soap and repolished. If the color has been scraped off, try a polish of the matching color. This will repair the color and sheen of the area. It wonít look like new, but it looks better than a scrape. Tears can be repaired by gluing a patch underneath the tear or possibly by some minor stitching.
Scuff leather can be cleaned with saddle soap and a brush. Next treat it with Mink Oil or similar product. This will return some of the original suppleness and help avoid dry rotting. Repair or replacement is a bit more difficult and requires soaking the area to be repaired, as well as the replacement rawhide. The leather should be worked while wet and supple allowing for shrinkage when drying. Check your maintenance manual for required overlaps.
Like proper maintenance, repairing damaged wicker is less difficult than you might think. It requires common sense and patience and a basic understanding of your basketís weave.
Todayís baskets are built of two principle components. The structure is made up of the vertical (or in the case of The Balloon Works-horizontal) pieces of wicker called spokes. (It might help to think of them like the studs in a wall.) These are usually of a large diameter for strength and flexibility. They may be different sizes or doubled up in areas where extra strength is required such as around tank strap holes or entry steps.
The second component is the smaller wicker woven in between the spokes or studs. These are called "weavers." They may be of any size, color or material. (Technically the rope used to create handles within the basket is a "weaver".)
Before beginning you will need some simple tools. A small pair of pruning shears or side cutting pliers, an awl or flat bladed screwdriver (to help spread the wicker) and a soaking tank or bucket.
Determine the size, type (cane, rattan, reed) and amount of material needed. Again a call to your manufacturer might help. You might even be able to buy the necessary wicker from them directly or from their supplier.
Next determine the weave pattern and be sure you understand how it works. It might be a simple in and out around the spokes pattern or something more complicated. If you canít understand it, you might not want to attempt the repair. Chances are the weave will be one of four common types: Randing-a basic in and out weave using one weaver; Waling-a strength weave with a spiraling pattern using three weavers; Chain Pairing-a decorative pattern using two sets of two weavers; or Fitching-for added strength crossing open spaces.
Begin by soaking the wicker from overnight up to 24 hours to be certain it is pliable. Hot water will speed up the process. Use weights to keep the wicker completely submerged.
Cut out the broken or damaged area you plan to replace. Paul Stumpf (Repair Station, Balloon Life, November 1991) recommends making all the cuts on the inside of the basket so as to leave a clean unrepaired look on the outside. My maintenance manual says it is best to make all cuts on the outside (presumably to avoid a sharp edge inside the basket). If youíre replacing more than one row of weavers, stagger the cuts/splices by two or three spokes so they wonít all end up in the same row, again making the repair less noticeable.
Weave in the new pieces. This is where the screwdriver or other flat pointed tool might come in handy to help pry the wicker apart. While weaving donít exert too much pressure on the spokes as they may break if dry and brittle.
Upon completion you may find the repaired area lighter in color than the original. Usually varnish alone will not normally add the necessary patina, so you might try a small bit of stain, applied before varnishing, to color the area.
Of course, before you attempt any repairs be sure to consult your maintenance manual or your manufacturer to determine if the repair is something you, as the owner/operator can perform.
Any repairs that you make should be noted in the aircraft log. As the owner/operator you should make an endorsement in the logbook that returns the balloon to service.
If the flying season is over for you and itís time to put away the balloon for a while, do so properly. For the basket this means storage in a safe, dry environment with adequate air flow all around. Beware cement floors in garages, etc. Left to just sit on the floor, a basket can absorb moisture into the skids and flooring promoting rot. Elevate the basket on a skid or pallet, being certain air can circulate beneath it.
With proper care and cleaning, your wicker basket should serve you well for many, many hours of happy flying.
Randing, with a splice
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