Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Canoe Pack Basket - Part 1

Last year I made the mistake of trying to attend another Canoe Museum workshop on making a woodland pack basket. I say it was a mistake because after paying for it online and reserving the spot months in advance, I realized it was on my wife's B-day. Well that didn't go over too well...a present for myself on HER birthday! Thankfully, the museum staff appreciated my bumble and gave me a refund. Still I've been drawn to these beautiful pieces of traditional gear to augment my refurbished canvas pack. These most authentic of these pack baskets are made with pounded black ash (or brown ash as known in Maine) which involves a ridiculous amount of labour but results in a very sturdy basket. Ash Baskets by Fran has a large canoe pack basket for a mere $1000!

The cheaper alternative, especially for light use is to use Rattan reed. An online tutorial by Kathy Couture made the steps seem simple enough and I was able to source out the materials from Bamboo Bazaar, a family run business in the same West Toronto location for the past 50 years. They were helpful with me as a newbie and the price for a coil of 3/4" flat reed & 3/8" flat reed worked out to be just over $20 bucks.

Once at home, I worked out the rough dimensions I wanted - a base of about 8 x 12 with a height of 20". The process started off as a bit of tangled mess, but eventually the weaving progressed nicely.

Base stakes & staves laid out

I wanted to end up with a basket that had the traditional flared belly design with a narrow narrow top and roughly shaped it into this with my hands by keeping the reed wet. Towards the middle of the basket, I realized I had made a series of weaving mistakes during a lapse of concentration, but kept going rather than undoing my work. In the end, the basket is functional but certainly has some novice errors. A few of the weavers were placed with the rough side out, resulting in a frayed appearance, but I can live with that as a first attempt.

Basket weaving stages

Basic basket complete

The rim of the basket was made by placing an inner ring of flat reed and an outer ring of oval along the lip so the basket weave was basically sandwiched between these layers. Rather than use metal fasterners, I was planning on tightly lashed the whole thing with 1/8" leather lace. When viewed from above, this system leaves a gap between the outer and inner rim structure that shows off the ugly clipped endings of the baskets weave. To cover this, the traditional method involves using some coiled seagrass, but I forgot to get some when the materials were originally purchased. Instead, I ended up using some jute twine from the dollar store and hand wound them into 2-ply cordage. This was laid down on top of the basket rim before lashing.

Hand wound 2-ply jute cordage; clamps on rim

So far it's progress nicely, but there are still lots of steps before it's complete, including:
• steam bending and carving a wooden handle
• making wooden "runners" that protect the bottom
• cutting and riveting a leather harness

July 23/10 Update: Part 2 has been posted


Mike Ormsby said...

Murat, love the pack basket....beautiful

DAN said...

I am working on my strips for my backpack

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