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Thread: Restoring Vintage Ash and Rattan Pack Baskets

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
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    8

    Default Restoring Vintage Ash and Rattan Pack Baskets

    http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL12/.../406398189.jpg
    I enjoy giving living history presentations to school children and scouting/4H groups on the Revolutionary War as part of a formal program run by the Sons of the American Revolution. Kids need lots of “hands-on”, and as carrying all those artifacts into classrooms merit period-correct containers, I’ve been restoring a few vintage pack baskets for the cause. While surviving haversacks and knapsacks are more common, the Native American pack basket was the farmer’s and trapper’s preference for carrying irregular and uncomfortable loads, whether a bushel of potatoes or a dozen iron traps, and are perfect to carry mixed fragile and durable goods.

    http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL12/.../406398163.jpg
    The strongest and most durable of the originals are made from Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra) splits made from green logs pounded apart with clubs to separate the growth rings. These baskets are rapidly becoming less common due to the Emerald Ash Borer blight combined with the labor required to separate the splits, replaced by various reed (grass) and rattan (palm) materials. But no worries. I’ll show you a technique to make reed and rattan almost as strong and durable as ash. The ash basket shown looks good, but has a few broken weaves and some incipient rot in the bottom I’ll repair before putting back into service.



    http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL12/.../406398170.jpg
    Rawhide lacing can be purchased in various widths, and soaked in water becomes pliable so it can be woven atop broken or chipped staves or weaves to strengthen the unit.

    http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL12/.../406398175.jpg
    For short runs, the ends can be secured either by knotting or sewing…

    http://pic20.picturetrail.com/VOL12/.../406398166.jpg
    …and for longer runs can merely be woven into several staves or weaves. The rawhide will harden when it dries, spreading stress loads in a manner identical to the original construction and holding any cracked or broken splits together.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Spring Hill, FL
    Posts
    1,453

    Default

    Interesting post, however there is little to no documentation of pack baskets being used with frequency during the Civil War era. We'll keep this thread open just in case I'm proven wrong (which has been happening with more frequency lately) or if someone wishes to discuss the process.
    Ross Lamoreaux
    Moderator and Sewer of Historical Clothing and Tall Tales

    "But our opportunity to learn and grow, to communicate the richness of the lives that have gone before us, that does not change. We do not outgrow it. It does not tatter and fall apart in our hands..." -Mrs. Terre Lawson, 2010

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Tuskaloosa, Alabama
    Posts
    4,289

    Default

    Ross,

    I danced all around this post last night, not approving it as its mostly off era for the vast majority of the CW crowd.

    Still, the work is interesting, and there's a tiny niche where it's applicable --extremely rural and extremely frontier. The modern pack tapes, metal slides and brads are 1920's adirondack revival stuff and are not applicable. Twined straps are appropriate applications for these.
    Mrs. Lawson
    Weaver, Spinster, Strong Fast Dyes
    Knitted Goods and yarns available thlawson@bellsouth.net



    Moderator, When I remember. We got Rules here!

    Did your sales post disappear? Try again. But read the rules first.
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  4. #4

    Default

    First thing I thought of was this drawing:

    http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypld...os=5&snum=&e=w

    Hank Trent
    hanktrent@gmail.com

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Posts
    8

    Default Now that I know my post wasn't lost in the ether, here's the whole thing.


    I enjoy giving living history presentations to school children and scouting/4H groups on the Revolutionary War as part of a formal program run by the Sons of the American Revolution. Kids need lots of “hands-on”, and as carrying all those artifacts into classrooms merit period-correct containers, I’ve been restoring a few vintage pack baskets for the cause. While surviving haversacks and knapsacks are more common, the Native American pack basket was the farmer’s and trapper’s preference for carrying irregular and uncomfortable loads, whether a bushel of potatoes or a dozen iron traps, and are perfect to carry mixed fragile and durable goods.


    The strongest and most durable of the originals are made from Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra) splits made from green logs pounded apart with clubs to separate the growth rings. These baskets are rapidly becoming less common due to the Emerald Ash Borer blight combined with the labor required to separate the splits, replaced by various reed (grass) and rattan (palm) materials. But no worries. I’ll show you a technique to make reed and rattan almost as strong and durable as ash. The ash basket shown looks good, but has a few broken weaves and some incipient rot in the bottom I’ll repair before putting back into service.


    Rawhide lacing can be purchased in various widths, and soaked in water becomes pliable so it can be woven atop broken or chipped staves or weaves to strengthen the unit.

    Continued…

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Posts
    8

    Default


    For short runs, the ends can be secured either by knotting or sewing…


    …and for longer runs can merely be woven into several staves or weaves. The rawhide will harden when it dries, spreading stress loads in a manner identical to the original construction and holding any cracked or broken splits together.


    Because of the stains in the bottom, I elect to apply an oil-based walnut stain to improve the cosmetics, followed by soaking the ash strips in thinned linseed oil to restore the resilience of the old, overdry wood. Raw linseed is best, but boiled will do, as will various “boat soup” concoctions of linseed, turpentine and pine tar. The basket achieves its strength from the strips to be able to work against one another to spread loads over large areas, and a good oil soak provides essential suppleness and lubrication. After a few weeks of drying, I apply a thin wash coat of thinned spar varnish to retard moisture transfer from humidity changes.

    In turn, rattan and reed baskets aren’t as hard or as strong as ash, don’t benefit from oil, and will absorb greater amounts of varnish. Soak the weave with two or three coats to stiffen the rattan. In applying coats to rattan, try to stop short of actually gluing the weave into a rigid panel.


    To further spread irregular loads, I wet-mold two or more layers of thick, vegetable-tanned tooling leather to the bottom inside of the basket for a perfect fit, allow it to dry in place, then remove it for laminating the layers together using contact cement followed by soaking the glued lamination in spar varnish. You can sew the laminations together if you don’t want to use modern cements, and you can also substitute shellac for the varnish. Don’t forget some drain holes. Either way, this is a better solution than a wooden bottom liner, which will always provide a sharp edge for the weave to wear against, regardless of how well you bevel the edges of the board.

    Continued…

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Posts
    8

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    I prefer leather carrying harnesses, and cut straps from vegetable-tanned tooling leather using a strap cutter. Here I’m using vegetable-tanned horsehide, which is ideal because it is denser and stronger than cowhide, allowing a lighter weight of leather to be used. These are belly and leg skirts from hides where the thicker flank and back leather went into shoemaking, and run around 5 ounces in weight. I cut inch-and-a-half straps for large baskets and inch-and-a-quarter straps for small baskets.


    The challenge in using economical belly scraps is lack of length, and I skive (taper to a feather edge) selected strap ends for scarfing into the strap lengths required. The ratio of length-of-taper to thickness shown here is around 12:1.


    I use the “belt-and-suspenders” approach of joining the scarfs with contact cement followed by sewing…


    …and cut my components to length so as to hide the scarfs beneath the finished basket.

    Continued…

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Posts
    8

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    I also make shoulder pads from horsehide scraps and brain-tanned buckskin, stuffed with “tow” (oily linen waste from the thread-making process). Horsehair would be a better choice of you can obtain it, as it is more rot proof.


    I prefer solid-brass “Conway” buckles for these harnesses, as these old-time harness buckles can be adjusted from either direction, are strong and inexpensive, and are mounted without sewing. While a Mr. Conway patented a variation of these buckles in the 1880’s from which today’s name is derived, in their basic form as a “loop buckle” they actually date from centuries earlier and are period-appropriate for all eras. Here I’ve hung the vertical buckles on separate strap hangers affixed to the basket’s waist belt, but with sufficient strap length the hangers can be omitted and each bottom strap can be simply doubled over the top of the belt and buckled onto itself. With either method, insure to allow plenty of slack so external loads can be slung from beneath the bottom of the basket by adjusting the straps.


    Detail of the Conway harness buckle, which will accommodate two, three or even four layers of leather.

    Continued…

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Posts
    8

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    Viewed from the back, the shoulder straps can be directly looped into the waist belt like on the small rattan basket or routed through the rim and handle like on the large ash basket.


    The large basket was purposely woven for routing the shoulder straps through the rim, a stronger method for heavy loads. I’ve treated the straps on the large basket with a neatsfoot-pine tar-beeswax shoe grease, and the straps on the small basket with lanolin for waterproofing.




    The next step is to make an oil-cloth rain cover. 18th-Century oil cloth was made by sailmakers from lightweight, tight-weave linen sail cloth soaked in linseed or fish oil and sometimes treated with beeswax and verdigris (corrosion from copper) for durability, the green verdigris acting as a fungicide. Here I mark out the cover top with a generous seam allowance…


    …and add a 360-degree apron sewn all the way around. A problem with store-bought pack basket covers originally made by Duluth and LL Bean was they didn’t accommodate overloaded baskets. This cover’s apron allows loads to be up to eight inches above the top of the basket while still providing full coverage.

    Continued…

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Posts
    8

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    A skirt open in the back is added to the bottom of the apron…


    …along with two simple ties to secure the cover to the basket…


    …all designed to protect the load from rain without interfering with carrying.


    The finished large basket under load, with an added tumpline to spread the load to the neck and shoulder muscles as well as the back and legs.

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