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.
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.