Spend a snowy day in Speculator, New York making a Black Ash woodsplint, Adirondack style pack basket with Jack Leadley in this basketry video.
This video is set in the sugarbush of
the Adirondack Mountains of New York state. Jack Leadley has been making Black Ash baskets
in this area of the Adirondacks for decades. His basket shop is housed in a small cabin
near his home in Speculator. By choice, this small workshop is filled with Jack's
woodworking hand tools, his shaving horse, workbenches and a custom made aluminum soaking
trough, but no electricity or running water.
More than a true step by step
tutorial, this video is a day with an accomplished basket maker in his own workshop as he
completes a backpack from start to finish. If you watch and listen carefully you will pick
up more about this style of basket and black ash as a material than you could in just a
pattern. He begins by explaining the variations of style and shape of various pack
baskets, then it is time to gather the materials needed.
As he peels the bark off the log and
begins to pound the growth rings off into woodsplints, he describes how he has selected
the log and kept it soaked for a full year in a pond before pounding it. His running
dialog describes the process of selection of just the right material for each job.
Standards or stakes are chosen to be thicker than weavers, with straight grain, free of
imperfections so that the weaving will not distort them. Each piece of splint incorporated
into the basket is chosen specifically for the job it is intended to perform.
Once the standards are chosen, they
are scraped clean. Jack uses a clamp to secure the splint to a rough planed wooden work
surface. A hand held scraper is used to clean the rough surface of the splint and reduce
the thickness of each standard to make them all the same thickness. The center standard
has one end cut into two pieces. This provides the odd number of spokes needed for a
continuous weave pattern and helps shape the front of the pack basket. The centers of each
standard are reduced in width slightly so that they can be woven closely together on the
bottom of the basket.
To create the weavers, the splint is
subdivided using a pulling frame that Jack has made. He then cuts them to width using one
of a series of hand made rakers. Each raker is constructed from a series of utility knife
blades clamped into a block of wood shaped to fit in the hand. The blades are set at a
specific distance from one another so that the splint is cut into weavers of consistent
widths. The splint is clamped to the workbench, then the raker is set against one edge of
the full splint. Pressure is applied from above and the raker is drawn the full length of
the splint, cutting a series of weavers. While still at the bench, Jack reduces the bulk
of the end of each weaver so that adding a new weaver can be done without a bulge being
caused by the overlapped weavers. Once the weavers are prepared, three rows of narrow
weavers are added while the woven standards are still flat.
The sides are upsett and the
continuous weavers begin to build the sides of the basket. Each step of the way, tips are
included about things like shaping, keeping the back flat, and forming corners that would
help not only making this basket, but can be applied to other baskets as well. Once the
body of the pack basket is complete, a technique for creating the hand hold at the back of
the basket is demonstrated. A single start-stop hoop is set in that becomes the element
that the standards are turned over and tucked into the weaving of the basket body. Both
the inside standards and the outside standards are turned down and tucked creating a solid
framework for the inner and outer rim to be lashed onto. Several helpful hints are
explained that will help in this process.
Once the basket body is complete, it
is time go go back outside to the woodpile to select and split stock for the rims and
handle. Jack demonstrates the use of a froe and mallet to split the wood along the grain
into a billet or bar. The inner and outer rim will be carved from this piece. Back inside
the workshop, Jack uses a detail froe and drawknife at the shavehorse to continue
preparing the rims. If you watch carefully you should be able to pick up tips on following
the grain of the wood in your splits and learning to "read the grain" as you
carve. Carving rims and handles of soaked green hardwood is not an exact science. It takes
a good deal of practice to be able to successfully carve and bend a set of rims or a
basket handle. Even in the hands of an expert, a rim can break. Jack proves he is not
above this risk when one of his carefully prepared rims snaps as he is fitting it to the
basket. He prevails however, eventually carving, shaping and fitting the handle and both
After fitting the rims and handle to
the mouth of the basket with wooden pins, Jack begins to lace the rim on. He chooses a
flawless lacer and crosslashes the rim onto the basket. If you watch closely you will see
his preferred way of starting a new lacer (lasher). He prefers to lace from the inside of
the weaving to the outside in order to be able to put a great deal of tension on the lacer
to draw the rims together tightly. Once the lacer is finished, the basket is shaped and
any loose ends are clipped off.
To reinforce the bottom of the pack
basket, bottoming doublers are added in strategic locations. These doublers are thick
splints that are cut to shape allowing them to be inserted over top of and woven into the
original standards at the corners. This will help reinforce the corners where dragging the
basket is likely to cause the bottom to wear out.
A leather harness with bottom skids
and bumpers is then fashioned. Leather working techniques and tools are used in this
section. I found this section to be a bit sketchy and it required watching this part
several times to comprehend the separate parts required and the assembly steps. If you are
patient it becomes clear after you have seen the end product and then review the various
steps of the assembly process.
Jack says that his basket workshop is
visited each year by hundreds of people interested in Black Ash basketry. He welcomes the
opportunity to share what he knows about this type of basket. He says he has no secrets
and is happy to teach people what he knows.
If you are interested in just getting
a sense of this type of basketry tradition or have a casual interest in traditional
basketmaking, I recommend that you watch this video once for an enjoyable hour. If you care
to ready yourself for weaving a pack basket, I suggest you get out your pencil and paper
and take copious notes as you watch the video not once, but many times. It is full of
detail as well as wonderful tips, techniques and insight into a maker who is a legend in
his own time.
This video is written and produced by
Mike Camoin of Videos For Change Library.