Maine company hand crafting pack baskets for 35+ years
Pack Baskets of Maine out of Lincoln, supplies LL Bean, Renys and Dick’s Sporting Good among other outfitters
LINCOLN, Maine (WABI) - If you go ice fishing, there’s a good chance you own a pack basket.
There’s a company based in Lincoln that’s been hand weaving these wooden containers for more than 35 years.
Joy Hollowell takes us to Pack Baskets of Maine.
Located in the basement of Whitney’s Outfitters in Lincoln, Pack Baskets of Maine turns outs thousands of pack baskets each year. You’ll find them in Maine at LL Bean, Renys, Dick’s Sporting Goods, as well as trading posts and outfitter stores. Pack Baskets of Maine also ships its products around the country.
The company started as New England Basket Company more than 35 years ago. One decade ago, they became Pack Baskets of Maine. Their busiest season is ice fishing although they also offer a foraging and apple picking basket.
“Wood has a natural flexibility,” says Matthew Foster, Production Manager at Pack Baskets of Maine. “These baskets are built to last 25 to 30 years with proper care.”
It all starts with large, thin sheets of Maine Rock Maple.
“We tear this down to three sections,” explains Foster.
The sections are then cut into bands and sorted for quality. Those that make the cut are next soaked overnight to create a flexible material.
Bridget Foster is Matthew’s wife. Her job is to weave the wooden bands to create the actual structure of the basket.
“It’s over, under, over under. And then we alternate as we move forward,” she explains as she weaves the bands of wood to make the base. Once all the weaving is done, the basket goes into a dryer.
Ben Tut takes over from there.
“As you can see, these rows here are a lot tighter, a lot neater.”
He uses tools to tighten up the woven bands, going up one side and then down the other and checking in-between.
Once that process is complete, Tut clips the top slabs and then weaves another wooden strip around them.
“Looks good,” he says, peering into the basket to make sure there aren’t any stray clippings.
Next, the basket goes to Paul Chrise.
“So you’re the finisher, right Paul?”
“I’m the finisher,” he answers, chuckling.
Chrise adds a thick wooden band around the inner and outer top section of the baskets.
“And then a handle has to go on.”
He drills holds around that section and inserts rivets to hold them together.
This June will mark Chrise’s fifth year with the company.
“And this is probably about, oh I’m guessing I’m in the neighborhood of about 10,000 baskets,” he says.
Chrise knows each and every one of them will have a story.
“From ice fishing to customers that might want them for their gardens to gather up their produce,” Chrise says, smiling as he works on a basket. “So yeah, I do think about it a lot.”
After the rivets are in place, Chrise uses an antique finisher to seat them. The final step is handed back to Matthew Foster, who attaches cleats made from seatbelt material to create the back straps. Last but not least, is the Pack Baskets of Maine tag.
The hands on process it takes to make Pack Baskets of Maine is something owner David Lorenz takes great pride in.
“We simply could automate everything, I’m sure,” he says. “But that’s not what we’re about. It was made right here. Everybody that made it lives right here. So it’s as Maine as Maine can get.”
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