Learn How Wooden Lacrosse Sticks are Made in Akwesasne, NY
Believe it or not, there are still people who make traditional lacrosse sticks. By hand. And because the sport was invented by Native Americans, it should be no surprise that there are indigenous people still handcrafting lacrosse sticks. Located within the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, Evan Cree is carrying on his family tradition. He (almost) single-handedly makes thousands of wooden lacrosse sticks each year. The best part? You can take a tour of his factory and learn how wooden lacrosse sticks are made.
A special thank you (Nia:weh) to the people of the St. Regis Mohawk Territory, including Evan Cree, for inviting me to experience Traditional Lacrosse and the wonders of Akwesasne. This is the second of several articles highlighting the people, food, and culture of the region.
About Traditional Lacrosse
Traditional Lacrosse is a lacrosse stick and trophy making factory located in Akwesasne, New York. Owned by lifelong lacrosse player and enthusiast Evan Cree, the factory produces thousands of lacrosse sticks each year. Because his work is so well known, people across the world order his sticks for the high-quality, traditional craftsmanship.
Evan isn’t the first in his family to make lacrosse sticks. His great-grandfather and great-great-uncle owned Roundpoint Lacrosse Company. The company, also located in Akwesasne, supplied 97% of the world’s lacrosse sticks at its prime. Now, Evan continues that tradition. He handcrafts 9 different sizes of lacrosse sticks in his factory. Many of them are shipped across the country, both to be played with and as gifts for graduating lacrosse players.
How are wooden lacrosse sticks made?
Choosing the proper wood for the job
Evan uses two types of wood to create the sticks: Hickory and White Ash. The traditional, longer sticks are made with Hickory. But the smaller sticks are made out of White Ash because it bends easier.
The most impressive part of the process is watching Evan break apart a log. Using a “hammer” made out of another wooden log and an axe, he splits apart each log by hand. Surprisingly, only the bottom 8 feet of each tree is used to make lacrosse sticks – the higher sections do not bend as much as they need to. (Don’t worry, the other sections of the trees are used for other things.) Each log is able to be split into 12-16 slices which will eventually become lacrosse sticks.
Shaving down and steaming the sticks
Once the log has been split into smaller wedges, they then need to be cut down even further. Evan works on his sawhorse to turn the triangular wedges into rectangular splints. Once he’s gotten them to the right shape and size he needs, the splints are then placed into the a machine to steam them.
Why? The steam helps soften the wood, make it pliable and easily bent to the appropriate shape.
Shaping the lacrosse sticks
After the sticks have been in the steamer long enough to let them bend, it’s time to shape them. Evan has created a one-of-a-kind tool that helps him shape the sticks. Different sized jigs around a metal pole help provide the loops for the tops of the lacrosse sticks.
Two bends are required. The first one bends one end of the stick back on itself. (Think of the top of an “S”.) The second bend helps put the handle in the middle of that loop to balance it out. (Think of the bottom of a “Y”. After the first bend, a metal clip is put around the stick to help keep the bend in place. Then after the second bend, the sticks are stacked on top of each other inside a contraption that helps keep their shapes while the sticks dry and cure.
Carving the sticks into their final shape
Lacrosse stick making is not a quick process. Several weeks – sometimes – months pass before the sticks can maintain their new shapes. And at that point they are only halfway done. It is time to carve the sticks even further to their final shapes.
When the sticks have finally taken form, the holes are dilled for the strings. Each stick is then sanded, branded, and sealed.
The final touch: Stringing
I previously mentioned that Evan almost crafts the lacrosse sticks single-handedly. What part does he get help on? Stringing the sticks. Evan calls on the local community to help him with the final touches. A group of Mohawk community members pick up lacrosse sticks and rope from the factory. Once they finish stringing them, they return them to Evan for a small fee.
What happens to the scrap wood?
With so many levels of sawing and sanding, you may think that a lot of wood is wasted throughout the process. But that’s not the case. Even uses the larger pieces that are sawed/shaved off for other projects. He creates trophies, frames, and other novelty items, which he also sells. The trophies are beautiful, laser-engraved, and completely customizable. (And not just for lacrosse!) Smaller pieces can be burned to heat the water used to steam the splints.
How can you order a stick from Traditional Lacrosse?
Visit Evan’s website to learn about the various sticks and gifts that he creates in his workshop. If there is stock available, you can order directly from his site. Because of the high demand, sticks are not always available. Interested parties can submit a request for a custom order.
Learn how wooden lacrosse sticks are made during a tour of Traditional Lacrosse
If you’re fascinated by the process of making traditional lacrosse sticks, you can tour Evan’s factory. Groups of 2-10 people are welcome to book a tour and follow the entire process from start to finish. Tours must be purchased in advance, and are dependent on Evan’s availability and current materials.
Guests must provide their own transportation to the factory and wear closed-toe shoes. As it is a working facility, safety is a top priority. Guests will receive goggles and be instructed as to where they can walk throughout the workshop.
But don’t stop there. You can also book a visit with Carrie Hill at Chill Baskets to learn about traditional basket weaving!