Friday, September 18, 2009

Snow Knife and Bow Update

I just drove back from The Rooms in the pouring rain. September is the floodiest month in St. John's. I have a couple more pieces finished for Parks, which is good since I'm basically at the end of the time allotted for the contract. I have a fair bit of work left, although a lot of it is antiquing and finishing work which mostly means waiting for stuff to dry. In St. John's, in September, the floodiest month.

Whalebone Snow Knife: The original (middle) is from Ivvavik National Park. I made one of these for Parks last year and this year I did two more copies. Almost all of the whalebone artifact reproductions that I made this year came from one big rib that I got last spring from Dave Snow at Wildland Tours. Thanks Dave! I Really like working whalebone, it has all the best properties of wood and antler. If I use power tools it works best dry, otherwise it gums things up. If I use hand tools it works best wet - a little soaking in water does a lot to soften it. You can chop it with an axe and not worry about it splitting along the grain like wood. It sands nice and takes colour well. It can be porous and spongy or dense like antler. The original snow knife is a lightly modified rib from a smaller whale. I had to carve my reproductions a little to match the natural surface features of the smaller rib, but I'm happy with the end results. I'll probably dust them a little bit, my copies are a little shinier than the original at the moment, but these are pretty much done.

Tuktut Nogait Bow update: I've been cautiously working on the bow reproduction. The yew stave is starting to take shape. The bow blank in the photos is the one for Parks. The back is pretty much finished and the rest of the wood will come off the sides and belly of the bow. I get kind of attached to projects like this and while I'm looking forward to the final reproduction, I'm not looking forward to chopping the limb off and desicating the wood. It seems a shame to butcher it like that. But I do have a second one on the go that will be a keeper for me.

My plans for the working copy have changed a bit. I'm not going to try to incorporate the spliced limb into the bow from the beginning. There is a stage in bow making called "tillering" where you very gradually remove wood from the limbs and test how they bend. The way the Tuktut Nogait bow had one limb spliced on and held in place by lashings around the cable backing will make tillering more difficult than I think I'm ready for. My plan now is to make my working bow in one piece. Adding the spliced limb can be a seperate project at a later date. I'm also going to need to decrown the back of the bow. The original has a very flat back and after talking to bowyers who have made similar bows that is an important detail to keep the cable backing centered. I'm kind of glad of that actually, I'm finding it a little easier to keep track of and follow the tiny growth rings of the yew on the decrowned bow.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Barbed Point reproduction in progress
Second: Whalebone Snowknives
Third, Fourth: Tuktut Nogait bow and reproduction in progress


  1. I got really wet today, too. Didn't find anything except for the bottom of some very wet and muddy holes in the ground. But L'Anse aux Meadows is still a beautiful place to be, no matter the weather.

    The snow knives look perfect, and I can't get over how the bow is taking shape! Great job - love you.

  2. Yes, I was somewhat less jealous of your fieldwork opportunity when it was pouring rain yesterday.

    I hope you are taking lots of photos!


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