Friday, October 1, 2010

Ground Slate Ulus

Ulu blades, in progress
I've got a few ground slate ulus on the go.  I want to experiment with some different styles of handles.  Usually I make a stemmed style of ulu so that the handle just fits over the stone and is held in place with friction or a bit of natural glue.  Occasionally, I'll drill holes through the stem and use whalebone or copper rivets to hold the handle in place.

The Rooms ulu
However, there's a stemless ulu with three drilled holes along the top edge on display in The Rooms that I want to reproduce.  It doesn't have a handle, so I'm not exactly sure how those 3 holes were used.  Its possible that it had some sort of handle that overlapped the holes and was riveted in place, but for these reproductions I want to experiment with tying the handle on.  I'll try a couple different styles of handles and different lashing materials. I have wood and whalebone on hand for the handles and sinew, sealskin, and baleen to experiment with for the lashings.

I want to try this handle in whalebone with baleen lashings

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

PS. Have you registered for Sunday's Run for the Cure yet? Its not to late to run this Sunday, October 3rd.


  1. Dear Tim/Lori, I would like to ask you, where can I get some (small quantities) slate?? I live in TN, and it is rare here, just shale, which is garbage, I tried to work it! I make ulu knives, (steel) and have similar "ethnoarchaeological interests" I am into Arctic/Subarctic material culture/lifeways. Materials such as moose hide, moose sinew, sealhide, spruce root, whale bone/baleen are, well IMPOSSIBLE to obtain for me, I work around it, and sometimes substitute "likely" materials, but for things such as slate, there isn't any. Could you give me any advice?? I love your website, you may like "Ulu, the woman's knife of the Eskimo" by Otis T. Mason,among others, if you don't already know it by heart!Thanks for any help, or reply!

  2. Hi Frank, thanks for you comment. Check building supply stores for slate. Slate floor tiles come in a variety of colours and most are simple, unmodified squares of slate straight from the quarry. Sometimes they'll have a bit of texture carved into the underside, but that's easy enough to grind through. I get a lot of the slate that I use for school workshops and demos at Home Depot. Floor tiles are relatively cheap and are a good thickness for things like slate knives, lances, or ulus. They don't work so well for larger tools like gouges, axes, or adzes, but you might be able to find larger slate at a local landscaping supplier.

  3. Thanks, that's great, I have a Home Depot a couple miles downroad! Now, also, how sharp does slate get, can you "cut" with it? I tried some yesterday, I think it's slate (or slatey shale!) I could not grind an edge fine enough, it crumbled and chipped out. Maybe a more obtuse bevel, but it will be dull. I wonder how Eskimo could butcher walrus (!!) with these blades. I guess that's why I am trying this out-to get answers.Thank you so much, I appreciate it.

  4. Yeah, you can't take slate too thin. The edge should be bevelled. On an ulu the bevel is often on one face only - especially metal ulus. Even so, good slate shouldn't crumble - your piece might have been more shale than slate. A slate knife can be sharp enough to slice meat and fat easily. Hide is a little tougher, but once you get the hang of it, slate knives can cut through hide as well.

  5. Yes, I think I will try the single bevel edge. The slate I got from a friend in Maine, that's good stuff, hard, clean dark grey. The stuff here is lighter grey, striped often, and just softer, mostly. Wish I could find the piece from which my little slice came, it's the best I have seen here, looks like the Maine stuff. Hey, I would send you some if you want to try it,see what you think. Oh, by the way, is granite worth trying for chipped/ground blades and such?? I found some by accident, trying to bust a piece of sandstone off at work-the sandstone held up, but a "flake" popped off a grey rock (I think it's granite) It would look nice, the sugar-like crystals glisten nicely.

  6. Granite can make decent hammerstones for knapping, but its not a good stone to make chipped stone tools from. If its a reasonably fine grained granite, you might be able to make a pecked and ground tool from it - like an axe or adze head.


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