Friday, October 8, 2010

A Sampling of Slate Ulus

Ulu Rhapsody
Here's a look at the 5 ulus I was working on.  I was experimenting with using sinew and sealskin laces to tie drilled slate blades onto wood and whalebone handles.  The inspiration for the 3-holed blade comes from an ulu on display in The Rooms in St. John's.  I found the single holed version in an illustration on the SILA website, which was put online by Isuma Productions out of Igloolik to provide supplemental information for their film, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen.  Several of the other handles are based on artifacts that I found by searching through the Museum of Civilization's online Artifact Catalogue.

Engraving from SILA website
Both the sinew and the sealskin worked well.  I worked both lashing materials while they were wet and as they dried they shrunk and solidified, creating very tight, secure bonds.  The darker handles are tamarack wood and the lighter coloured handles are whalebone.  Many of the ulu handles that I've seen in collections from Labrador are made from wood, but, understandably, the farther north you go, the more common whalebone handles become.  Aside from the greasy, fish and mammal smell that whalebone gives off when you work it, I really like using the material.  Its a little softer than wood, it works easily when wet, and it doesn't have a grain to it like wood, so cuts don't have a tendency to get away on you.
Slate, tamarack, sinew $150 CDN Tax inc.

Slate, Tamarack, Hide Glue SOLD

Slate, Whalebone, Sealskin $170 CDN Tax inc.
Slate, Tamarack, Hide Glue $115 CDN Tax inc

Slate, Whalebone, Sinew $170 CDN Tax inc
Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. I love these , makes me want have a go at making one, and i love your drill ,is that a replica of a find?

  2. Thanks, Aaron-Paul. They're fun to make and use.

    Yes, the bit and spindle part of my drill are based on artifacts. The wood and rib bone bows that I use aren't replicas of any specific artifact, but generally speaking, they are made in the same way as some of the more expedient bows that have been found. But there are also some very finely crafted bows made from bone and walrus ivory.

  3. The tamarack makes a much nicer looking handle than the pine, in my opinion. The whalebone ulus are stunning (esp. the last image) and their designs fun to ponder.

    I think something like a knife/ulu could be pretty personalized to the individual. Since we prepared the hooded seal skin this spring I better know what I'm looking for in an ulu - and how it should fit my hand (dictated by the task). Using the ulu to slice through blubber versus scraping the nearly clean hide required different motions, pressure, and positioning in my hand. There are times I would appreciate having very little handle for certain tasks and wished I had a larger handle for other tasks. It would be nice to experiment with some of these... but I think this bunch is *for sale*.. so I'll wait for the next round ;-)

    Together they make such a beautiful set. I will be sad to break them up.

  4. They are beautiful Tim and I agree with Lori...the Whalebone is indeed stunning. Happy Thanksgiving. B

  5. OH...forgot to mention...I like the new look.

  6. Absolutely stunning! Finally someone who appreciates ground slate-the original ulu material. Now, if I could only get some to experiment with myself!


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