Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Working on Wood Snow Goggles

I'm working on a few pairs of snow goggles this week.  I have an order for one pair of goggles for a hands-on museum exhibit in Ontario.  I think the I'll probably send them a new pair of the Wapusk snow goggles that I've made and talked about before.  But while I'm working on those, I wanted to try reproducing some snow goggles that we found on Baffin Island during a survey in 2010.  The Baffin Island goggles are the ones in the photos in this blog post.

Claude is recording the goggles where we found them lying on the ground.

One of the guys we worked with said that his grandfather from Pond Inlet had a pair just like this.  They are big and round and look like owl eyes.

To start the reproductions I printed 1:1 photos of the goggles to use as patterns and split a  3 1/2" diameter spruce log down the middle to create the half-round blanks to begin with.  I don't have the original goggles to refer to, but I believe this should give a pretty good match to the wood grain in the artifact.

For most of the coarse shaping, I use a sanding disc on an angle grinder.

I stop frequently to refer to the reference material and plan my next series of cutting or grinding.

For the finer shaping, I switch to the dremel tool.  A coarse sanding drum works for a lot of the details, like the hollows around the eye slits on the inside of the goggles.

I don't cut out slots for the eye holes. The originals were probably whittled and gouged out by hand with a sharp knife.  I'll switch to sharp knife for the final finishing and to leave the appropriate tool marks on the finished reproduction, but even with the dremel tool, the principle is the same.  I'm slowly gouging down, deeper into the wood until it becomes paper thin and the eye slits emerge.  I think you can see in above the side-by-side comparison with the reference material that this is how the slits were made in the original.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. I'm nitpicking I know. .. But I don't like the power tools and dremel. I've found I learn more and gain unbelievable insights by trying to use the exact tools and materials originally used. I also realize that you are creating reproductions here, but if you want to gain insight into the by-products of a particular industry you got to start from scratch. I know that after a little experimental slate grinding I stopped throwing away a great deal of previously unrecognized slate tool debitage and preforms. Patrick

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  3. Wow. How cool to find that in situ. I've always wondered if the Dorset used the same design.

    1. The only Dorset snow goggles that I know of come from a Dorset Burial site at Port au Choix. They are individual eye pieces, more like swim goggles. I've tried making them, but they don't fit my face. I don't know if I'm missing something or if I just have the wrong shaped face.

  4. Richard WisecarverJanuary 24, 2013 at 7:16 PM

    I started making wooden snow goggles in 1990 and have made near a 1000 pairs. The Yupiks judging by surviving sets made them from many types of materials and with many variations in style and shape and size of eye opening. They even added small and large visors to them. Recent ones are mostly spruce wood. Typically they were made from white spruce drift wood and painted with a mixture of powdered or crushed hematite, fermented fish eggs, and a little seal or fish oil. I've also used birch wood, whale bone, alder wood, and antler-all are heavy. I believe that most of the ivory goggles found today in museums were used by shamen and not for hunting.

    1. That's a very interesting observation about the relative weights of the different material types. I've thought about the different materials in terms of durability, but I don't think I've considered weight before. I think that's a good, practical point.

    2. Hi Richard,
      Did you ever see any prehistoric goggles with round openings instead of slits? I've seen a pair recently and was puzzled by them...


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