Monday, February 28, 2011

Making the Steel Ulu

ready for rivets and antiquing
This is a follow-up post to the ulu reproduction mentioned in the previous blog post.  Despite the time crunch that I'm feeling, I'm really regretting not building a second ulu alongside this one for myself.  I'm sure that I'll attempt it, or a similar one again someday so I want to record some of the steps while its fresh in my mind.

Muriatic acid accelerates rust
For the blade, I used a stainless steel cleaver that I bought at the Magic Wok on Duckworth Street.  It has just the right dimensions and gave me a nice, clean steel blank to start with.  I cut the corners off with an angle grinder and used the grinder and hand files to finish shaping and sharpening the blade.  To mimic the pitted and rusted surface of the blade I covered the blade with a very fine sawdust and sprinkled a bit of muriatic acid solution into it.  It only took a few hours on each side to create the antiqued pattern.  I then soaked the blade several times in tea to help turn the reddish pink rust a darker blackish colour, to mimic the look of a conserved metal artifact.

Antler stem
The neck of the handle is caribou antler.  The general shape is a natural flare, where a tine starts to flare out into a flat palm.  When I had the rough shape cut out, I soaked the antler for about 24 hours in white vinegar to soften it.  I wanted the slot for the blade to fit inside the soft spongy part of the antler without cutting through the dense outer layer.  Softening the antler in vinegar first let me bend out the slight irregularity in the shape of the palm.

Cut musk-ox horn for the handle
The small grip across the top of the antler is musk-ox horn.  I used the smallest part of the horn that I could that matched the dimensions of the original artifact.  I think there are still 2 or 3 more similarly sized handles inside this small horn.  I cut the horn with a scroll saw and shaped it with an electric sander.  Its comparable to soft wood or antler and shapes very quickly and easily with sanding, although it was that distinctive, unpleasant burnt hair smell as you cut or grind it.  Its predominantly held in place with friction, although I also added some hide glue to fill up any gaps and to make it even more secure.  I left the antler neck a little longer than necessary and sanded to top down flush with the musk-ox handle when it was fit in position.

drill the antler and metal apart
I needed to drill holes through the antler and the ulu blade for rivets.  I marked the position of the holes on the antler and drilled through the antler first.  I put the undrilled blade back into the slot and marked the position of the holes on the blade, through the drilled antler holes with a pencil.  Then I drilled the pencil marks out using diamond abrader bits on the dremel tool, plus water to keep from burning through the blades.  I don't really have a steel working shop, so this was the step with the most room for improvement.  I'm sure a drill press would have done a much quicker and better job.  The main thing is to not to drill through the antler and the metal together.  Its too easy to shred the antler when the bit hits the harder steel inside and starts to dance around.

tea staining works on metal and the organics
After I drilled the holes, but before I but the rivets in, I antiqued everything in tea.  I wanted the tea to stain the antler and horn a reddish brown, and the blade black.  I didn't quite get as much red from the tea as I was hoping, so I touched it up on the surface with a bit of red ochre.

Annealing the copper rivet rod
The copper rivets were slightly more laborious than they needed to be because I started with a a heavy copper ground wire that was much thicker than I needed.  I hammered, ground and filed it down until it was thin enough to fit through the holes.  If I had it in the workshop I would have started with a narrower gauge of wire.  Since I was hammering I needed to periodically anneal the copper with the blow torch to soften it again and prevent it from becoming brittle and fracturing while I worked it.

Ready to cut to length
Starting to tap out the rivet head
When the copper was thin enough to fit through all the way through the antler and blade I would cut it off and move on to the next hole.  I worked on all the rivets at the same time.  The wires in the photos are a little longer than necessary.  Next time I'd make each on a millimetre or two shorter.  If the wire is too long, it will want to bend over rather than flare out as you hammer it.  I'd hammer the rivets on the anvil, being sure that the opposite end of the rivet was supported by the anvil.

Finished rivets flattened out
Even one light hammer tap on the antler can leave a dent that is impossible to remove.  I hammer very slowly.  Alternating filing the heads down and drilling small dimples into the ends to help the metal flare out and create the rivet head as I tap it down.  When all the rivets were pounded flat, the ulu was pretty much done.  All that was left to do was touch up the colour and and antique the copper with the red wine vinegar and miracle gro solution.

The photo sequence below shows the progress of the ulu next to the original 1:1 blueprint that I drew from the reference photo.

The cleaver made a perfect blank
At this stage the antler has had very little work done to it, its naturally shaped like that
The blade has been cut and I started trimming the antler
The blade has been antiqued in muriatic acid and the musk-ox horn handle is planned out
I made the first cut on the musk-ox horn and started thinning out the antler part of the handle
All of the major shaping is done, it just needs to be antiqued and riveted
The finished ulu next to the original pattern

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, February 25, 2011

Steel Ulu Reproduction

Steel ulu reproduction
This has to be one of my favourite reproductions of all time.  I just love the lines and the antiqued effect.  This steel, copper, antler and horn ulu is #12 of 17 in the Central Arctic artifact set.  Its based on an artifact in the Canadian Museum of Civilization's collection and you can see the original artifact in the online catalog here:

The reproduction measures 17cm wide by 13 cm tall

It sharpened mainly on one side
The reference artifact was made from a re-purposed carving knife and the original maker's mark is still visible on the blade; "E.R Joseph Rodgers & Sons, Cutlers to his Majesty."  That maker's mark will be laser inscribed by the client before this piece goes on display, but other than that this piece is as close to the original artifact as possible.

Its just begging to be used
This is one of the artifacts in the CMC's online collection where the measurements listed in the artifact description don't seem to match the object in the photo.  The object's length is given as 26 cm, which would make the blade close to the size of a football.  I relied more on the 5 cm photo scale to come up with the size of this reproduction, which measures 17 cm across the blade and 13 cm tall.

very low profile

I made the blade on a recycled steel knife blade, although I used a large cleaver blade.  I spent a lot of time looking for a suitable knife blank to rework and had considered purchasing an antique knife, but I couldn't find anything with the right dimensions, until I finally found the cleaver at an Asian market in St. John's.  I'll go into a little more detail on some of the steps that went into building this reproduction, but in the case of the blade, I feel that a lot of the success in matching the artifact was due to very good luck getting a nice rust pattern using muriatic acid.

I love how old all the metal looks
The ulu has a composite handle riveted in place with 5 copper rivets.  The stem part of the handle that attaches to the blade is made from caribou antler where a beam flattens out into a flat palm.  Its so perfectly suited to this style of ulu handle that its almost like the caribou grow the handles for you.  The grip is made from musk-ox horn.  A lot of other horn is a relatively thin keratin sheath around bony core, but a musk-ox horn is dense all the way through.  I used a narrow part of a small horn near the tip for the grip.

The musk-ox horn grip is held in place by friction and a bit of hide glue

I should have made a pair
All in all, I love how this piece turned out.  The minute it was done it looked 100 years old and even though I was there making it from start to finish I just can't believe that it hasn't been sitting in a museum case somewhere for the past century.  My only regret is that I didn't make a second one for myself.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Off to Calgary

Probably not carry-on...
I'm leaving this morning for Calgary to visit family and lead a flintknapping workshop this weekend.  There are still spaces available.

The workshop is this Sunday, February 27th at the University of Calgary.  There are two sessions running from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, one for first time knappers led by Jason Roe and a second one where I'll be working with folks with some knapping experience.  I'm going to bring along a bunch of the reproductions that I have on hand and some of the materials that go into assembling them.  I expect that a lot of the people in my group will be the same folks who were there last year (although new faces are more than welcome!), so I'll bring a few new things for people to try out.  I think it would be cool if we knapped and assembled our own drills in the morning and used them to work wood and ground slate in the afternoon.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fishing Rod and Lure

Fishing Rod and lure
This is reproduction number 11 of 17 in the Central Arctic set.  Its a fishing rod, line, and lure.  I used a piece of  split spruce for the rod, sealskin and braided sinew for the line, and antler, caribou teeth, and sinew for the lure.  Like all the other pieces in this set, the original artifact is in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.  You can see it here:

81 cm rod with 2.4 m long line
As you can see in the photos in the link above, the fishing line is wrapped around the rod which made working out the length of the line and details of its assembly a little tricky.  The line is definitely made from two materials - sealskin and braided sinew.  The braided sinew is attached to the lure, which must mean that the sealskin is attached to the rod.  I couldn't see any obvious method of attaching the sealskin to the rod, until I figured out that there is a second shorter length of braided sinew attached to the opposite end of the sealskin line.  The sealskin thong is in the middle of the line attached to braided sinew on both ends.  On one end, this sinew is tied to the rod and on the other sinew is tied to the lure, making a three part composite line.

faux polar bear fish lure
The fishing lure is barely visible in the reference photos, but it is a polar bear tooth.  The client opted to have the lure made from antler instead of using an actual tooth, so I shaped and stained the antler to match the look of the tooth as near as possible.  I made it 11 cm long, because that seemed about right from the photos and scale.  There appears to be 3 holes in the lure - one to attach the line and two for small movable caribou teeth to be tied through.  One of the two holes for the teeth is vacant.  You can see more detailed photos of other polar bead tooth fish lures here.  I used the lures on that page as references to fill in some of the details, like the incised line design.

arrow nock (light) fishing rod (dark)
According to the measurements given in the artifact catalog, the rod is about 70.5 cm, although the client asked me to make the reproduction about 10 cm longer than that, so the rod in the photos here is about 81cm long.  Often fishing rods from this part of the Arctic had notches on both ends and the line was wound end to end - like the one in this link.  There is a notch visible on one end of my reference artifact and I've mirrored it on both ends of my reproduction, although the second notch is not obvious in any of the reference photos.  If that second notch was ever there, then it was broken or damaged.  If that's the case, then I'll wind up breaking the notch from one end of the rod before I ship it off, but I wanted to record it with two notches before I go ahead and do that.  I also don't want to do something that I can't undo before I'm a little more certain.  Maybe I'll find a better reference photo somewhere.  Curiously, the notch on this particular rod is very shallow and is similar to the string nock on an arrow.  The rest of the rod also matches the dimensions of an arrow shaft, which makes me wonder if this whole rod wasn't made from a reused arrow.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, February 18, 2011

Harpoon Heads with Copper Endblades

Antler and copper harpoon head
So I was able to get that little harpoon head done that I promised myself I would finish yesterday.  Mostly.  I'm still fussing over the patina on the copper endblade and the rivets, but that's mostly waiting to see what sort of colour I'll get from the red wine vinegar and Miracle Gro solution.  The thing is assembled, and I can focus on other pieces.  This is reproduction #10 of 17 in the Central Arctic set that is based on Inuit artifacts in the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Its quite small - 7.7 cm long x 2.3 cm wide across the endblade

I'm still fussing with the patina
The smaller, white harpoon head is the finished one.  The larger brown head is part of a complete harpoon, so it can't be called finished until the rest of the harpoon is assembled.  You can see the original artifacts that they are based on in the CMC's online artifact catalog:

This one needs a harpoon
It looks like the harpoon head from the complete harpoon might actually have a steel endblade, but for the reproduction I'll be using copper.  There is another harpoon head in this set which will have a steel endblade, so that material will be represented there.

Riveting work!
I'm enjoying making all these metal pieces, especially the rivets.  Its good practice.  I've made copper riveted pieces in the past, but never so many at once and they can be tricky to make, especially in material that is softer than the rivet.  If you get impatient with hammering the rivets in a soft material, like antler or slate, the rivet can crack the piece that you are working on as it expands in the hole.  Which really sucks, because the rivets are often the final step and breaking a piece just when you think its finished can be a nightmare.  Fortunately, that didn't happen here and I've been careful to drill the rivet heads with a small dimple before hammering to help the heads expand outward.  Then I hammer them very lightly and periodically file the heads with a metal file to help remove excess metal while tapping the head into the right shape and smoothing it down against the antler.

seems small
This is quite a small harpoon head, only 7.7 cm long and 2.3 cm wide across the widest part of the endblade.  Based on the proportions in the reference photos, I made the antler harpoon head about 3.8 cm long.  Together with the large endblade it seems like a functional harpoon head, but if the antler was found on its own, it would be tempting to call it a miniature.  The reproduction that I've shown here is based on an Inuit artifact, but small harpoon heads were common amongst earlier Palaeoeskimo collections as well.  Robert Park and Pauline Mousseau published an excellent paper in 2003 called How Small Is Too Small: Dorset Culture "Miniature" Harpoon Heads, which deals with awkwardly sized harpoon heads in Palaeoeskimo sites.  They found that a lot of very small harpoon heads could have been functional.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Feeling whipped

Dog whip, needs to be laced together
I'm having a tough time getting any more pieces moved into the finished pile.  Almost everything is started, but almost everything is also hung up on one or two components.  I need to get something finished tomorrow so that I can feel like I'm making progress.  Right now, there are loose ends of this project spread across every room on every floor in the house.  I was going to say "except the bathroom" - but I've taken my beard trimmer out to the workshop to shave the hair off of a sealskin thong, so even that room is feeling the effects.

I really want to finish the little one
I think I'll make the little harpoon head on the left the priority for tomorrow.  I can finish it up while I'm boiling up the caribou mandibles and hooves (weather pending).  It just needs a bit more carving and then the copper endblade needs to be riveted in place.  The larger head can be completed to the same stage as well, but its part of a complete harpoon which is held up waiting for a socket of caribou antler that is soaking in vinegar so that I can straighten it out a bit.  The harpoon line it will be secured to is also still in desperate need of a shave.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, February 14, 2011

Overdrawn at the Mandible Bank

They do withdrawals too!
I contacted the Wildlife Division last fall about getting 9 caribou mandibles and today I picked up a cardboard box with 19 caribou jawbones in it!  Its more than I need, although I'll need to do a little bit of re-arranging to get exactly the elements that I'm after.  Hunters in the province submit the jawbones of moose and caribou so that the age of the animal can be determined by provincial biologists.  Only two teeth are extracted for the aging study and the rest of the bones are disposed of.

Box of slightly used caribou jawbones
The reproduction that I'm working on has the front end of 9 caribou mandibles hanging from a leather belt.  The mandibles on the artifact have all of the teeth intact, so I need to swap some teeth around to fill in the missing incisors on that jawbones that I end up using.  These are the last pieces of hard to find animal parts on my shopping list, and except for a brass tuna harpoon head on its way from Florida, I have everything that I need in hand to finish all the reproductions in the Central Arctic set.

Faux polar bear (top) & real wolf teeth
I also need to use two of the extra caribou incisors as fish fins on an antler fishing lure.  The original lure was made on a polar bear tooth.  Polar bear teeth are possible to obtain, but they can be expensive.  To save on cost, the client asked me to use antler instead.  The larger "tooth" in the photo is a piece of antler that I'm in the process of finishing to look like a polar bear tooth.  The smaller tooth is from a wolf and I'm using it as a reference to match the colour and texture of my faux bear tooth.  Two of the caribou teeth will be tied to the lure with sinew threaded through the holes in the middle.  They would have flapped like fins in the water.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, February 11, 2011

Skin Scraper with a Copper Bit

 Pistol grip scraper
This is kind of a cool reproduction scraper made on a split caribou antler.  At first glance, this might look like a  tool made on a random scrap of antler, but the handle was carefully selected to give a long straight section of beam ending in a forked notch.  There are a dozen or more of these scrapers with pistol grip handles in the Canadian Museum of Civilization's online artifact catalog, mainly from the Central Arctic.  The forked design was important to the function and when a second tine wasn't naturally available, or if it broke off, then it was added.  Here are links to two repaired scrapers where the small tines were added as a peg or with rivets.

You can see the specific artifact that this reproduction is based on in the CMC artifact catalog here:

Skin scraper: IV-D-439

The scraper from the end of the tine to the tip of the blade is roughly the width of my thumb and about 30 cm long.
These handles grow on Caribou
I've noticed occasional discrepancies in the CMC catalog between the measurements listed in the database and the photo reference.  In this case, the artifact in the link above is listed as being 37.5cm long in the text, but in the photo it looks to be slightly longer than the 20cm scale included in the photo.  Even with a bit of distortion from the perspective of the photo, the artifact doesn't look close to being twice as long as the photo scale.  The scraper I made is 30cm long, which I think is a reasonable guess of the actual artifact size.

Copper bit held in place with copper rivets

Most of the tine in the foreground was rebuilt
The specific scraper that I was asked to reproduce was made on an antler tine that was carefully selected to create just the right fork in the handle with very little modification.  I wasn't so lucky, I found an antler in my stockpile that had a long straight beam and small prong that matched the artifact, but the larger half of the fork was a lot bigger.  That meant I had to grind it down and refinish it.  Caribou antler is quite spongy on the inside and I couldn't leave the interior spongy antler exposed, because it changed the whole look of the piece.  I built a new antler surface in the part of the handle that I modified using a combination of glue, antler dust, sawdust, rock dust, paint, charcoal, and beeswax.  I've set it aside now.  I think its a reasonable reconstruction at the moment, although I might come back to it and fiddle around with it a bit more.  Its not an invisible repair, but its not distracting either.  If you didn't know it was there, I don't think it would catch your eye.

Square base, with flaring ears
The scraper bit is made from cold hammered copper, held in place with two copper rivets.  The bit edge is convex and flares slightly, creating slight ears on either side.  Its not perfectly flat and the working edge, especially at the ears, rolls up slightly.  The general shape of the scraper reminds me a little of the square based, earred chipped stone end scrapers that the Groswater Palaeoeskimo made.  It makes me wonder if maybe they would have been hafted in a handle like this.

Nain artifact, with comparable hafting area
This particular scraper is flat in the hafting area, where the rivets hold it in place, but some, like the one in this link, are are bent around 3 sides of the antler handle and secured that way.  This hafting method reminds reminds me of one of the objects that Amelia Fay found at her site on Black Island, near Nain, Labrador.  I don't know if Amelia's artifact is a scraper handle  (some ladles or scoop handles were attached the same way) but whatever it was riveted to might have fit on in the same way.
By the way, Amelia was interviewed on CBC radio yesterday about her work and you can listen to the podcast here: Black Island archeological dig leaves researchers puzzled... Thanks for the Elfshot shout out!

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Muzzle Making Reindeer Weather

Detail of muzzle strap
I was planning to spend most of the day out of the house gathering materials and equipment for the current batch of work, but the weather kind of messed that up.  It took a couple hours to dig out and most of the places that I needed to go ended up having snow days anyhow.  I spent the non-shoveling part of the day sewing rangifer taradus rawhide into a sled dog muzzle.

The muzzle is the 8th piece in the Central Arctic set.  As before, I'm working off of images in the Canadian Museum of Civilization's artifact catalog.  You can see the the original artifact here:

Muzzle: IV-C-3229 a

Sled Dog Muzzle Reproduction.  Excluding the straps, the muzzle is about 8 cm long and the diameter at the large end is 9.5 cm and 7.2 at the narrow end.  

Reindeer rawhide and 16 hooves
The muzzle artifact is made from caribou skin, although I used reindeer skin which came from Finland via southern Ontario.  Its the same species, rangifer tarandus, but the availability of farmed reindeer makes some of their parts easier to get a hold of than wild caribou.  I got a beautiful reindeer rawhide from a Canadian importer along with 16 feet that I'll need the hooves from for another reproduction in this set.  Reindeer rawhide like this is primarily used for drumskins and I'm going to try to work around the edges to get the pieces that I need now so that I can save the center for a drum in the future.

Its just the right size for a sled dog's nose
I used the neck skin for the muzzle, because it was the perfect size and is the thickest part of the skin.  Most of the rawhide is vellum thin.  I  moistened and chewed and scrunched up the rawhide for a while before I started sewing it to soften it up.  Its pretty flexible now and with a little bit of soot to dirty it up, I think its a good match for the original.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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