New Native Nation ulu/semi-lunar knife

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Ground Slate Semi-lunar (ulu) Knife

By Shelley Garrett Smith

The Semi-lunar Knife is an ancient tool of North America. Archeologists have suggested that it may have been invented in Northeastern America and Canada and its use spread from there across the north, all around the arctic circle even in ancient Poland, eventually becoming part the tool kit of the Inuit around two thousand years ago. The Inuit, master tool mechanics, perfected it and used it in several variations on into the 20th century.
This style of Semi-lunar Knife is one of the earliest types made in New England. . It will cut cordage and plant material softer than wood; and will scrape vegetables, roots, sinew, and smallgame hides. It can also easily be re-sharpened.


*a slab of slate no larger than a standard slate tile
*a hand-sized rounded river stone (hammerstone) or small hammer
*a sharp-edge heavy stone such as broken quartz or quartzite (chiselstone) or a chisel
*assorted abrasives: sandstones of varying grain, quartzite and perhaps pumacestone or sand and
emery papers
*a sturdy stick about twice the thickness of the thickest part of the slate and a few inches longer than
the widest part of the planned knife.
* 2 long lengths of strong cordage such as twined sinew or thin leather thong


Step one:
*With hammer and chisel chip the slate into a half-moon shape, with the straight edge on the thickest
part of the slate.

Step two:
*With sandstone or sandpaper, grind down the curved part of the half-moon shape into a sharp edge
(remembering that the strength of the edge will not compare to a metal knife nor will the sharpness
approach that of flint, chert, jasper, or obsidian).
Start with larger-grained abrasives then switch to medium-grained, and then to fine-grained.
Be patient, as this will take quite some time. Some crafters say sprinkling water on the stone speeds
this process up.
*Continue grinding the slate until the thick edge slopes gently and smoothly to the sharp edge.

Step three:
*Chip and grind the thick edge so that it is reasonably straight from top to bottom.
*Score a groove in the center of the piece about ˝ the diameter of the piece of wood from the thick
edge, approximately in the center of the knife. Work the grove until you have formed a smooth thin
slot through the slate.

Step four:
*Smooth the wood at the ends and around the diameter.
*Chisel a groove to a depth of almost half the diameter into the wood, centered lengthwise about the
width of the knife, until the thick edge of the slate fits snugly into the groove.
*With the thick edge of the knife set into the wood, wrap and tie one piece of cordage tightly around
the wood and through the slot in the slate. Tie the knot at the slot so it doesn’t wear blisters in your
hand during use.

Step five:
*Score a shallow groove around the wood just beyond the width of the knife. Tie the ends of the
second piece of cordage into these grooves.

Your finished Semi-lunar Knife can be worn around the neck, like a pendant, or hung from a belt, to
be handy for use.

A Study of Ground-slate Knives from Connecticut
By Mark L. Banks
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