During the summer I completed the Woodcraft School Primitive Technology course.
The course required that at least one our craft items had to be made using only primitive tools and techniques.
I decided to make myself a bone knife and a bark sheath for it. The knife I made from a Lamb’s thigh bone and the sheath was made from Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) inner bark.
Bone utility knife & Sheath
I wanted to be able to use the knife as an Awl for working hides, as a Bodkin for when weaving and as a general knife for cutting cordage and meat.
This post will concentrate on how the knife was made. The next post will be about the sheath.
The bone I used was a thigh bone known as the Shank. Hence the names ‘Lamb Shank’ as a cut of meat and the word ‘Shank’ as a primitive knife.
Fresh Bone & Flint
As I was using primitive tools and techniques only I scraped all the fat and flesh off with a piece of flint.
Other students tried burning the fat and flesh off but the made the bone brittle so it easily shattered. It is slippery work that requires a lot of patience. One slip and the flint will cut you as cleanly as any sharp knife.
After an hours work I had the bone cleaned up.
Ready for carving
I decided that one knuckle would make a good handle but the other had to be removed.
I scored a line around the whole bone near the knuckle I wanted removed. Apologies for the slightly out of focus picture. The score line was about a couple of millimetres deep.
Removing a knuckle
After scoring the line John Ryder (course instructor) showed me how to scorch the line to make it a little brittle in that area.
Scorching the bone
A close up.
Once the line was scorched all the way around a little gentle tapping was all that was needed.
A gentle tapping
A crack soon appeared.
To finally remove the knuckle I carried on scraping with the flint.
Once the knuckle was removed then I decided on the shape of my knife point. I did this by gently scraping with the flint on the bone to define my knife shape.
Flint score lines
Then making sure that the bone was on a stable surface and held in a secure grip the tedious scraping began. The carving out of the knife shape took a number of hours.
Making the groove
The awl tip taking shape.
Eventually I was able to prise a section of bone out.
Removal of bone
I went through two pieces of flint carving the bone out.
Eventually the general shape of the knife was produced.
Basic shape - front
And the other side.
Basic shape - back
A messy but necessary job is to remove the remaining marrow. I just used a small stick for this.
Removing the marrow
To give the knife a basic edge I used a piece of sandstone.
Sanding the edge
Any rough edges I tidied up with flint.
Final touches with flint
Below you can see the side profile of the knife. This curve is useful as a Bodkin in basket weaving. In the next post you will see that this was the knifes first job.
Side profile - Bodkin
Here the knife is sitting on the inner bark I used to make the sheath out of.
Ready for its sheath
More on that next time.