Primitive Bone Knife

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

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

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.

Slippery work

Slippery work

After an hours work I had the bone cleaned up.

Ready for carving

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

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

Scorching the bone

A close up.

Scorch line

Scorch line

Once the line was scorched all the way around a little gentle tapping was all that was needed.

A gentle tapping

A gentle tapping

A crack soon appeared.

Cracked bone

Cracked bone

To finally remove the knuckle I carried on scraping with the flint.

Removed knuckle

Removed knuckle

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

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

Making the groove

The awl tip taking shape.

Awl tip

Awl tip

Eventually I was able to prise a section of bone out.

Removal of bone

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

Basic shape - front

And the other side.

Basic shape - back

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

Removing the marrow

To give the knife a basic edge I used a piece of sandstone.

Sanding the edge

Sanding the edge

Any rough edges I tidied up with flint.

Final touches 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

Side profile - Bodkin

Here the knife is sitting on the inner bark I used to make the sheath out of.

Ready for its sheath

Ready for its sheath

More on that next time.

George

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One thought on “Primitive Bone Knife

  1. What is your lrocess for hides? I have recently started to learn how to tan and work hides. I have done a few rabbit hides, which have turned out very nice but I had trouble fleshing a piece of deer hide. Any tips?

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