This week, artist, designer, and woodworker, David Picciuto, is showing off this project on his Make Something website and YouTube channel. On the project page and video (below), David shows how we made an Alaskan ulu knife for another YouTuber, Christian, who does the cooking channel, Cook with Meat.
Using basic cutting, grinding, and drilling tools, David fashions a gorgeous knife and accompanying cutting block. An ulu is an all-purpose knife traditionally used by Inuit, Yup’ik, and Aleut peoples. They use it for everything from skinning game to cutting hair. The curved blade and matching curved cutting board, along with the fast and efficient (once you get the hang of it), cutting motion make the ulu poplar among the world’s chefs.
I love projects like this that seem very approachable, and if undertaken, will result in a tool that you will use all of the time and likely feel immense pride over every time you do. Sure he used a shopful of tools (jigsaw, bandsaw, grinding wheel, sander, sharpening wheel, lathe, drill), but you likely either have most of those tools, can gain easy access to them, or some tools (like the sharpening wheel), you could probably do without.
To start with, David made a paper template, spray painted it onto a piece of 16-gauge stainless steel sheet metal, and cut it out using a metal blade on his jigsaw. If you keep the blade well lubricated, metal cutting with this common saw (and appropriate blade) is more doable than you may think.
Once cut, he sanded the various surfaces of the knife using a disc sander, belt sander, and bastard file.
Using a Sharpie and the freehand marking technique we’ve seen DiResta use many times on his videos, Dave marks the business end of the knife, the bevel of the blade.
Much polishing, sanding, and sharpening on the blade later and David is ready to cut out the handle pieces. For these, he uses two pieces of soft maple, glued, and then reinforced with two brass pins.
For the butcher block, he glued up some pieces of soft maple and walnut. When dry, he turned the block on the lathe so that the bowl that he cut into the block was the same as the curvature of the knife blade.
Some finish sanding, polishing, and waxing (and laser-etching of the “Cook with Meat” logo), and the ulu knife is ready for Christian’s kitchen (and likely his unending admiration for this beautiful tool, handmade by a friend).
I’m curious to know if anyone reads this and is inspired to try their hand at making an ulu. If you do, please post about it in the comments below.
Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.View more articles by Gareth Branwyn