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The "Woman's Knife"

Category: gardening | Posted: Mon Oct 20, 2008 9:18 pm

Several days ago I made a huge pot of split pea soup and relied on my 20 year-old ulu, as usual, to chop the necessary vegetables into edible pieces. Now, you ask "what the devil is an ulu"?
First of all, the implement's name is pronounced "ooo-loo"; it dates back some 2,500 years; is the Alaskan Inuit womans all purpose knife that's used for anything from skinning/cleaning animals to cutting a childs hair and everything inbetween! At one point in time, the ulu was made with caribou antler for the handle and sharp slate rock to cut with, then came the introduction of metal for use as the blade (old, discarded saw blades were once used and honed to a fine cutting edge). The overall design hasn't changed a bit over the centuries, is basically the same as it was eons ago.
When I lived in Southeastern Alaska, ulus were for sale anywhere there was a souvenier shop, were touted as being only available in Alaska. I was in Anchorage for a training seminar, happened into a grocery store that had wooden-handled ulus for $4.98, so purchased one as the price was sure right (these can sell for as much as $200 depending on craftsmanship involved): was one of the BEST investments I ever made!
Because of price, I didn't have much hope as to its cutting ability. Included instructions WARNED of the blades' sharpness, took a few good finger cuts to realize the warning was NO JOKE: I even managed to trim fingernails, once or twice, when I got a bit too careless!
That was 20 years ago, I have GREAT RESPECT for my ulu to this day. I use it CONSTANTLY for dicing, slicing and whatever, have found it to be invaluable in the kitchen! It's been said these can even be used for filleting salmon and other fish. However, since someone gave us an electric filleting knife, I got lazy and never tried the ulu on those projects, but have used it to cut fish strips for smoking..sliced right thru the fish fillets like they were butter! Or my fingertip!
I've had many friends book tours to Alaska and I highly recommended they buy an ulu while there as they'd never regret the purchase.. ONCE they got USED to using it without fatality that is! Ulu's ARE classified as "dangerous weapons" because of blade sharpness, MUST be packed inside checked-in baggage at airports or security will be at your elbow and threatening confiscation..can be a very EMBARRASING situation!! I KNOW! They can be purchased on the internet now, but only thru Alaskan dealers as the ulu is "native" to that State, won't find the TRUE one anywhere else!
Now you also know what an ulu is. For pictures of various types, and a great history of them, type in "History of the Alaska ulu" and go to the Wikipedia site. You really have to LIVE with one to fully enjoy and appreciate it's values tho'..and keep the bandaids handy!

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Biita wrote on Mon Oct 20, 2008 10:02 pm:

I have my own. Mine is Sami made with the reindeer handle and extremely sharp blade. I also have one made from an original knife used by viking women. Ofcourse mine is a replica, but the shape and make of it is like a hand extention, also made of reindeer and metal blade. I got that one hand made at the viking fair here this year. The Sami blade is very old. It was my grandmothers. I have to agree, alot of respect goes along with owning one of these knives. I learned when i was just a child how to use one. I'll never give up either knife, their too much apart of me now. Thanks for that blog, very nice to read about something i take for granted!


Sjoerd wrote on Mon Oct 20, 2008 10:14 pm:

I lived in Alasks for five years and I know these very well. You are the first person that I have heard speak of this impliment since leaving there.
You wrote such a good Blog entry about them. I hope that the members here read it and investigate... They are very handy impliments indeed.
Thanks W&S


gardengater wrote on Mon Oct 20, 2008 10:41 pm:

sounds like something I have to have!


cajunbelle wrote on Tue Oct 21, 2008 1:56 am:

Very interesting knife, I would probably cut my finger off with one though.


glendann wrote on Tue Oct 21, 2008 5:24 am:

I would have loved one when younger now like Cajunbelle
I would for sure cut a finger off.It sounds like my moms old butcher knife.She couldn't live without it.


Droopy wrote on Tue Oct 21, 2008 6:51 am:

I've seen similar knives in shops around here, they look efficient!


Frank wrote on Tue Oct 21, 2008 8:56 pm:

I had no idea what an ulu was until your blog entry W&S but now I do! Thanks for the knowledge.


CritterPainter wrote on Wed Oct 22, 2008 2:13 am:

There's a fairly extensive "underground" of bladesmiths here in the US, and they still handcraft beautifully made ulus. My son was studying this craft and made me one out in the forge we build for him from scrapwood (half of it is my garden-tool shed now, an incident with a white-hot piece of steel raking itself across his throat put a damper on his bladesmithing enthusiasm!) I, too, highly recommend getting one of these useful tools.

weeds n seeds wrote on Wed Oct 22, 2008 3:54 pm:

THANK YOU ALL for the highly interesting comments! I take my ulu for granted after using it so long, honestly can't work in the kitchen without just needed some well-earned recognition.

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