How to Make an Alaskan Ulu Knife

37,707

360

29

Published

Introduction: How to Make an Alaskan Ulu Knife

About: I am a full-time online content creator, designing, creating and teaching the art of woodworking. I have an art background that I incorporate into my projects and focus on originality and design.

We've been using an ulu knife in our house for many years. The knife and cutting board in this tutorial is based on one we purchased in Alaska. It's a quick and easy way to cut fruits and veggies as the curvature of the blade rocks back and forth on the mating cutting board for efficient slicing. Full list of supples and tools as well as a free PDF template on my website.

Step 1: Spray Painting the Template

First thing I did was print the template and cut it out with an exact-o knife. I use that as a stencil and spray painted the outline on some sheet metal I got from the home center.

Step 2: Cutting the Blade With a Jigsaw

Using a metal cutting blade on my jigsaw I cut the shape out. I did use some tap magic cutting fluid to keep the metal well lubricated and was surprised on how easy it was to cut with a jigsaw. For the center I needed to drill out a hole for a place to insert the jigsaw blade.

Step 3: Sanding Metal Blade

I then finalized the shape on the disc and belt sander using 120 grit sandpaper.

Step 4: Using a Bastard File

The inside was shaped using a bastard file.

Step 5: Sanding the Blade

I sanded the face sides with my random orbit sander up to 240 grit and then stuck on some synthetic finishing pads to polish the metal.

Step 6: Synthetic Sanding Pads

Once sanded to 240 I then stuck on some synthetic sanding pads to polish the metal.

Step 7: Sand Rough Edges

And then a bit of sandpaper to smooth out the rough edges.

Step 8: Reference Line

For the bevel I just freehanded a reference line along the edge.

Step 9: Sanding the Bevel

I started sanding the bevel using my belt sander to remove a bulk of the material.

Step 10: Finishing the Bevel

Once I got pretty close I then used my Work Sharp 3000.

Step 11: Sharpening Stone

I did some final touches with a sharpening stone and making sure the the back was completely flat.

Step 12: Cutting Out the Handle

I trace out my shape, cut it out on the bandsaw.

Step 13: Resawing the Handle

And then resaw it in half for the two pieces that'll make up the handle.

Step 14: Glue Up

I then glue everything together using some 5 minute epoxy.

Step 15: Brass Dowels

Once the glue dries I then drill some holes for 1/4" brass dowels that is also glued in using epoxy.

Step 16: Finishing

And then some final sanding and a few coats of butcher block conditioner for a nice finish.

Step 17: Making the Cutting Board

For the mating cutting board I'm gluing up some soft maple and walnut.

Step 18: Squaring Up the Cutting Board

Once dry I plane it down to thickness and cut it into a perfect square before chucking it up on the lathe.

Step 19: Cutting Away Bowl

Here on the lathe I'm carving out a concave surface that should allow the knife to rock back and forth for efficient and fast cutting.

Step 20: Finishing the Cutting Board

And once again I do some final sanding and finish it off with butcher block conditioner.

Step 21: You're Done!!

And that's it! You can find a list of supples plus a free PDF template on my website.

Share

    Recommendations

    • Casting Contest

      Casting Contest
    • Make it Move Contest

      Make it Move Contest
    • Woodworking Contest

      Woodworking Contest
    user

    We have a be nice policy.
    Please be positive and constructive.

    Tips

    Questions

    29 Comments

    That is beautiful. I wish I had those tools to make it.
    How did you get that logo on it?

    1 reply

    I think he said that he engraved it with a laser engraver.

    Great job! That's an awesome cutting board too!

    I have two questions :)

    1. Will the metal that you used even hold an edge? If you're cutting it that easily on a jigsaw, it doesn't look that hard...

    2. Why don't you wear earmuffs when using your Tablsaw? The frequency makes it sound extremely loud, even at low volume, through my headphones...

    Wonderfully made! Unfortunately very useless without heat treatment. I added this to my "things to make someday" list.

    3 replies

    not necessarily, hardening it would make it hold an edge better, but it is not necessary to do so with this, as it was made for cutting food, so hardening it might actually be a small hindrance, as it would make it harder to sharpen. Also, soft blades have been used for millenia, iron age anyone?

    I have to disagree. If your steel cuts like butter with a jigsaw, it's not suited for utensils without heat treatment. Have you tried cutting a tomato with a dull knife? It's difficult to puncture the skin, and once you do, you make a juicy pulp. Easy to sharpen, for sure. If you like sharpening twice a day.

    not necessarily, hardening it would make it hold an edge better, but it is not necessary to do so with this, as it was made for cutting food, so hardening it might actually be a small hindrance, as it would make it harder to sharpen. Also, soft blades have been used for millenia, iron age anyone?

    My wife said that your knife is too small. Make it bigger.

    Excellent work. I know that there is pride in workmanship and the like but I just went and bought a couple when in Alaska and then find that they can be purchased locally here in Canada and on the internet for about $20 and the cutting board for $18 or so.

    Very nice job though.

    going to your website I get

    This site can’t be reached

    makesomething.tv’s server DNS address could not be found.

    All good it seems but if you cut the steel with a saw blade and sanded it with disks etc then you don't have a blade , you have a burnt piece of sheet metal. It will dull off after one use and will be virtually useless.If you are considering making one of these then first start with decent steel like a quarter of a 2 inch wide metal saw blade -steel shops they throw them away when blunt -they are hardened and contain the right stuff foe blades . When grinding do the edge very slowly and dont allow it to heat up at all!

    1 reply

    what kind of food do you eat, when your kitchen knives dull after being used once?

    Also, hardening a blade like this, purpose wise, not style-wise, is not necessary, a softer edge would allow for easy sharpening, and for cutting food ease of sharpenign might outclass edge retention, of course I think it would be better if it was made with a steel that could be hardened, but it is not necessary.

    Sorry about the redundancy, but that was how it came out.

    Most of the Ulu knives that I saw made by native Alaskans used old circular/table saw blades to make the knife blades. Good metal and cheap.

    I'm with Gadget93!

    I would like to know more on the logo on the handle and board and how they were applied. All of the work was very well done!

    Unless one is cutting things harder than the blade itself, hardening or tempering the blade would be a nearly useless step. Leaving it as made will allow for re-sharpening as needed, which would be rare. You'd be cutting food, not nuts and bolts. If your food is harder than this knife blade, I'd question what you eat. You'll need a gastroenterologist!

    I think Drunken Woodworker has done a wonderful job of re-creating a tool that appears to be something that has been in use by Inuits and other Northern Native peoples for millennia.

    And I congratulateDrunken Woodworker on his following good safe work practices in working a bit of metal into a blade. The woodwork is also quite lovely.

    I use a large number of knives in cooking, sporting uses (cleaning fish and game), and in hobby use as well as a pocket knife that goes everywhere I go, and prefer stainless that has not been tempered much, or hardened because it can be easily sharpened.

    Of course you don't use hardened steel. Kinda hard to shape a blade when the material is hardened already. You'd be destroying your tools. What you want to do is just add a heat treating step before affixing the handle.

    Is it not tempered?

    This is beautiful, I'll definitely look into making one. What would you suggest using for someone without access to a lathe ? I'm thinking of a circular saw jig where you put the bowl face down and turn around the blade but it seems like a great way to loose a couple of fingers...

    Great video too :)

    2 replies

    And by circular saw I guess I mean table saw.

    I pictured a circular saw in a bench vice... Which has been done. Personally I'd go at it with a rotary tool before agreeing to risk fingers to the table saw.