Introduction: Carve a Bone Needle for Naalbinding

Naalbinding is a very old method of weaving similar to but predating knitting and crocheting. It is sometimes called Viking knitting and is spelled a number of ways ranging from nailbinding to nålebinding, though that Danish name was introduced in the 1970's. This method, sometimes simply referred to as needle knitting, has been around for a better than 2000 years in Europe, Scandinavia as well as the Middle East and Andean South America. 

Unlike modern knitting naalbinding requires only a single needle. Typically between 2.5 and 5.5 inches, though other sizes are used and many people simply use commonly available, blunt tapestry needles. 

This Instructable shows how I made one of bone, similar to a number of examples from archeological sites from Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Mine is definitely on the small side. Though, I haven't developed a preference for one size or another, it should not be taken as "correct" or even preferred but rather, just an example of one you might make. Either way it certainly does the job. 

It does seem that most modern naalbinding needles tend to be on the longer side of the range with 5 or more inches being common and I have seen at least one stitch where a longer needle would probably be an advantage. 

To do the knitting itself please see these excellent Instructables
Knit like a Viking

On to making the needle...

Step 1: Materials and Tools

You'll need a scrap of bone. I realize not everyone has a bowl of bones sitting around so you might consider simply saving a long slender bone from a meal, purchasing one at natural history shop or even using a piece of a dog bone. This time I used a rib bone from a lamb. There are lots of sources of bone and it's easy to come by once you are looking for it. You can often gather it on beaches or walking in the woods if you keep a look out. 

I used
A rotary tool with a cutoff wheel and sanding attachment. 
A pocket knife
A drill with a small bit
A sanding block 
Beeswax for the finish

You might want gloves and a dust mask is more than a good idea any time you are working with bone. The dust tends to be very bad for your lungs. 

Step 2: Basic Shape

Have a look at your bone and decide the basic shape. I didn't bother to draw it out, preferring to simply eyeball it and carve free hand. I also didn't have ready access to a vise which would have made this somewhat easier. 

I looked at quite a few examples of historic needles and went with a shape that was close to a number of them. These are basically just flat blunt bone needles so it isn't all that complex. Again, I made one on the short side of the range. 

This is all entirely up to you if you decide to make one of your own. Wood and antler are other common materials but you could even use a toothbrush if you wanted to! 

Step 3: Roughing It Out

This is pretty simple. You can use your rotary tool, pocket knife or sanding block to further tune the shape and get it ready for final shaping. Take it slow. As with most things it's a lot easier to remove material and than put it back. ...or impossible. 

Once you have your rough shape you can progress to something that looks more like the end product. I used a knife at various points throughout the process but if you aren't used to this it really isn't necessary. The rotary tool and sand paper will do just fine all by themselves. 

Step 4: Further Shaping

Again, most, if not all, of this shaping can be done with the rotary tool or even the sanding block alone. I've been carving since I was very small so I tend to grab a knife for most projects that involve any kind of carving or shaping. It is by no means necessary.  

Once you get your shaped dialed in you can do the gentle final shaping. This is the stage where you will want to feel all over the needle to make sure there is nothing to snag your yarn. 

Step 5: Drilling and Finishing

At this point you can drill your hole and do some fine sanding and polishing. There are all sorts of ways to do this, the easiest being to use fine grit sand paper. 

For the final finish I used wax. Warm it up and rub or drip it over the needle to fill the pores and provide a smooth surface that won't snag. You could even use regular candle wax for this. 

Essentially any woodworking finish is fine for bone. So, if you are familiar with using something like Linseed or Tongue oil, by all means do. The important part is a smooth finish, not what you finish it with. 

In the photo I'm using the knife to make a small pilot hole. It's just a matter of picking a spot and spinning the point of the blade like a drill. Be careful to leave enough distance from the back edge so you don't drill through it. 

Step 6: Ready to Knit!

I'll be giving it a go and hopefully have a simple Instructable up before too long. Having looked at examples of different naalbinding stitches I've noted that shorter needles are probably best for types like the Oslo stitch that don't require putting loops on the needle as with the York stitch. So, I'll likely be making at least one more needle at some point.  

You can easily purchase bone needles online for as little as $5 plus shipping but I wanted to make my own and to bring my naalbinding experience full circle.