Friday, April 12, 2013

Making a Mocotuagan: The Crooked Knife of the Northern Native

Using another Mocotaugan to design my handle.

The Mocotaugan, or crooked knife, is the tool of the birch bark building cultures. Drawn towards ones self with one hand, the knife can be used to shape softwoods, bark, roots, and animal skin without using a clamp (simply the other arm) thus being a beautiful tool for bush craft and wilderness survival. It was used throughout what is now Canada, first with bone and sharp rock, and only flourished with the arrival of European steel and the white trader's want for the extremely useful tool.

With the help of Jeremy Ward, I was able to use the Canadian Canoe Museum's Living Tradition facilities to make my first Mocotaugan.

Finding the handle in the wood.

From a piece of maple log squatting in Jeremy's backyard we found a gorgeous handle that has both curly (or flamed) and spalted effects. Curly or flame effects on the wood make distortion of the grain, looking wavy and unique. Spalted effects are a fungus which leaves black lines in a map like pattern through the wood. While it reduces strength, I have confidence in my maple handle. The handle of a Mocotaugan should have a curve away from you where your thumb will rest and give you leverage. 

Arnold Allen is heating my blade red hot to anneal or soften it.
My blade came from the heart of an old table saw blade (1/8th inch thick), cut to a 3/4 inch width and a 6 inch length (2 in the handle, 4 for cutting). It was annealed by metal-master CCM volunteer Arnold, by heating red hot and then cooling slowly, which makes the steel softer.

The process of shaping the blade just right is a tricky one. Most blades come directly out from the handle, though a slight tilt back, away from you, gives a better slicing effect on the wood. Mine is straight out. Mocotaugan can have curved blades at the end or not. Mine curves up, which gives the extra capability of working along longer surfaces or digging in. Once I had gotten my shape just right (including a 90 degree curve into the handle for lasting together), it was tempered and hardened by cooling quickly. 

Workshop in progress, note a hunting knife, top left, given to me by Rob Stevens!!!

Rasping out the handle to put wire, lashing the blade and handle together, on the same level with the wood.

Finishing touches to the handle including cutting a space for the blade, the blade lock (90 degree angle bit), and a lower section for the wire. I gave it three coats of oil and then it was ready for steel!

Chiseling space for the blade

Finished handle, note the curly and spalted effects. The circular handle and map like lines make it look like a globe, how fitting.

The connected pieces. Note that the spalted effects left a center line down the side and the top, strange!

Copper wire is then coiled around the handle and the blade, pulled as tightly as possible. Then ends of each are inserted into small holes. 

Connecting the pieces.
Finished Mocotaugan
Now, using it in the woods!

1 comment:

  1. Including working with birchbark, starting tomorrow!