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Blog

The Internet, Crooked Knives and a Giant Beaver.

jarrod

      As the title says "life in the north woods" this blog is more than woodworking, although that's my main passion I also spend a great deal of time trying to live a "close to the land" lifestyle. This includes getting food from it....directly. This means killing. So if you are an anti-hunter/anti trapper go no further.

     Today I spent the day making a few crooked knives. I recently offered them for sale on my website.  I got two orders a day apart. This is exciting for me to see happen. I spent a lot of time over the past months working on my website, getting photos up and pay pal buttons attached. It's all in hopes that it can supplement my "career" as a self employed artisan.  I have bowls and spoons and a little of everything I do up there for the world to see and for sale. It was a real struggle for me to approach the technology of computers and the Internet. Let alone learn to use it as a form of "advertising" or some benefit to me when at one point I thought that it (computer and that technology) was the reason folks are moving away from a direct participation in the natural world. Not that I'm all about making money, but paying the bills is a good thing. If I can use it to help my family, my work, and folks around the world learn about and appreciate hand made goods we are all the better. You can get to it here. Like you folks reading this blog, hopefully you are getting information that you can use or are entertained at the least.  After a few years of learning about this tool (Internet) I now spend a fair amount of time reading information from all over the world and learning things about anything that I care to ask about. This is really the great thing about this technology. So here I am...learning to type faster with every entry, not having to backspace my misspelling away with every other word. So now on to the info....
     Crooked knifes are a really under appreciated tool. They are even obscure among woodworkers. There are many versions of this tool from all over the globe. Although they are sometimes quite different  many times just subtly. The crooked knife I am referring to is the tool that is known around the Great Lakes region and to the eastern seaboard, north in to Canada. The Mocotaugan, and there are other names from other tribal languages as well, but mocotaugan is sort of the common native based name.  It is a one handed draw knife and mostly used as such. Commonly used for snowshoes parts and birch bark canoe parts, but not limited to those. The tool with it's crooked handle (that's where it gets it's name) works best in a drawing motion, toward oneself. Long even pulls.....like a draw knife. But it needs no clamping device to hold the wood being worked, like a draw knife. With the crooked knife your other hand is the vise. It's a nomads tool, evolved from a certain lifestyle. One of the reasons I think it is not widely used is that they were historically designed by the user for the user. This would also mean designed for the way the user liked the tool to work, and the users hand shape and size.  I believe you cannot make a one size fit's all crooked knife, what works for me may not work for you. So a mass produced knife may not work for everyone and can cause great pain in the wrist, that's where most folks give up and put the tool down. In the past, during the fur trade these tools were a trade items, and mass produced but were commonly modified to fit the user. We do not have the continuum of knowledge passed on to us as to how these tools worked in turn not knowing how to modify them to fit our hand.  Many folks, myself included see a picture of one and proceed to make one with a random wildly crooked handle...try it out...."ouch! this sucks". This is what I did anyway.  I know in the past folks spent days working wood with these tools, and overall a lifetime, they did not use these tools if they hurt. So I proceeded to make another knife and another...learned blacksmithing/tool making techniques along the way. Over the years I've made at least 50 knifes and used them all, leading to what I view as the rules of their design.
The knife should not cause physical pain and the thumb rest needs to be in the right spot. Everything else is really subtle stuff. I know what I what my knives to do and so I have three knives all a little different. They all do the cutting a little different...you may need more than one.

Progression of some of the knives I kept around for reference.
Triangular shaped handle fits closed hand
Curved blade and a slightly kinked handle works really well
Two knives that work well
Should fit in hand comfortably with thumb sitting on rest
Here are some blades
Rough template-I adjust thumb rest for the user's hand
Shaping the handle with a rasp, I finish them with a knife
Mortise for blade, this gets a fitted wooden piece on top of the blade
Plugs fitted and then all is glued up and clamped
finished knives-in the past they where just wrapped to secure the blades

As for the Beaver part of this blog. Many of you know that I spend a lot of time in the winter months hunting, fishing and trapping. We try to live as close to the land as possible and that means getting as much of our food from it as well. The beaver have been active down by a near by river. They have been cutting lots of Ash trees....I mean lots...tree so large that they will just lay and rot. I'll be going for some of those trees later this month, for chair parts. anyway. I decided to trap a few of them to slow them down a bit. They are very hard workers and are one of the only animals besides humans that will change the landscape for their own use. I respect them a lot. They have dammed up the entire river with "sticks and mud". I bet most of us would have a hard time doing that. So, a few weeks ago I made some "sets" which means I set some traps. I check the traps about every 4 days or so. Sometimes one of my kids come along to help. It usually depends on how far I'm walking that day or how cold it is. Monday I went out and set up on a another lodge 1 1/2 miles away, through the woods. It a nice walk now that I've done it a bit and packed a good "float" or trail. I usually only trap beaver through the ice. I tan the hides and make hats and fur trimmings for custom made outdoor clothes. Hopefully, I 'll touch on that sometime. We eat the beaver meat, and the birds get to pick the rest. Below are  a few  photos from different  days out on the "line" or just as I'm getting home. I have to add that I use what is called a coniber trap. These kill instantly. A good trapper tries to make a set that will minimize suffering. I'm also not the kind of guy who is a trophy hunter or like to show off. I'm just sharing my life's activities here in Northern Wisconsin. Where you can still get much of your food from the wild, some of you might be interested in this. The beaver in the photo was 52 lbs. This is a very large beaver....they don't get much bigger than this. In the past pre-fur trade it is rumored that snowshoes where woven with beaver rawhide. It was said that this was the best. The skin is thin and very strong, and water resistant due to all the oils in the hide. Once the fur trade started the skins were too valuable to cut up for snowshoes. So the use probably ended about 400 years ago. I might just try it this year.

Here is a set along the bank, the beaver's live near by.
Wide snowshoes, tight weave...packing the float.
About to make the baited set with a piece of aspen
It's snowy and 10 degree f ,my favorite time to be out side
52 lb beaver...It's a bit to hold up for the camera