Saturday, November 10, 2007

Other things you can do on the lathe

I don't always make bowls on the lathe, sometimes I do other things.

This is an Ulu Cutting board, and by implication those odd looking knives you see are Ulus. An Ulu is the general purpose cutting tool made by native Alaskan Inuit women, used for everything from cutting meat and vegetables to skinning bears - though traditionally they were made from Caribou antler or other hard bone and not high-carbon steel. If you want to know more, go here.

The Ulus you see in the pictures were made at the Ulu Factory in downtown Anchorage and they are incredibly sharp. It takes practice to use one safely, and even though I once attended culinary school and have been an expert with a French knife for most of my life, I'm not very good with an Ulu - in fact, I dammed near cut my thumb off with that ivory handled one you see in the picture. Most non-native peoples use them for chopping vegetables to a fine dice, and for that you really should have an Ulu board. This is my own design, most Ulu bowls are just a flat board with a concave depression in the middle.

Like nearly all of my stuff, the cutting board is made from Alaskan Birch, turned on the lathe. The cutting surface is concave at a slightly shallower angle than the curve of the Ulu blade, which allows you to rock the knife back and forth, dicing whatever is in the bowl to a fine puree. Perfect for garlic or parsley. The board is finished with olive oil (didn't have any clarified walrus fat or bear grease handy), it's also heavy and has a cork pad on the bottom to keep it from sliding around on the counter top - because otherwise you could, you know, cut your thumb off.


  1. Jim, you're starting to sound a little unreal now. You can kick ass (I assume *everyone* who has retired from the Navy can, by definition, kick ass), make beautiful bowls (and cutting boards) of art, harvest the wood yourself, fix Jeeps, AND you once attended culinary school.
    Seriously, dude. If I wrote a NaNovel about you, people would tell me to scale it back a little. ;)

  2. Anne has a point there. If I tried to submit you as a roleplay character, the GM would turn me down for being unrealistic.

  3. On another note, thanks for the Alaskan culture tidbit. That was neat. :)

  4. Yeah, but did you catch the part where I almost cut off my thumb?

  5. See now, a thumb near-severing scene would beautifully serve to make all the secondary characters pathetically sympathetic to the Mary Sue (or Gary Stu, as the case may be).


    Speaking of, how's your novel going? Have you seen our progress thread on Whateveresque?

  6. ...Mary Sue (or Gary Stu, yeah or Ginsu.

    Novel's coming along. Just about ready to start making the first part of it public.

  7. *sings* Jim's a Ginsu Gary Stu, Jim's a Ginsu Gary Stu!


    Very cool entry, thanks. I have a similar blade, but it's not as sharp (thank goodness), and it's not quite as curved. I suspect it's an Americanized version of the Ulu. I don't use it much, because as you said, it takes practice, and I'm more skilled with less traditional blades. But I didn't go to culinary school, and I'm a klutz, so perhaps it's for the best.

  8. Hee! MWT, you crack me up. I was figuring that the near thumb-ectomy would be to show the reader how dangerous the situation was without actually harming our super-cool hero. Indiana Jones-esque.

    I'm looking forward to seeing your public NaNo stuff, Jim. *Almost* as much as we've been looking forward to Scalzi's Creationist Museum visit. :D

  9. Having grown up there, we had several ulus over the years, and being a white boy, never used them as other than display pieces.

  10. I've got a similar blade, but it's labeled a mezzaluna (half-moon in Italian?) So far, all digits are still intact...guess I'm lucky

  11. The mezzaluna I've got is not as sharp as the blade Jim describes.


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