Hovey’s Knives of China Prototype Fish Knife

A decade spent working and hunting in Alaska gave me a considerable appreciation of the Eskimo and native cultures and the artifacts they made.

Eskimo ulu with stone point dug from ancient site

Ulu made of bone and slate from one of the northern Alaskan villages, maybe Northeast Cape on St. Laurence Island, which was a location I visited in the late 1960s as a military officer. 

One knife that was very popular was the Ulu, which has a central palm grip and a symmetrical blade beneath it with points and a cutting edge outlining an arc of a circle. Alaska’s permafrost has yielded examples made of bone, stone and copper. Later traders had these useful blades made of steel and are available today.Ulu shown on fleshed hide. The sweeping blade makes it ideal for work on hides

This modern Ulu was made more for the tourist trade than use, but I have used it to flesh the hide of a Georgia deer. It came with a cutting board with a dished-out portion to match the blade profile for mincing vegetables and fruit. 

My take on the Ulu is to make the handle non-symmetric so that an enlarged portion fits into the palm of the user’s hand. On one side of the sweeping blade it has a point, but the other side behind the palm has a vertical cutting blade with a gut hook designed to do such useful tasks as open boxes and gut fish. This vertical blade is also used to cut down the backbones of fish to do the initial separation of the fillets from the fish.  Then the angle of the blade is changed and the sweeping cutting edge removes the meat from the rib bones and tail section. A final cut completely separates the fillet from the remainder of the carcass. The fish is then flipped and the other fillet removed. The fish may be skinned with the long blade while the carcass is intact. Leaving the skin on until it is ready to cook helps prevent the meat from drying out either from freezing or ice-chest transport back home.

My first trial of the prototype design was on a Georgia sea trout. The arrangements of the blades and their use was fine, but I found I needed to thin the main cutting blade and rework the gut hook and vertical blade for optimum results. For my medium-sized hand the shape of the grip was good and worked very well as I changed the position of the blade in the hand. This is a knife that gives a person complete control, and if properly fitted to the person is a pleasure to use.  You can see me working with the knife on the following video:

I am going to do some new blade grinds to preserve the feel and heft of the blade, but improve its cutting characteristics for cutting and spreading sushi, seafood, squid and other fish-related products.

 

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