The Crooked Knife

The Traditional Woodworking Tool of the Northern Natives

Henri Vaillancourt 


The crooked knife is the traditional woodworking tool of the northern Indians and Inuit . With this ingenious invention, these nomadic hunters fashioned canoes, kayaks, snowshoes, toboggans , sleds, paddles , and the many other wooden items used in their subsistence economy. Used as a one-handed drawknife - with the opposite hand firmly holding the work - it proved far more versatile than the European drawknife or spokeshave.So effecient was its' design , that it was adopted by many non-natives, particularly those working in logging camps or other forest related work .

Henri Vaillancourt became adept at a very early age in the use of the crooked knife. He was first inspired when he saw Cesar Newashish shaving the parts for a birchbark canoe with his crooked knife in the film ''Cesar and his Bark Canoe''. Sometime later - while still using a drawknife for making his canoes - one of his customers told him of the Cree Indians of Rupert's House on James bay shaving the cedar ribs for canvas canoes at the local ''Canoe Factory '' in the early 70's. His romantic description of '' the builders who sat on tall stools while the shavings piled in pungent heaps at their feet '' made him determined to master this intriguing implement. With the crooked knife, Henri completely shaves all the wooden components of his canoes - ribs, planking, gunnels, stems, and crossbars - as well as the paddles that accompany them.

Initially , Henri used the crooked knife blades sold by the Hudson's Bay Company at their northern posts in the Native communities. However , in 1977, he and his associate Todd Crocker videotaped Sam Rabbitskin [ the snowshoe maker in ''Making Beavertail Snowshoes'' ] making a crooked knife from an old flat file in the Cree village of Mistassini, Quebec. The Cree rarely bought the Hudson's Bay Company product , which they considered inferior, preferring instead to manufacture their blades to suit their individual tastes. Thereafter , Henri began to make his own blades, following the techniques he had learned from the Cree.

The crooked knives made by Henri follow the general pattern of blade and handle seen in the northern Cree and Montagnais communuties.The blades are made of flat files that have been ground and tempered by hand using the techniques he documented among the Cree. The handles are carved of birch or other hardwood , and the blades are secured with a wrapping of seine twine. Handles are sometimes carved in the decorative scroll pattern often seen on the more ornamented knives of the southern Native groups.




Ordering Information

For more information not included on this website

phone 603-878-3616

or write Henri Vaillancourt
PO Box 142
Greenville, New Hampshire, 03048