Hoko Knife

by Dick Baugh



The Hoko knife (year 2000 version)


This is a simple and practical stone bladed tool. The original Hoko knife was found at an archaeological site in western Washington near the Hoko River where a native village was snuffed out by a landslide about 2700 years ago, well before any contact with Europeans. Among the artifacts found there was a very simple knife consisting of a very small, sharp stone flake hafted in a split cedar handle which was tied together with spruce root.

Pictures of the original can be seen in "Exploring Washington Archaeology", Ruth Kirk with Richard Daugherty, ISBN 0-295-95610-0.

Over several years of making and teaching people from 9-years-old to adult how to make Hoko knives I have developed several variations. First, cedar and spruce root aren't available where we live (San Francisco Bay area), so consequently we have used green willow (Salix sp.), coastal live oak (Quercus agrifolia) or California bay (Umbellularia California) for the handle and green willow bark or two-ply twined cordage made from dogbane (Apocynum sp.), shredded cattail leaf (Typha sp.), rawhide or anything else you can twine for binding the handle.

Material for the stone cutting blade does not need to be very elegant. Something rough and strong such as basalt is the best for cutting wood. Try to use flakes which have a long, straight cutting edge and are not curved. A curved flake is more easily broken when the handle clamps down on it.

There are several variations on the original. If the handle is held together with only one binding then it makes it easy to change blades. Holding the handle on the side, which is not bound, makes the flake very secure.

Using the Hoko knife:
The original Hoko knives were quite small and delicate. The handles were 5 inches (13 cm.) long and the blades were only thumbnail size. The archaeologists who found them think that they were primarily used for cutting fish, since the replicas which were tried out for cutting basketry willow gave poor results. My opinion is that the concept is sound, but a larger knife is more optimal for wood working. Think of the Hoko knife as a saw or slicing tool.

This project provides valuable additional experience to students in the following ways:
a. It provides a specific application for a piece of cordage. It is difficult to teach people to make neat, strong cordage unless they have a specific application in mind for the cordage.
b. Another previously made Hoko knife can be used to cut the wood used for the handle, demonstrating the usefulness of the tool.

A possible teaching sequence for a class in Stone Age survival skills/technology might be:
1. Entire class helps twirl up a fire with a hand drill.
2. Hoko knife is shown to the students. Tell them that they will make their own Hoko knives and use them to cut the notch in the hearth board.
3. Students use sharp rocks to cut wood for handles.
4. Students make twined cordage for binding the handle.
5. Students knock off small flakes from a core to use as blades.
6. Knife is assembled.
7. Student uses knife to saw notch in fire-by-friction hearth board.


The original archaeological find.



The Hoko knife (year 2000 version)


Splitting the handle. Apply more bending moment to the thicker half to keep the split running down the middle of the handle.


Beginning the tie. One end of the tie (wolf willow bark) is inserted in the split.


Finishing the tie. Tie one or more half hitches around one half of the handle.




E-mail your comments to "Richard A. Baugh" at richardbaugh@att.net

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