Igloos are a fascinating creation to the world, while to the Inuits it was their home. Inuits, who designed snow knives, commonly known as the Eskimo, reside in the arctic and sub-arctic parts of the map, Alaska, Greenland, Canada, far east Russia, etc. Since the land is always covered in snow, it’s difficult to maintain durable housing; thus, the igloos originated from this necessity.

But it wasn’t easy to make igloos from scratch; it heavily depended on the nature of snow and the builders’ knack for it. The igloo’s image is familiar to us; the design encompasses an organized structuring of snow blocks. The snow knives were used for this very purpose, cutting, shaping, and trimming those snow blocks to fit into the design to build the dome shape of the ice fortress.

The early-stage snow knives are easily distinguishable with their non-metal stature, curved design, and wide blade. Later, when the design evolved, and the Inuits started to use metal, the application of snow knives became more widened and versatile. Let’s learn more about this interesting ethnic knife and where to get them now.


Overview of Snow Knife

The Inuits lived under harsh environmental conditions where they faced snowstorms, numbing colds, food shortage, sickness, etc. Before any technology, the Inuits built houses made of snow to survive in that weather; they’re known to utilize anything available to their expense. To construct an igloo from scratch, the builders had to search for specifically dense and firm snow for erecting the walls and roof for it to survive.

That triggered the idea of a snow knife; the buff blade was used to cutting ice from the ground; later resize it to fit the structure. The builders and hunters used it generously for multiple purposes. The ax-like blade was constructed by the Inuits fashioning it to be angled on the top. In order to survive, the Inuits used whatever resources available to them, horns, bones, etc. The knife was used to secure a roof over their head and defend them from the adversity the arctic offers.

Until the late 19th century, the design of the snow knife was more or less unchanged, then the British men encountered the natives and introduced them to many modern technologies. That’s when the design of the snow knife changed to a metal blade from its preliminary organic material. The build of the metal-bladed version was also different, straight blade instead of curved. Lake ice was used to find the suitable ice for making an igloo, and then a snow knife was thrust into the ice and cut in a rectangular shape to later give the form needed to make igloos. Snow knives are more or less extinct nowadays because of the increased access to newer technology.


Types of Snow Knives

Because of the diverse application of the snow knife, along with time, this arctic knife was available in many types. The categorization and variation were based on its many sizes and use. One of the most popular and used versions of the snow knife is the pana design, which was the most basic yet functional tool for cutting ice blocks. It was found in two types, panaaujuaq, and panaujag. The first one had a long blade; it was used in the construction of igloo, while the latter sports a smaller blade, and the shape of the blade is leaf-shaped rather than the long curvy usual one.

The Suuviuaqtot knife, on the other hand, featured a blade made of antlers or horns, etc. it was used more as a symbol of wealth and status. As the bone, horn, or antler that was used to make the blade, was typically hunted by the owner of the suuviaqtot themselves, it was also kept as a trophy.

Another type, the metal-bladed snow knife, was introduced later, in the early 20th century, when the British came in contact with the Inuits. They showed the Eskimos how using sharp metal instead of bulky and blunt material they’ve been using; made a significant difference in the functionality and transportability of the tool.

Finally, the yaaruin knife has an entirely different purpose than other kinds of snow knives. Unlike the previously mentioned knives, the yaaruin was used by the small girls to tell stories by drawing objects on the ground; and playing games where one would draw a figure on snow and the other had to guess what it was. Yaaruin was smaller in size and much lighter than the ones dedicated to cutting snow. The blade’s body was designed with ethnic markings, often passed down from mother to daughter as an heirloom.


Features of Snow Knife

Size & Weight: Snow knives are recorded to have lengths around 12-19 inches. And weighing from 2-3 lbs, both the size and weight can vary based on the materials used. Snow knives made in the 19th century and earlier were pretty heavy due to their solid build and full tang. Later, when they had access to the technology, they were able to cut down on the weight.

Blade Material & Length: The blade portion eats almost the whole body of the knife, measuring between 9-16 inches. The choice for construction material of a snow knife was broad; they used anything convenient to hold, such as antlers, ivories, horns, bones from dead animals, walrus tusk, etc., and later metals, after they encountered white. They’d sharpen both edges to be flat; the stature of the blade is outspread at the top, then it curves down the bottom where it narrows to the handle. The shape makes it easier to swing and pull back from solid chunks of ice.

Handle: Because of the full tang construction in most cases, the handle is made from the same material as the blade. In a metal-bladed snow knife, later the handle is secured at the bottom. The Inuits used bone, horns, etc., as the handle, which was smooth yet firm to hold even with gloves.



Q: How to take care of a snow knife?

A: It varies based on the construction material. For horn and ivory blades, using mineral oil on them will help preserve the shine and durability. Soft detergent or soap will be just right for stag materials and coat it with oil afterward. Metals require occasional soapy wash and sharpening.

Q: Can I use the snow knife in the kitchen?

A: Using such a large blade to cut food will be uncomfortable and inefficient. Also, the weight and build of this knife weren’t meant for culinary practices. It’s more suited for outdoor uses, with your winter gears.

Q: Where do I buy a snow knife from?

A: A decent snow knife, whether it’s to use or collect, is hard to come by. Unless you live close to the regions inhabited by the Inuits. If there is no budget restraint, antique shops and auctions are great places to get the collectible you’re looking for. You can also buy these originally from the Inuits. If you’re lucky you may even come across decent models on Etsy, eBay, etc. platforms.


Popular Uses of a Snow Knife

Snow knife or pana in the native language was initially dedicated for use on ice, as the name suggests. It was used to cut the slabs of ice to make an igloo. To extract raw ice from the surface, first, it needed to be cut in a box shape. Then an Inuit builder would lift and stock them; when enough pieces were gathered, they used the pana to shape those blocks into an even and desired size.

Another primary use of the snow knife is that it was one of the cardinal knives of Inuit hunters. Because of its wide and large blade, snow knives were handy in separating meat from bones, preparing caught fish and animals for storage, skinning, and gutting made it a vital part of a hunt.

The structure of the knife also allowed the blade to be used as a weapon. It featured a long and wide blade that had longer reach than most knives and could be formidable in the hands of hunters and fighters. Attack of wild animal or enemy, being geared up with a snow knife would provide you with an opportunity to save your skin.

Snow knives are also perfectly functional for digging grounds for planting plants, herbs, berries, etc. A certain type of snow knife was also used to tell stories by the locals.


Snow knives are an important tool to the Inuit culture. It’s functional in cutting large chunks of unprocessed ice and transforming it into useful ones. The Inuits are a hardworking bunch, they rely on skill and labor to survive in the adverse environment. In the quest to survive, they’ve designed many tools, a snow knife is one of them. Whether you are an enthusiast or collector, it’s physically impossible to resist the charm of a well-built snow knife. This article is aimed to cover the rundown of a snow knife, its uses, and how to buy one.

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