What is a Snow Knife?

As the name suggests, a snow knife is a blade that is designed to be used in snow. 

This blog post aims to educate you on the must-knows about this specialized knife.

snow knife


There was a time when snow was the main material of construction in the Canadian North. A hand-made non-metallic snow knife was used by the locals for scraping ice and cutting hard, compacted snow into blocks, and pruning them for fitting together.

One of the construction tools used to build igluit is the snow knife, which is also known as the snow saw or pana. The weapon is also used by Arctic Inuit. The tool’s design is a curved blade with a handle that has a projection at its proximal end.

This is exclusively a man’s tool, and usually, one used in the winter. With its ax-like blade, it could perform tasks as diverse as barbecuing hair to catching flying fish.

A reindeer’s shin bone or hon was used to make the original knives. In time, iron, steel, and copper were used to create the later versions as metal became available.

You can spot ruined John Franklin’s ships, used on his expeditions in Nunavut’s arctic region, King William Island, where legendary snow knives can be found made from copper blades or refurbished scrap iron. In addition to musk-ox and horn handles roughly lashed together with sinew, their blades have dagger shapes and are double-edged.

Most of the knives created by the Inuit in Pelly Bay, Nunavut, have bone handles decorated with zigzag lines carved into the handles. In the 19th to early 20th century, Alaskan and Canadian snow knives were multipurpose tools also used to dig for berries and tell stories.

Their handles were typically made of bone riveted to walrus tusk using iron rivets. Iron rivets were probably reclaimed from old packing cases that visitors had abandoned.

Antler models from the 19th century featured spearhead shapes and holes in their handles. One would wear them around the neck, which is handy for having a knife in the dark while building in haste amidst winds and with numb hands.

The iron-made ones were considered more convenient on various levels. They are however more likely to break in extremely cold weather.

Due to the convenience of using modern, durable materials, the Inuit people can now enjoy the benefits of a quicker and easier construction process.


This tool features a wide blade that appears to have a flat edge. The grip on the other hand is narrow and curved at the base, from where it extends into a thick cylinder with a sharpened end protruding out of it.

The working portion of the knife is also thinner than its handle, giving it an overall slender appearance. You would find that the blade is long yet the handle is short and has an arrow-like head.

There are several original snow knives with tribal markings, which indicate the maker’s pride. The adornments were exquisitely engraved despite harsh conditions by spending several hours under such conditions.

This unique feature of this tool enables it to be propelled with a sweeping stroke that imparts momentum to it. 



Snow knives also called snow saws and panas, are among the construction tools for making igloos or snow houses. It is an essential tool for erecting the walls, floors, and roofs of igloos. 


Inuits use it as a weapon as well. The tool has a broad blade with a curved handle that terminates in a projection at its proximal end.


Snow knives are part of traditional Inuit hunting equipment. Hunters use these knives to skin and gut game animals. In most cases, the snow knife replaces the hunters’ primary blade so that its broad grooved blade can be used for jointing meat. 



The snow knife, which was crafted from caribou antlers by the man who originally hunted them in Alaska for a season before turning to make these knives full-time is one of many examples that illustrate how complex and connected life on earth truly is. The blades are handcrafted with attention to detail.


When it comes to sledding on snow, the Nunatsiarmiut or Nunavimiut First Nations people of Quebec and their territory are experts. They used this metal-bladed snow knife dating from 1910-1914 that was unlike anything in Alaska. The blade is made out of steel rather than wood.


These story knives were largely a toy for girls, rather than tools for a task. Often intricately carved and decorated, story knives were used to carve pictures in dirt or snow; playmates would try to guess what they were. A girl younger than the owner of the story knife would take possession of it as she grew up.

Final Verdict

In a nutshell, the snow knife is more than just a tool. Instead, it is a piece of the Inuit culture, which has been passed down for generations. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *