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The Wicked ULU Knife

From the start of this column, we’ve always strived to bring you a lineup of knives following a common theme. With 1:1 photos, the reader gets a great overview of a family of knives from different makers aligned with all their specs as well as their pros and cons. For 2021, we decided to try something different and focus on one knife that’s so unique and worth a solid look at in a column all its own: Ross Tyser’s Wicked Ulu.

You might wonder what a kitchen knife is doing in the world’s foremost firearms magazine and be a bit disappointed that we’re not looking at the latest Urban EDC tactical folding knife. Let’s face it, kitchen and food preparation knives are the most common knives in the world and can range in price from what you can find at the dollar store to several hundred or even thousands of dollars. So, let’s look at a quality one with an interesting pedigree.

History of the Ulu Knife

The ulu knife is an ancient Alaskan design dating back thousands of years. Some say 3,000 and there’s source material stating over 5,000. Those actual date ranges are something for cultural anthropologists to figure out. 

Early ulu knives were constructed from whatever cutting materials the Alaskans had available to them, such as flint, stone, jade, slate, or chert. The handle could be made from wood, bone, walrus tusk, or any other material to which an Alaskan could attach a blade.

ulu knife in sheath

Ulus were designed primarily as tools. They excel at chopping but were used as skinning blades on walrus, seals, whales, and caribou and have been the quintessential Alaskan utility knife to this day. The single beveled edge excels at fileting fish and once you use one, it’s surprising how effective they are.

The ulu probably saw its first major upgrade when the native Alaskans made contact with European traders, and blades could be obtained that were made out of steel or iron instead of flint or stone.

Ross Tyser’s Wicked Ulu has taken this classic and timeless design in a whole new direction.

The Wicked Ulu

Most effective knife designs are born of necessity. Ross Tyser is a custom maker from Virginia who currently resides in Spartanburg, South Carolina. After serving in the United States Marine Corps, he worked in the private sector for a number of years and took up knife making as a hobby. 

In 2004, he decided to look at knife making as a full-time endeavor and has been the only maker to make the official annual SHOT Show knife more than once. He has done it a record five times.

His custom knives run the gamut from folding pocketknives to Bowies, and he made a few standard ulu knives. A call from a customer in 2017 had him change up the design in a radical way.

He was a big customer who played offensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs and the standard-sized ulu was too small for his size 7XL gloves.

Going back and forth with a number of designs led him to opening one side of the ulu. He ground the blade from thicker stock in order to maintain the inherent strength of the ulu design and worked the handle contour until he got the balance right, so that other users not as big as his original customer could use them.

Overview

At first glance, the Wicked Ulu reminded me of a saber-toothed tiger’s fang. It sports a 10-inch blade of AEB-L stainless steel with a stone-washed finish. It has all the makings of a purpose-built fighting blade, but it’s most at home in the kitchen.

An ulu knife is actually part of a set, and the Wicked Ulu is no exception. In addition to the blade, an everyday ulu knife needs a cutting board or bowl, and Tyser provides a solid teak double-sided cutting board with a completely flat side and a slightly beveled side.

Having used an ulu in the kitchen for a number of years, the board was different than the bowl I had been using. Ulus make for great choppers and slicers, but the rounded profile seems to work better in a bowl if the rocking and rolling type cuts are used.

The Wicked Ulu works extremely well in this method on the flat cutting board. The hollow ground edge slices through everything, and the stone-washed treatment of the stainless steel is excellent at food prep, because the food that you’re cutting doesn’t stick to it.

One thing I did like about the Wicked Ulu is that I was able to use it on larger cuts of meat and fish than my standard ulu. It takes just a slight bit of getting used to, but the knife is very intuitive to use.

Flipping the board to the beveled side allows the user to effectively use the Wicked Ulu on vegetables and meat with the rolling motion of the cut. It’s the shallowest wooden bowl I’ve ever used to process food with an ulu, but extremely effective and may even be an improvement upon the original design.

A spalted maple handle really sets off the Wicked Ulu and transforms this into a true piece of functional art. While the Wicked Ulu may look beautiful on display, this is intended to be a working knife in the kitchen. The handle fills the hand nicely and makes the Wicked Ulu so efficient.

A leather sheath is available to safely transport the Wicked Ulu. This isn’t a true carry sheath with a Tek-Lok or belt attachment of any kind but a textured leather cover with a snap to protect the blade and the user.

Of course, you never want to put a knife like this in a dishwasher. Treat it as you would a seasoned wok or cast-iron skillet and clean it up by hand with hot soapy water and oil it when it’s clean. Dishwashers won’t necessarily break a knife and won’t harm the blade directly, but the heat, water, and vibration will accelerate wear on the handle material.

ulu knife

The custom teak double-sided cutting board and bowl is a crucial part of the Wicked Ulu package.

The Wicked Ulu may be designed as a kitchen knife first and foremost, but it could be effectively used as a fighting knife if that’s all you have available at your disposal. Its shape and size are reminiscent of a fantasy Viking bearded ax head. You can’t help but feel like an ancient gladiator when you pick it up and hold it for the first time.

It’s no wonder that this brilliant design is up for several major awards in the culinary world. The Wicked Ulu is truly a cut above all other kitchen knives.

The price is a bit on the higher side at $725, as this is a handmade custom kit from the knife to the sheath and the solid teak board/bowl. This is literally one of those knives that’ll last for generations if you take care of it.

Whether you use it in your kitchen at home, pack it for a camping trip, or stow it in your kit for an overland hunting journey, this knife is truly one to love as it is so versatile at processing food.

It’s not always about Urban EDC. 


Ross Tyser Wicked Ulu

OAL: 4.48 inches
Blade Length: 10 inches
Overall length: 10 inches
Weight: 14 ounces
Handle Material: Spalted Maple
Blade Steel: AEB-L stainless steel
Price: $725
URL: www.rtcustomknives.com


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