Volume 50 1941 > Volume 50, No. 197 > Maori saws, by F. V. Knapp, p 1-9
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THE love of ornamentation was an outstanding characteristic of the Maori, who practised his art by unique carving on sundry objects connected with houses, hunting, and canoe-decoration. The designs, embracing the use of the spiral, the human figure and grotesque forms, were, in best examples, elaborate and in much detail, yet with a striking symmetry and effect.

In the initial stages of wood-carving, use was made of the adze and chisel to block out the main features, and following this, many smaller tools such as gouges, drills, saws, and scrapers were used in working out the design.

In previous papers I have described some of these secondary tools of the Maori, and I now record the result of my investigations into the make and use of stone saws.

Stone scrapers are finished with a bevel on one side, leading up to a straight edge, or with intentional trimming on one side of the flake.

Saws differ in having for the most part alternate chipping on both sides of the cutting edge, so that the points left, when viewed from above, make a thin wavy line, technically referred to as the “set of the saw.” In other examples, notches on one side make pointed teeth.

Some chipped thin flake-saws were little thicker than an ordinary knife.

Examples show that some implements have one edge purposely notched for sawing and the opposite side trimmed only for scraping.

On the sites on the northern coast of the South Island, including D'Urville island, there was available to the Maori an inexhaustible supply of argillite rock, excellent for making every variety of scraping- and cutting-tools. For the purpose of saws it was almost as good as flint, and far - 2 easier to work, for its fracture often resulted in thin flakes. An examination of bulbs of percussion appear to indicate, however, that some saw-flakes were artificially produced.

Flint saws, though few in number, are very effective for their purpose and show delicate chipping.

Obsidian, an importation from the North Island, was in use in most settlements, being suitable for both scraping and sawing.

Of other kinds of rock used for saw-making, quartz was the variety chiefly in favour.

An examination of a number of saws, taken haphazard, indicates that the principal considerations for the choice, were:—

  • 1. Thinness of flake, combined with straightness of the edge to be serrated.
  • 2. Convenience of hold.
  • 3. Required shape, such as pointed, crescent, etc.
  • 4. Length of sawing-edge obtainable.

Saws were used for cutting wood, bone, whale-ivory, shell, and pumice. Practical tests show that the common materials—wood and bone—are readily cut by the use of stone saws.

An examination of tabs of moa and whale-bone, shaped ready for making into one-piece fish-hooks, show both the thinning and cross-cutting to have been sawn. The cross-cutting in these was, apparently, only of sufficient depth to enable the piece to be broken.

Whale-bone was used for a variety of purposes, being sawn into small blocks and these into strips for making small objects.

The skeletal bones of the albatross were used by the southern Maoris, the large wing-bones being sawn into suitable lengths for flutes, which were ornamented by criss-cross saw-marks. Shorter pieces were sawn off for making toggles for loop-fasteners.

Saws were used to advantage in making bone combs, which were in common use at the time of Captain Cook's discovery of New Zealand.

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In the writer's collection is a large draining-pad of pumice, shaped by sawing, and having underneath a projection 2 cm. wide for holding. On this specimen the saw marks are still plainly visible.

Other uses were in shaping bone poria for the leg-holders of decoy-parrots, for shaping and notching fish-hook barbs, and for making bone-hook shanks.

An examination of one hundred and fifty saws, shows that about seventy per cent, have the whole, or considerable portion, with a straight serrated-edge. The remainder are more or less curved and a few have double curves like a straightened-out S.

My longest saw-flake is a rectangular piece about 5 cm. wide and 20 cm. long.

The principal shapes used appear to be:—

  • 1. Rounded saws—a numerous class.
  • 2. Ovate, some more or less pointed.
  • 3. Palmate, comprising many of the larger saws, those having long, straight cutting edges.
  • 4. Roughly rectangular and double-edged.
  • 5. Triangular and double-edged.
  • 6. Narrow lanceolate, thinner saw.
  • 7. Narrow pieces with one end serrated. Miscellaneous.
    PLATE 1.
  • Fig. 1.—This is a broken nephrite pebble, about 10 cm. in length, with deep chipping of saw teeth. It has a smooth rounded surface and on the opposite side a chipped hollow affording a firm and easy hold.
  • Figs. 2, 3 and 4.—Specimens of argillite hafted-saws with straight cutting-edges. Figures drawn two-thirds actual size.
    PLATE 2.
  • A. Types of small obsidian saws found on workshop sites.
  • B. Common types.
  • C. Flat types shaped for holding.
  • D. Well used saws.
  • With the exception of A, all saws of argillite.
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    PLATE 3.
  • Figs. 1, 2.—These attractive obsidian-saws show skilful flaking and serration.
  • Figs. 3, 4.—Two good examples of flint saws with finely trimmed edges.
  • Fig. 5.—A splendid thin flake saw, slightly twisted, with both sides smooth. Black stone.
  • Fig. 6.—Saw and scraper.
  • Fig. 7.—Good example of a broad-back saw.
  • Fig. 8.—A beautiful implement. A cap, apparently struck off a water worn pebble.
  • Fig. 9.—A remarkable trimmed, straight flake.
    PLATE 4.
  • Fig. 1.—Thick saw with deep resolved-chipping.
  • Figs. 2, 3 and 4.—Small obsidian saws.
  • Fig. 5.—Neat flint saw.
  • Fig. 6.—A fine, broad backed implement.
  • Figs. 7 and 8.—These show types of, apparently, a specialised form of long, thin saws.
  • Fig. 9.—A thin straight saw.
  • Fig. 10.—Crescent saw with a convenient hold.
  • Fig. 11.—Note how the corrugated cleavage was used to advantage by the Maori sawmaker. It was a common practice.
  • Fig. 12.—Triangular type, specially flaked for holding.
    PLATE 5.
  • Fig. 1.—1.5 cm. broad-back, inward curved haft with crescent saw chipped on the edge of a natural bevel.
  • Fig. 2.—Thin double-sided saw.
  • Fig. 3.—A type of double-ended saws. Natural corrugation on one side.
  • Fig. 4.—Triangular type.
  • Fig. 5.—An occasional shaped curved flake with a natural bevel, easily trimmed as a saw.
  • Fig. 6.—Typical rounded saw.
  • Fig. 7.—A rounded flake with a thick hold and thin edge for chipping.
  • Fig. 8.—Thick, chubby saw, with burin-like end.

NOTE.—Unless otherwise stated, the material was argillite.

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Plate. 1.
MAORI SAWS. Hafred Specimens.
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Plate 2.
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Plate 3.
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Plate 4.
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Plate 5.