(up-dated, 11/July/2016)


Shell hoes are made with fresh-water mussel shells. They are fairly simple to make:

The hafted hoe, from Bluff Dwellers, by Herrington as far as I know, it's the only hafted shell hoe ever found.

First) Select a shell from thousands, on the river's edge. It should be free of parasitic holes and be solid from top to bottom

Second) Hold the shell, up to light and find the thin spot. You will want to punch the hole at the edge of the thin spot, closest to the thick end and closest to the centerline, of the long axis.

Third) Perforate the shell using a flint/chert piece. with a pointed end. You can punch the hole by punching the shell with the convex side, up. If you punch it from the concave side it will make too large a hole on the opposite side.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_IaJ6go4l0I've also punched them with my copper awl, punch, or pressure flaker.

Fourth) Once the hole is punched, enlarge it to about 1/2 inch in diameter, making sure to move the hole as close to the center line as possible.

Fifth) Notch the handle, with a "D"-Shaped notch, as shown in this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8OfHzxj8Js  Use the shell hoe to make sure the hole is the correct depth and width, to make it seat snugly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIr0IRHx2x8

Sixth) Cut about 12 feet of deerskin rawhide, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide. Then, soak your rawhide strip in some warm water, for about 45 minutes. I prefer to twist the rawhide.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTxwIYOgHBU  It makes the rawhide lashings less susceptible to damage from dirt getting under the lashings.

Seventh) Lash the hoe, by threading the lashings through the hole and around the handle. I prefer to make sure it's lashed before and after the shell then, I make a final pass around the shell and pull fairly tight, making sure the knot is almost inside the shell. Here's one of my videos:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_TW3gIbeCg

Eighth) (Optional) If you'd like to fire-harden the handle, you'll want to burn it before adding the shell hoe.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KC4tb_hLN8I


Larry has noticed that flat lashings catch debris. so, he started making twisted rawhide cord to attach his shells to the handles.. After cutting the lashings, he soaks them in water overnight. This make them pliable. Then, he twists them, using a simple piece of cane attached to both ends. He ties one end to a tree then twists the other end repeatedly, until the rawhide begins to "double-back" on itself. Once that is accomplished,, he ties the other end to a tree and lets it dry. When it's dry, he can use it for lashings.


Here, about 30 feet of twisted rawhide is drying in the sun. After it is dried, it's wrapped up to be used as lashings.




I made this shell hoe a few years ago. I use 3-ridge shells because they are still available and not endangered. The Mississippians used these to dig wall trenches. I have found about 20 of them in wall trenches over the last 50 years.

Instead of using separate posts, set in holes, the Mississippians used wall trenches about 5 to 10 inches wide (20-30cm.), and from 12 inches (16cm) to 20 inches (35cm)deep Then, they "pre-fabbed" the wall and stood it upright in the trench. The reason shell hoes are so well suited to digging wall trenches is that the "scoop-like" nature of the shells allowed the dirt to be removed more easily. Also, when the shell wore out or broke, the lashings could be removed, re-soaked, and another shell could be altered to replace the old one. The D-shaped notch would fit most similar shells, retooling only took about 15 to 20 minutes.

      Made in 2014.

This one was made in 2015.               

This one was also made in 2015.         It's in the exhibit, at Cahokia Mounds.