About Ray Rantanen

About Damascus

Current Damascus Knives

Current Carbon Steel Knives

Current Railroad Spike Knives

Throwing Hawks

Horseshoe Knives

Kitchen Knives

Knife Styles For Ordering

Totem Poles

Misc. Items

Knife Maintenance

Customer Comments

Where To Order


Totem Poles

The totem poles shown in this page are carved with elbow adzes, curved knives, drawknives, D adzes, scorps and a few chisels. They are made from either Cedar or White Pine. With todays wood preservatives many logs can be used for totem poles. The most common for the West Coast Natives was cedar. Mainly because of its availability, size, grain, and resistance to rot.


The painting is sparse to allow the natural wood to show predominantly. The colors used are Black (originally from charcoal), red (originally from ochre a mineral), White (originally from oyster shell), teal green/blue (originally from copper ores). The modern paints used on the poles shown here are water based acrylics. The original paints were mixed with the juice from raw salmon eggs which were mashed in the mouth and spit out to mix with the pigments. Some poles were not painted at all. Later on several other colors showed up in carvings as they became available. They were rust, a powder blue and a yellow. The very early original colors were black and red.

The poles are treated with a linseed-based preservative after painting.


Most of the poles are mounted above ground. A piece of large angle iron with holes drilled near the middle and the sides on one end can be driven into the ground or cemented in. A small round concrete stepping-stone is used to put under the pole the end of the pole is sealed with epoxy so no water is absorbed. Lag bolts through the angle iron into the back of the pole are usually sufficient to mount the pole. Some installations on concrete floors require several right angle braces bolted to the floor and the pole. Some on patios or inside the house are bolted to the wall with a bracket that stands them out a foot or so.


Traditional figures are most commonly used. One break from the West coast tradition is the use of elk and deer antlers on some of the poles along with a deer or elk head motif. In a hunting community like North Idaho there are a lot of sportsmen who would like to use the antlers of animals they hunted. The use of these antlers makes a beautiful totem pole characteristic of North Idaho or other hunting communities. The figures used on totem poles are not meant to be sculptures that look exactly like the animal or figure intended. However, they are a representation of these animals and include many mythical creatures that do no exist in our everyday world. The heads, bodies and appendages are not always in proportion. Some include the mix of animal and human parts. A bear eating a salmon for example honors the bear but also stands for the teacher. It was bear that taught the people to catch salmon and pick berries. So whenever a family with a teacher commissions a pole it is very likely a bear with salmon will be included to represent the teacher.

The eagle is common for a top animal with wings extended. In modern days the eagle stands for the United States, our military, an experience someone had watching eagles or is used just because the buyer likes eagles and wants to honor them by including them on the pole.

The figures used on the poles are representative of the ones used on the West coast Native American totem poles. Many are carved because they have application to a large number of people and are beautiful. Many times the figures are chosen to represent the buyer either in his family history, professions, and life style. An example is a family who has sons and husband in the military and the wife is a teacher. For them I made a pole with an Eagle on top to represent the military, a bear eating a salmon in the middle to represent the wife who is a teacher and a cedar man face welcoming figure on the bottom. This pole was 8 feet long and was mounted on a patio. Another example also included a teacher (therefore a bear eating a salmon) and a deer with antlers to represent the men who hunted in the family and a welcoming figure. On this pole it was also decided to put Raven (representing the trickster and the one who released the moon and sun). The Raven made a nice striking top piece with wings folded and a moon in his talons. This type of figure can be used by almost anyone since raven has applications to us all.

I made a pole for my wife that showed an eagle on top a fish in the middle and a killer whale on the bottom. The fish is her Native American symbol for her birth month. The eagle represents two eagles that did a talon lock in the Puget Sound while she was kayaking. The killer whale represents the Orcas she saw on that same trip.

My brother made one that represents the area where he lives and the animals on his property. He included a Red tail hawk, a coyote, a rattlesnake, and a roadrunner. He also included a moon mask and a sun god, which has meaning to all of us.

So a totem pole can represent may things to many people. It is true that the whole story on a totem pole cannot be known without the owner or the maker to tell the story. They are magnificent even without the whole story.

Welcoming figures are popular in modern times. Figures such as cedar man (the spirit of the tree) or Tsonoqua (a giantress of the forest) were used on Native American totem poles. Cedar man was also depicted sometimes as first man while Tsonoqua also symbolized fertility and good luck. There is a wealth of figures to be used from the West coast art and include but are to limited to;

         Frog - symbol of wealth

         Eagle - a common clan symbol

         Beaver - shown eating stick and tail upturned-symbol of wealth

         Bear - common in stories and legends-also a teacher symbol

         Grizzly Bear - common in stories and myths

         Tsonoqua - a giantress of the forest, shown with round mouth and squinted eyes and pendulous breasts, eats children, dim witted, fertility and welcoming figure, in legends, parents tell children-be careful or tsonoqua will get you!

         Wolf - a common clan symbol and appears in myths

         Thunderbird - mythical bird whose wings were thunder and lightning came out of his eyes - he also feasted on killer whales

         Kholus - a relative of thunderbird who has great strength and helped in setting poles for houses. He also is covered with white down he can remove and become human.

         Killer whale - a big part of the West Coast history and legends


         Raven - a clan symbol, a trickster, smart, released the sun and moon, people felt they were descendants of Raven

         Dirty Skin/Strong Man - human figure splitting seal with his hands

         Dog Shark - West Coast animal

         Watchman - has a tall hat, watches for enemies

         Bear Cub - popular in West Coast mythology

         Wolf Cub-popular in West Coast mythology

         Sun God - symbol of the sun with rays emanating from a face with a hooked nose

         Moon God - symbol of the moon

         Serpent - usually a two headed mythological being, peace and friendship symbols

         Whaler - human figure with spear

         Fisherman - a fish or man holding fish

         Wealth - coppers which are a form of money


         Salmon - big part of West Coast culture

         Oyster - exists in legends and myths

         Clam - exists in legends and myths

         -Symbols for stories/legends - series of classic figures based on West Coast legends, i.e. fog woman


         Dragon fly

         Human shapes - depicting family members, chiefs, etc

         Supernatural shapes - killer whales with holes in fins, others related to stories, etc

Some modern symbols I have added to the list include:

         Deer (with antlers)

         Elk (with antlers)


         Golf bird - for modern day golfers. A bird with a tee for a beak, pennants for ears eyes from a double headed golf club, sand traps and greens for cheeks, golf shoe spikes for bottom border, unique.

Bear eating a salmon

Eagle with partially folded wings