The Puukko and Nordic Knife Making History ...

Puukko is a Finnish word which derives from "puu," or wood. The name points to the traditonal use of the knife in a wide range of wood carving and carpentry tasks. While the Finns make strong claims for it's origin, there is a variation of the puukko in all the Scandanavian countries. In Sweden, it is called the brukskniv, and in Norway it's the tollekniv.

An ancestor of the puukko was unearthed in an 8th-century Nordic burial chamber, but this discovery no doubt represents a way-point in the knife's evolution rather than its inception. It is a tool that was shaped by the demands of harsh climatic conditions and the ingenuity of the people who lived there.

The puukko is typically small, slender, and guardless. The blade shape is conservative, with a slight leading or trailing point. Many nordic knifemakers leave the forge finish on their best-quality blades. Both factory and hand-forged blades are often laminated. A thin layer of extremely hard steel is sandwiched between two layers of softer metal. Why laminate? If the entire blade were hardened and tempered like the core, the blade would be brittle and hard to sharpen.

Over generations, this knife has become intimately tied to Nordic culture, and in one or another version is part of the national costume of more than one ethnic group. It is equal parts artistic expression and tool. Even uadorned puukkos are graceful and pleasing to look at; in the hands of one of the many exceptional nordic knifemakers, the puukko becomes a true work of art.

The second half of the 19th century was the Golden Age of the Puukko. Factories like Fiskars began building the knives in quantity, and master smiths like Jarvenpaa, Lammi, and Rannanjarvi created knives with intricate embellishment. Design features from that period like the cast horse head pommels, and the fish-tail sheath tip can still be seen in present-day puukkos. Likewise the downward curve of the pommel (probably copied from Russian swords of the period). Some good blades I have seen show a modest saber profile, perhaps influenced by the same source.

I know of two places on the Net that are especially good for learning about puukko and other things Nordic--Brisa and Ragweed Forge. I included both in my links.

(Some of the above information was found in translated portions of "Finnish Knives and Bayonets," by Timo Hyytinen, Finland, 1988.)


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