Knives Illustrated - - News - STORY AND PHO­TOS BY REUBEN BOLIEU

If you played word as­so­ci­a­tion, you may not con­nect el­e­gant and work­horse. Un­til now. Take a look into Fin­nish cul­ture and her­itage with a look at the puukko. BY REUBEN BOLIEU

In the vein of honor and tra­di­tion, the puukko has deep roots in Fin­nish cul­ture. In Nordic coun­tries, the puukko is an “ev­ery­day” knife that is used for ev­ery­thing from hunt­ing, fish­ing, and gar­den work to open­ing boxes in ware­houses. Get­ting one’s first puukko is con­sid­ered, in Fin­land, the sym­bol of com­ing of age for both boys and girls and is a great honor.

Men’s and women’s puukkos do not sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer from one an­other. The main dif­fer­ences are that women’s puukkos, which are of­ten shorter, have dec­o­rated sheaths and are bet­ter suited for work­ing with food. Both boy and girl scouts con­sider the puukko their scout­ing sym­bol, as well as a handy tool.

The ba­sic com­po­nents of a puukko are a hilt and blade, along with a sheath that can be at­tached to one’s belt. The tra­di­tional length of the puukko blade is about the same as the width of one’s palm and has a sin­gle curv­ing edge and flat back. The flat­ness al­lows the user to place his or her thumb or other hand on it to con­cen­trate force. Some puukko de­signs have a slightly curved, up­ward or down­ward point, de­pend­ing on what pur­pose the knife serves, with a rel­a­tively short blade— ap­prox­i­mately the same length as the han­dle. Most puukkos have a slight shoul­der but no choil, since the point where the edge ends and the han­dle be­gins is also the point where the most force can be ap­plied, as well as the most con­trol. A puukko of­ten has no guard to pre­vent the hand from slip­ping onto the edge. How­ever, this is


of no con­se­quence as a puukko is pri­mar­ily con­sid­ered a cut­ting and slic­ing tool, not a stab­bing weapon. How­ever, in cases where the knife and the hand are ex­pected to get wet, like gut­ting fish or game, some puukkos have fin­ger grooves carved into the han­dle.

Be­cause I am a be­liever in el­e­gant sim­plic­ity while spend­ing time in the field, I have been a fan of the puukko for some time. So I was very ex­cited to take two puukko’s out for some se­ri­ous play time re­cently.

The Per­fect Camp Mate

I re­cently ob­tained a Mart­ti­ini Arc­tic Bush Knife model, with beau­ti­ful grained, curly birch wood, and car­bon steel. In Fin­land, this knife is known as Kiehi­nen, but it’s a lit­tle dif­fi­cult to pro­nounce. Made in the tra­di­tional stick-tang style, the knife has a 3.5inch blade, which is plenty enough for me. I ac­tu­ally pre­fer a blade un­der 4-inches long, es­pe­cially when I have a saw or de­voted chop­per. The han­dle on any puukko is al­ways the cen­ter point when it comes to beauty and com­fort. Say­ing that a puukko is com­fort­able would be re­dun­dant, yet at the same time, an un­der­state­ment. In win­ter, the

puukko fits well in gloved hands and re­mains easy to de­ploy with wool mit­tens or leather work gloves. Although puukko knives all have a deep pocket carry sheath, there’s just ex­actly the right amount left out, al­low­ing a good pur­chase of the knife for draw­ing. In my win­ter camp, the Arc­tic Bush Knife (ABK) was put to work carv­ing a set of wooden wedges for split­ting logs. I used dry maple for this task, which was a her­culean task for a knife. Hard­wood wedges are usu­ally made with an axe and then fine-tuned with a knife, but not here. The grip was oval and ta­pered to a fat­ter butt, which was de­signed to stay in your hand dur­ing hard cut­ting tasks. The su­per sharp Scan­di­na­vian edge sheered through with author­ity, de­spite the knots it en­coun­tered. I be­lieve any other knife I used would have given me hot spots if there was even a hint of fin­ger guard present, but not on this puukko.

Us­ing the knife in a chest-lever grip was uber com­fort­able for fine carv­ing. I wanted to tackle this task while the knife was still sharp, be­fore mov­ing onto the more knife-suit­able camp craft, like mak­ing stakes out of beech and maple wood. Nat­u­rally, it went off with­out a hitch. When it was time for cook­ing a Scan­di­na­vian-style lunch, I used the ABK to split a stick with a ba­ton about 7 inches down on one end. I did this by lay­ing the knife par­al­lel on the broom­stick-thick piece of wood and us­ing a ba­ton to split it, rather than the con­ven­tional way peo­ple ba­ton. This tech­nique is bet­ter suited for stick-tang knives, as it puts less stress on their blade and tang.

Af­ter the split, I carved four small pieces of wood to stick through the fish and sort of sus­pend them in the split I ini­tially cre­ated. Be­fore leav­ing camp, I usu­ally try to turn out about six good fuzz-sticks for the next fire—sort of an early set-up. The ABK ex­cels at this task, as much as any Scandi blade would.

Tra­di­tional Puukko

Wood Jewel knives are made in the small town of Ko­lari, Fin­land. Ko­lari is in the far north of Fin­land, north of the Arc­tic Cir­cle, and well into Fin­nish La­p­land. The knives re­flect the Sami styles


and tra­di­tions. They are de­signed by Kauko Raa­tiniemi, and the han­dles are as­sem­bled from mul­ti­ple pieces of rein­deer antler and curly birch. The se­lec­tion of wood grain seems un­usu­ally nice. The sheaths are also in the Sami tra­di­tion, done in the deep pouch style that hangs from a twisted thong. Ex­cept as noted, the blades are 0.8% high car­bon steel, hard­ened to about 59 on the Rock­well scale.

Def­i­nitely a very “tra­di­tional look­ing” Scan­di­na­vian puukko knife, the Carv­ing Knife is a puukko with a blade about 3-inches long, ¾-inch wide and 0.130-inch thick. Again, the 4 ½-inch han­dle is as­sem­bled from curly birch and antler with fiber spac­ers. While it’s called a carv­ing knife, the blade shape is well-suited as an all-around knife. I feel at home us­ing a 3-inch-long blade due to the ex­tra con­trol, and I be­lieve the blade length keeps the tasks peo­ple do a lit­tle more on par with the knife’s des­ig­nated func­tion. I went to work mak­ing a log-cab­in­style fire, a fa­vorite in Scan­di­navia be­cause it puts the fuel and tin­der above the cold, frozen ground. There is a rea­son this knife is called the Carv­ing knife—it has an ex­cep­tion­ally high grind for the blade size, mak­ing it finer. It bit into maple and oak just as eas­ily as it did softer poplar and witch hazel, as well as carved and fuzzed wood for fires and cook­ing im­ple­ments—eas­ily. I was a lit­tle wary at first, be­cause it looks like some­thing that should be in a mu­seum and not out in the snowy wilder­ness and muddy camp from the fire melt­ing ev­ery­thing around me. But in fact, this is what the knife was de­signed to do, take on Old Man Win­ter. It was just as much a tool as any axe or pocket knife, just with more style and class!

I wor­ried about the com­fort in a chest-lever grip be­cause there was a large, bul­bous pro­tru­sion at the butt, act­ing as both a guard from the hand slip­ping back off the han­dle and a se­cure grip for un­sheath­ing, but I was sat­is­fied with the re­sults. This piece of rein­deer antler looked pri­mal, yet beau­ti­ful at the same time.

The belly of puukko knives, due to their straight spine, have great re­sults on food, skin­ning and mak­ing very curly feather sticks. I made sure to give the Carv­ing knife a solid “win­ter camp kitchen” test by slic­ing meat and veg­gies every few days. I am pleased to say that I have had no need to sharpen or oil the blades un­til this very day.


The Fin­nish puukko knife truly is their main tool in a hunt­ing camp, bushcraft, or kitchen set­ting. It’s no won­der they feel lost with­out their puukko. I read this quote from Fin­land: “A knifeless man is a life­less man…” It’s an old Scan­di­na­vian proverb. In all my trav­els, I have found that to be a true state­ment. For straight com­fort, func­tion­al­ity and pleas­ing aes­thet­ics, it is hard to beat a Fin­nish puukko. KI



Top: Scan­di­na­vian grind on a forged blade with brass bol­ster—the iconic blade grind for bushcrafters with a straight spine and a lit­tle bit of belly.

Curly birch is of­ten used in Fin­land for its light­ness and beauty. This is a stick-tang, where the blade tang (end) goes about ¾ into the wood.

Mid­dle: The Arc­tic Bush Knife made two fish cook­ing sticks by carv­ing sharp stakes to pin the fish into the split and shaved wood. This will al­low the fish to be ro­tated over coals.

Top: Fine tun­ing a wooden wedge, the au­thor uses the chest-lever grip for fine and hard cut­ting tasks.

Bot­tom:the grad­ual ta­per of the Arc­tic Bush Knife han­dle keeps it in the hand with wool win­ter gloves. The oval cross-sec­tion is a stan­dard on Fin­nish puukkos.

Top: The butt of the Carv­ing knife features a piece of rein­deer antler for the more clas­sic puukko knife. It also aids in tak­ing the knife out of the sheath eas­ily. Mid­dle: Many fires were prepped with the Carv­ing knife. The high Scan­di­na­vian grind proved why it is the pre­ferred grind of bushcrafters and wood carvers around the world.

Bot­tom: The tra­di­tional Fin­nish leather sheath, with a curved horn bot­tom, helps the user grip the sheath bet­ter when tak­ing the knife out. You can ex­pect beauty and func­tion from just about ev­ery­thing made in Fin­land.

Up­per Left: Tra­di­tional leather puukko sheaths are dec­o­ra­tive and tell a story, while be­ing func­tional. They all fea­ture a deep pocket carry style, so as to not lose their knives in the snow.

Top Right: Be­hind the scenes at Mart­ti­ini Knives. The tangs on Fin­nish puukkos are long. The han­dles are drilled, epoxy fills the in­side, and the tang is in­serted, then left to cure, be­fore the fi­nal han­dle shap­ing.

Bot­tom: Scan­di­na­vians nor­mally use three tools for their camps, a puukko, saw and axe. These three are Fin­nish cut­ting tools that are com­mon in North Amer­ica as well.

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