One makers thoughts on leuku, “stuorra niibi”, a large saami type knife by Pasi Hurttila
“For most Finnish people the word leuku brings immediately a large Lappish knife to mind. That’s correct, as that is what a leuku is, a large knife originally from northern parts of Scandinavia. Clear characteristics of a leuku are full pommel, straight handle, relatively high blade which is not really pointed and not tapering lower in height towards the tip. Spine can be straight or bit curved/drop point.
Some people are really strict on what is a leuku and what’s not. For me it’s clear, if I see a knife I can tell immediately if it’s a leuku or not in my opinion. There are not any exact standards on that. For example I’ve seen a picture of full-tang leuku made by Pekka Tuominen, and for me that clearly can be called a leuku, even if there’s no historical example found like that. Tradition itself is an on-going thing, it doesn’t stop on some certain age, even leukus and their design can still get some new winds in the design. Without forgetting the tradition of course.
Of leukus size and style you can see that it’s clearly meant for hitting. Also it served as a kind of all-rounder, tasks varying from splitting and batoning wood to skinning and gutting animals, all-round camp knife. Saami people also had a smaller knife, “unna niibas”, the size of a common puukko, for smaller tasks like whittling etc. So a leuku clearly hasn’t been a whittler or a carver, which can be seen already by the size of it.
Traditionally materials used on leukus were wood (birch or sallow), reindeer antler/bone and reindeer hide. Blades were made out of any suitable carbon steel that could be found. Brass was used on bolsters and rivets if available. Blade length could vary from 15 up to 24cm. Usually blades have been relatively thin, less than 4 mm. A thin blade was enough for cutting timber of tundra area. Grind types varied too, depending what maker thought was useful.
Decorations and amount of them varied among the makers. Some preferred more of them, and some were even specialized in bone carvings. But the same goes with leukus as with all types of knives; there are really decorated collectors items, simple everyman users, and everything between.
Nowadays handmade leukus and blades vary a lot from each other. Thickness can be from 3 up to 6mm. Grinds can be almost any types, from convex to scandi, with possibly secondary bevels. And as well as in history, some makers do really beautifully carved ones, and some make simple style users. All materials can be used, from reindeer antler to kydex, a leuku is still a leuku.
In northern Lapland, where I live, leukus can be seen in use still. But most likely on the waist of a woodsman you’ll see a smaller puukko, with 10cm or shorter blade, accompanied with an axe in a backpack. But anyway it’s pretty common to see people carrying leukus still here, especially in winter time.
I personally use leuku in several tasks. In willow grouse trapping in winter time, you need to cut lot’s of birch twigs when setting traps, and that’s where a leuku is really useful. In cleaning large fresh or dried hides a larger blade is useful too. Also in pruning and barking poles etc.
My ideal leuku is pretty basic user; curly birch handle with brass bolsters, about 5mm thick blade in 20-23cm lenght. 26-28 degree scandi grind with small secondary bevel, basic high leather sheath with traditional type choking belt hanger. 5mm thick blade gives bit more power, which is needed in batoning and splitting. Adding of course the weight a bit, but like in many things: to gain something is to lose something. All compromises.
After all a leuku has something what every good item must have; a soul. For me it gives an image of old times, wilderness, living in nature, Lappish scenery etc…. which all have a meaning for me too in one way or another.
Like I wrote in the beginning, some thoughts on a leuku. Exact historical things and knife details I leave for them who have studied them and know them better than I do.”
Here are some of Pasi’s leukus made at his shop in Ivalo, Finland. To see more of his work please visit his website at: http://www.hurttilanpaja.suntuubi.com/?cat=1
The first leuku was made for me by Pasi and shows his very high degree of skill and craftsmanship. This is a beautiful leuku that rises above just being a knife or a tool and definitely has the “soul” that Pasi speaks of.