Not long ago, my friend Joonas and I were discussing various materials for puukko building and I asked him what material he hadn’t worked with yet that he would like to try. Mammoth ivory was at the top of the list. I did some searching and found that mammoth ivory was pretty hard to come by and may not be suitable for what we had in mind. Ivory from other sources was very expensive and there were legal considerations involved, especially if it had to pass through customs.
In my search I found a dealer with mammoth tooth blocks for sale, while not inexpensive, they were within reason. I wasn’t familiar with the characteristics of mammoth tooth but they looked amazing. After discussing it with Joonas we decided to purchase the blocks and he’d give it a try. He said he wanted to make an heirloom quality knife, one I could be proud of and pass on to my son.
When the blocks arrived I was surprised how heavy and dense they were. They looked like gemstone. My friend Federico Buldrini reminded me that they weren’t actually tooth anymore but mineral, stone. Fossilization had occurred over the thousands of years since the mammoth had become extinct. These were blocks cut from a tooth which was probably larger than a shoebox or large loaf of bread. The mammoth had four of these huge teeth which were needed to chew about 500 pounds of vegetation a day.
I couldn’t imagine how Joonas was going to work such hard dense material, but he was up to the challenge as usual. So just before Christmas I sent the mammoth tooth to Joonas, what follows is his report. You will know by the photos of the finished puukko that I was very pleased with the results. It is indeed an heirloom piece to be handed down to my son and hopefully his son and and his son and on.
Thank you Joonas for all your hard work and taking time out of your work schedule to document the creation of this beautiful puukko!
“Some time ago Mike and I started to play around with an idea of a new puukko knife for him. All along from the start it was clear that it was going to be a very special knife, and we agreed that I’d make a WIP post of the building process. After some thinking we decided to go with a piece of mammoth tooth for the handle, with nickel-silver fittings. I shared some of my ideas with Mike and he gave his approval, so all that was left was to make the knife!
The concept for the knife came with some influence from Tommi puukkos, and some from my own mind. I saw the knife in my head and started the process of bringing it to life. The following pictures are not perfect and they don’t capture every single detail in the making process, but they give some sights inside the craft.
Here you can see what we started out with: a beautiful piece of stabilized mammoth molar, some nickelsilver and silversteel.”
I turned to my good old friend The Fire, and forged the raw form of the blade.
Then I removed the scale and slightly ground the blade to get the profile where I wanted it.
Then I ground the blade closer to what it should be.
After grinding I filed the shoulders of the blade with a nice radius, with the aid of a filing guide.
As I had the blade roughed out I shifted my attention to the bolster and pommel. I got a bit creative with the milling machine and made the rough shapes… still a lot to do before they fit perfectly.
This is what we had at that point.
Behind the window, gray and cold, -28 degrees Centigrade. So heat-treating the blade seemed like something to do.
After heat-treating I always do a rough sharpening for the blade and test the durability of the edge with some deer horn. Then I proceed by finishing the blade and etching my name.
Then the rough-cut bolster has to be fitted to the blade. No shortcuts there, just pressing and taking material off where it needs to be taken off.
Some shady pictures of fitting the blade to the piece of mammoth… that’s some hard stuff. I’ve drilled the piece before using the hand tools for opening the cavity and I must say that piece was the hardest material I’ve ever drilled. The brown layers on the material seemed to respond very well to drilling but once I hit that shiny white layer… it was like drilling glass! The bit just wouldn’t want to penetrate the layers, but with time and cursing we got through the job.
I’ve also slightly cut off material from the piece of tooth at this point, so it’s at correct length and angle. I have maybe too much material, but I’ve never dealt with this material before so I’ll rather have some extra on it.
Then the fittings needed some shaping with the belt grinder.
I then assembled the knife, with as much epoxy in between as possible, and peened everything together nice and snug.
A quick touch up with the belt to see how clean the peening is. Two horrible mishits with the hammer! Sometimes they happen, luckily they’re not too deep so I can get them off later when I’m rounding the pommel. Everything looks rough and ugly at this point… bear with me!
Better leave the knife alone for a day to set, enjoy some coffee.
The handle has to be ground out. First the profile, then rounding it. I usually tend to favour a more teardrop shaped cross-section on my knives but with this particular knife I wanted to go with a more rounded profile. This material was quite hard to shape with conventional methods. I also tried to avoid heating the material too much, so that slowed me down a bit too. The smell of this material was horrible too! Even with separate working clothes the smell stuck to my clothes and sweat, and judging from the looks on their face I’m pretty sure that other people noticed it as well!
The pommel is getting some shape. There’s a slight dent right on the edge of the metal, but it’s so minute that it’ll go away when I finish up the knife.
With careful finishing we end up at 2000 grit.
Some sights into the process of making the plywood liner for the sheath.
With the liner ready, we’ve cut some leather and done some cutting and marking for it. So the stitching may begin.
Then it’s just a matter of letting the leather dry, smoothing it out and adding a bit of colour.
After greasing up the leather and making the dangler ring and one-piece leather-rivet
It’s just a matter of assembling it up. And then you realize that the knife is ready! It is quite mind-boggling to think that the handle of that knife is actually a piece of a mammoths tooth… It kind of puts things into perspective. I’m pretty sure that the animal couldn’t have guessed that one day one of those teeth would end up at a dusty workshop in Finland. We tried to make a heirloom object, a special knife, and I think we got there. Thank you for the opportunity to bring this idea to life.