Monthly Archives: April 2013

Theo Eichorn

This profile is unique in that it is about an American puukkoseppä working in Finland. Theo Eichorn moved to Jamsankoski, Finland in 2010 to study puukko and smithing. He has written a very interesting account of his background in the U.S.A. and his study in Finland for Nordiska Knivar. Part two of Theo’s story will be posted next week. I really like Theo’s work and recommend you visit his website at http://www.theoeichornknives.com/Theo_Eichorn_Knives/Welcome.html

Theo Eichorn:

“I was born and raised in California near the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains. As a kid I spent as much time as I could running around those hills, catching snakes and lizards. That was freedom for me.

My exposure to puukko came early. You see, my uncle, while chasing his wife to be around Finland in 1964, sent my mom a Kauhava Hevosenpää puukko, which was kept in our camp chest. When we went camping my parents let me carry it, which gave me great pride, probably using it mostly to whittle sticks into spears for roasting marshmallows. But it planted a seed… I loved that knife and it sort of became iconic to me. To me it was “the” camp knife.

Then, when I was 11, my cousin came from Finland and stayed with us for a year so she could go to school and see what America was all about. That Christmas she gave me a puukko of my own, a Martiini, my first sheath knife. It was the greatest gift ever. It was then that I made a curious discovery. My grandfather had taught me to sharpen knives by laying the blade flat on the stone, then lifting the back of the blade just slightly so you only removed material from the edge. This worked to an extent, but my knife never seemed as sharp as it was when it was new. Was I doing something wrong? Then I got down the old puukko from the camp chest and compared the blades. That’s when I noticed that the puukko has no secondary bevel, that it is sharpened from the thickest part all the way down to the edge. Wow! Amazing! I started to think of other tools, chisels and scissors and what kinds of edges they had and why. I became so intrigued, it made me curious enough to want to make a knife.

Somewhere about this time I found out that you can make a knife from a worn out file. No problem, I could easily acquire one of those… And my dad had a little stone bench grinder. I was in business! Now, I knew enough to keep the steel cool and that if it started to show color that it would be soft. But that was it. I knew nothing of annealing. So, I got to work on this fully hardened file. It took hours and hours. I ground my dad’s stone down to a nub. (fortunately my dad was rather tolerant of my “learning experiences”!) But eventually I came up with something that was vaguely like a blade. This was in 1983. I was in high school and it was back in the days before there was so much fear around school violence, so you’d never be allowed to do this now… But I took that brute of a blade in to show my art teacher.

To my amazement he told me that the other art teacher was a knife maker and took the blade next door to show him. This teacher, Patrick Donovan, told me he’d teach me to grind for real and that I should sign up for his jewelry class the next semester, where I would learn some other valuable skills. This is how I was introduced to the world of hand made knives and knife making.

So, through the years, I have continued, sometimes more, sometimes less, mostly depending on what kind of access I have to a shop. All this time the puukko has been a huge influence on my work, but I never, or rarely, made what I considered a true puukko. Part of the issue is that most Americans don’t like the single bevel. It feels too thick, too wedgie compared to what they are used to. We don’t, for the most part, understand how to use it. I know this probably sounds crazy to you Finns who have grown up with puukko, but so much of what we are used to with tools is actually cultural.

An easy comparison would be Japanese saws, which cut on the pull stroke as opposed to Western saws which cut on the push. At any rate, I tried all kinds of things, puukko-like knives with guards, grinding them with a more American style of grind. I knew they were not puukko and told people they were not, but I didn’t really understand puukko anyway. But it was enough I guess that people recognized the style and I would often hear “oh, you do the Skandi thing”.

I had been hoping for years to come to Finland and study puukko. I always thought you could never understand something like that unless you actually went to the place they are from and learned about the land and the culture they come from. Not that you can ever have the same appreciation as someone who is from the culture, but just seeing a picture in a book gives little context. For instance, I never knew that a traditional puukko is a straight knife. I’ve always seen puukko with the half ponsi and modern puukko that have taken on some of the curves of Scandinavian knives, so I never understood that is a more recent development. But I think that is a fairly common misunderstanding amongst us in America. Although the puukko has become more broadly known in the last ten or fifteen years, there is still not very much information and a lot of confusion about what a puukko is. It tends to get mixed in with the other Nordic knives and is thought of in more general terms… Like Skandi.

So, now I’m here in Finland, I’ve been here about two and a half years, and I feel like I’m just at the beginning. Definitely a beginner at puukko. I think it took me a year for it to really sink into my head that the traditional designs are straight and that all the sexy curves were a more recent addition. Not that the traditional designs don’t have sexy curves, they do! It’s just more subtle, and actually makes them that much more difficult to make right. Each millimeter of material matters and can make all the difference between a graceful puukko and a clunker.

Another aspect that strikes me about puukko is that they are generally made to really tight specs from model to model. I had no idea that the dimensions were so formalized, down to the point that blades and handles and sheaths can be interchanged, and often were. I don’t understand the full story, but I have a few ideas as to why that is. One aspect is that the designs were refined over the years to the point that for the most part everyone agreed what was best. Also, especially when looking at the Kauhava model, it was a cottage industry and makers would get fairly standardized parts, so while they were hand made there were still aspects of mass production.

Even when the parts were all hand made by an individual they used techniques that were like a small scale manufacturer, for instance making the tuppi over a model, making ferrules on a mandrel, casting pommel, all things that would lend to standardized dimensions. We in America, on the other hand, don’t have standard designs. We have a few that are considered classics, such as the Bowie, but we don’t really even know what that is and people debate over what the original even looked like. We have an iconic image, but there is no standard at all… It is open to interpretation. I think that was the biggest surprise to me. I had always thought of the puukko as this kind of rugged, outdoors, guys in cabins, roughly hewn kind of a knife. I had no idea how refined it is (for the most part… I mean there is still the country puukko, probably the grandfather of them all, which is a rough tool for work in the field) and that when I made a certain model that someone with experience would say that it was too wide or too pointy or whatever. I was so surprised when I took my first puukko class and everyone started whipping out their micrometers. The puukko has been around for a long time and the traditional models have been refined to the point that the differences in style from maker to maker usually come down to fractions of millimeters.”

Theo HKS

At the Helsinki Knife Show.

At the Helsinki Knife Show.

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Theo Eichorn

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Theo 4

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Theo 10

Theo Eichorn

Theo Eichorn

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Pasi Hurttila

Pasi Hurttila is a smith in Ivalo in Lapland in the far north of Finland. He has written a previous piece for this blog about the leuku and has agreed to share his thoughts about his work and the culture of the puukko. Pasi sums it all up with this statement: “For cutting and carving you need a blade, blade needs a handle and the knife needs a sheath. That’s it, nothing more, nothing less, a puukko.” A very simple statement on the surface but to create knives that capture the essence of a puukko is not so easy. Pasi’s work does that as you can see in the photos. You can visit his website at:

http://www.hurttilanpaja.suntuubi.com/?cat=1

Pasi’s excellent article about the leuku may be seen here: https://nordiskaknivar.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/leuku-part-two-by-pasi-hurtilla/

Thank you Pasi for sharing your thoughts and work here!

Pasi Hurttila:

“For me it has always been interesting to be able to make usable items by myself. I forged my first knife blade in 2001. In 2002 I went on 3 month ancient/traditional crafts course, which can be said to be a real “fire starter” in becoming a craftsman. On that course we also had 2 weeks of various forging, taught by Martti Malinen. Right after the course I started collecting blacksmith’s tools, as forging was something I really wanted to continue doing.

For me in crafts the first place always goes to items that really have a use. Knives, tools, fireplace tools, hinges, latches, various interior stuff such as wall hooks and candle holders, the list is almost endless. Works can be simple and plain, or quite decorated too, as long as they have use. I really admire the work of village smiths from 18th to early 20th century, at those times craftsmen were really needed and their skills appreciated in everyday life. The omplete opposite of modern world, where a basic tool or a pair of hinges is worth nothing, throw it away and buy a new one mentality.

After I started practicing forging, my goal was to be a full-time craftsman in near future. I worked as a wilderness guide for several years in Lapland, forging and making knives stayed as a hobby. In 2007 I turned it into full-time work, which I do not regret. For the first 3 years I had my workshop in Leineperi, south Finland. In the beginning among iron stuff and knives I also made wooden bows, arrows, and shaman drums for sale. But after a while I concentrated more on forging. In 2010 I moved back to Lapland, as I being a hunter and fisherman, really enjoy to be surrounded by large wilderness areas. Most of my hobbies connect to nature; skiing, canoeing, hiking, and just generally enjoying and learning from nature.

Nowadays my workshop is a 12 square meter cold shed with dirt floor. The only electric tools I have are a belt sander, hand held drill, angle grinder, and a welding machine. So not that far from a village smith’s workshop 100 years ago. In future I’m planning to stop using electric tools, and go back to more traditional ways still. I find interesting, and also important, to preserve traditional working methods and ways. Not just to make traditional works, but also to make them in traditional way.

I have made several knives that could be said not to be traditional Finnish knives, but after all I always found myself liking to make so called traditional Finnish type knives. I can’t really explain why is that, maybe it’s simple clean shapes combined with the feeling of Finnish tradition that keeps me interested in them. For me the beauty of a puukko lies in the fact that it has been an important part of a Finnish man’s life. And still is for many. For cutting and carving you need a blade, blade needs a handle and the knife needs a sheath. That’s it, nothing more, nothing less, a puukko.”

Pasi 1

Pasi 2

Pasi 3

Pasi 5

Pasi 6

Pasi 7

Pasi 8

Pasi 9

One of my most prized possessions, a leuku Pasi made for me last year.

One of my most prized possessions, a leuku Pasi made for me last year.

Pasi Leuku 2

Pasi Leuku 3

Pasi Hurttila

Pasi Hurttila

Pasi and his West-Siberian Laika, Pyry.

Pasi and his West-Siberian Laika, Pyry.

Tero Kotavuopio

Tero Kotavuopio is a smith from Karesuvanto in the far north of Finland. Karesuvanto is on the Muonio River in Lapland near the border with Sweden. I really appreciate Tero’s philosophy and share in his lament that people are for the most part no longer self sufficient and don’t have the skills that past generations had. For Tero the knife is very important and must be able to perform a task without fail. “Knives priority is to be perfectly functioning tools. This overcomes everything else.” Tero’s puukkos are working tools but rise above that purpose to carry on the traditional design and artistry of the Finnish puukko.Tero creates some very fine knives and I think you will enjoy seeing his work. Thank you Tero!

Tero’s website may be found at http://www.tkotavuopio.net/Etusivu.php

Tero Kotavuopio:

“The most important thing is to make good tools. In our family there have been blacksmiths in the past, but the last of them was active as a village smith in the early 1900´s.

I’ve been kind of making everything and I’ve always been into learning old skills. Because I live “off the land”, by fishing and hunting, knives are very important part of my daily way of life. Good factory made knives were pretty hard to find, while the old hand forged ones were still good users, so I decided to try to make knives by myself and after a long time of trying and testing, I think I am now making well servicing tools.

I can’t actually tell any specific time or date about my first experiences as a smith, because I’ve been heating and twisting nails and stuff since I was a young kid. I even did several knives before I got to think that I could possibly make some bread for my table out of knife making.

I’m totally self taught. Naturally studying the process took a long time and I’ve got a lot of hints, tips and help from older smiths as well as from others who are into the same stuff. I’ve also read a lot of metallurgy literature, but it’s not as valuable as my own field experience and testing on actual materials when you’re trying to achieve best durability and edge retention.

Molding, handling and tempering steel, even if it sometimes might seem like, isn’t still witchcraft nor mystical. It’s just raw facts, data, knowledge as well as being able to repeat the process correctly in the same way, time after time.

Up here in the north there has never been many smiths. The Sami reindeer herders don’t have almost any blacksmith tradition: they used to trade a lot, usually to get forged tools including knives, from Norway and Sweden.

My main and only source of inspiration is the usefulness. Knives priority is to be perfectly functioning tools. This overcomes everything else.

The shape comes from my own mind and I don’t give any value to jewelry-like display and showcase knives. I think nobody should sell those as puukkos or knives, they should be sold as decorations.
The current trend seems to be imitation and copying of previously made knives. Trying to achieve ice cold, perfectly executed knives is simply stupid, as valuable as a piece of plastic.

Making only some certain knife model lacks the use of creativity and I would get bored immediately. It’s also impossible to make only one model, as for different tasks there are different knives.

I am also interested in many other handcrafts and I like to try everything including the most likely impossible attempts. I don’t consider making something in particular as a categorized craft, as I see it as general handcrafts. It wasn’t a long time ago when almost everybody had skills to do a lot of things and it wasn’t something that a man would have bragged about. It’s very sad to see how today’s people are mostly lacking skills or just specialized in a narrow range of crafts, if any.

As I said, I try to make as good tools as possible. Good edge retention is my main goal so far, and it’s not easy at all: it demands very accurate forging as well as heat treating. Good self criticism and quality control are important. Making bad tools is making mockery out of the work of the users.

Craftsmanship skills are the most important things a person can have. After all, what you know and what you can do are the only things you have. Everything you can make will wear out, but not your knowledge and skills.

Always keep trying to do it yourself first. To me is shameful not being able to fix something broken, as I don’t like to depend on others.”

Tero Kotavuopio

Tero Kotavuopio

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tero1

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Mammoth tooth puukko

Mammoth tooth puukko

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Damascus rose.

Damascus rose.

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Joonas Kallioniemi

Today I’m happy to post the profile of Joonas Kallioniemi. His work is of the highest quality both in design and workmanship which makes it stand out. There is a certain natural elegance in his work that is timeless in it’s simplicity.  Always  willing to answer questions and  send photos Joonas has been a great help and inspiration for this blog. While Joonas doesn’t have a website he can be found posting his new work on Britishblades.com Occasionally he may offer one of his puukkos for sale in the Maker’s Sales Forum but if you happen to see one there, act fast. It won’t be there long!
http://www.britishblades.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?41-Scandinavian-Blades…

 Joonas Kallioniemi:

“I am now 23, a young man some might say, but I have already had an interest for puukko knives for many years. I can try to summarize a bit how I have gotten into this madness.

My father made some puukkos before I was born, and I remember that as a kid I admired those knives and always wanted to play with them. So it is very likely that part of my enthusiasm comes from there. I guess I was around 15 or 16 when I really got interested in puukkos. At the time I was very much into woodcarving and the outdoors so a good puukko was always in my dreams. Many of the handmade knives from respected makers seemed so damn expensive to me at that time, they were out of my reach. And today I’m lucky that they were. I used a lot of factory made puukkos but I quickly realized that there was a huge lack of quality in them.

I first built some puukkos with blades from one other maker and even with factory blades, but I soon got bored. I understood that a good blade was the most crucial part of any puukko, and that if I was to become a maker I would have to learn bladesmithing. I was at high school at the time and managed to find a place where I could start forging my own blades, or at least practice doing so! The only information that I had was what I had learned from books and the Internet. My skills were weak at best but the forging experience was the final step in getting me addicted.

After high school I was already so hooked to the craft that it had most of my interest. It seemed natural to go to a metalworking school and become an artisan. There I learned a lot about forging, machining and various other metalworking techniques that I could adapt into my knife making. One of the turning points in my making was when around those times I got some sound advice from master puukko maker Pekka Tuominen. It was then and right then when I started to think more about the shapes and proportions of puukkos, and especially the traditional lines that are present in most of the old puukkos. I also started to sell my puukkos part-time during studying. After graduating I had to go the army, so knife making was over for a while.

After that the commissions kept piling up and I had collected a good amount of tools so I decided to start making knives full-time. It seemed like the natural thing to do. It’s been about a year now and I know I did the right thing. Every day when I get up and go to my workshop I still get the same thrills that I got when I first started forging blades. To be able to turn my thoughts into physical objects with just the most basic tools and materials, it does the trick for me.”

joonas kallioniemi

Joonas Briar 1

Joonas stacked leather3

Materials for mammoth tooth puukko.

Materials for mammoth tooth puukko.

The finished knife.

The finished knife.

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Copper and birch bark.

Copper and birch bark.

Joonas Lignum 1

Joonas Lignum 5

Ebonite puukko.

Ebonite puukko.

Joonas Dovetail

Joonas 13

Joonas

Joonas birch bark

Joonas p2

Joonas p3

Joonas p6

Joonas p7

Dyed stacked birch

Dyed stacked birch

Dyed Birch 6 April 2013

Joonas forging

Coffee break...

Coffee break…

Joonas Kallioniemi

Joonas Kallioniemi