Monthly Archives: February 2014

Tapio Syrjälä

I have recently become acquainted with Tapio Syrjälä through Sami Länsipaltta’s Facebook group, Puukkolareena. Tapio has been posting photos of some very nice puukkos with curly birch handles so I sent him an email to find out more about him and his work.

Tapio lives in  Aura, Finland and has been making puukkos for less than a year.  He appreciates the traditional puukko and is able to capture its unique qualities in his work.  He’s created a shop  in a converted sauna in the yard at his house and he’s come a long way in less than a year.  I’m pleased to feature his work here and I hope he’ll be a frequent contributor. Thanks Tapio, very nice work, you’ve got a great future ahead of you!

To contact Tapio (before his waiting list grows too long!) visit his website at

Tapio Syrjälä:

“I have always used and been interested in knives. I remember that I had my first Swiss army knife when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I started knife making last spring (2013), when I had a puukko with a very bad sheath, so I started to search the web on how to make a better sheath for that puukko. When I was searching for some kind of guide to make a sheath, I found some blades from one web store, so I thought I’d like to try to make my own puukko! First I ordered blades, but that is not for me, so I had to start to make my own blades, first in the yard, but now I have indoor space to practice knife making.

I´m self taught, still learning and I have a lot to learn. I take a little bit here and there depending on what suits the way I work. In most cases, I have to come up with a suitable way to work. When I started to do my first puukko, I really didn’t have any influences, but now I try to make simple and fine looking practical tools which are traditional puukko design with some kind of a pinch of me.

I really like traditional materials like curly birch, birch burl, and all other types of Finnish wood. Also, brass is my favorite material for fittings, all the brass I use I smelt by myself from old scrap metal. For the blade, I think the best material is carbon steel. Now I use 80crv2 steel. It’s basic carbon steel with 0.8% carbon and light add chrome and 0.2% vanadium. Now I have some silversteel but I did not test that enough yet to do a blade from it.  I really want to do my own blade metal, like wootz. I have one friend nearby who practices this kind of work so… maybe that is the next story?

While I don’t have a favorite type of puukko, I like simple and practical puukkos. Where I live in Aura, Varsinais-Suomi, near Turku there’s no traditional style of puukko. Maybe some day will be? I really hope that also ordinary Finnish people start to understand the culture of puukko. I think that modern people have forgotten why a knife is such an important tool.

I never did make the sheath for that puukko, but I am still on that same road to make my own puukkos. This is a hobby for me now, but I really hope that someday I can make knives for living.”

Tapio Syrälä forging a blade.








Tapio's everyday user puukko.

Tapio’s everyday user puukko.



"One of my first knives with self made blade with old stamp, maybe number 2? The blade is spring steel, handle is curly pine. I still use this knife when I have to do some kinda rough work, like cutting everything that should not be cut with a knife :)"

“One of my first knives with self made blade with old stamp, maybe number 2?
The blade is spring steel, handle is curly pine. I still use this knife when I have to do some kinda rough work, like cutting everything that should not be cut with a knife :)”

Tapio Syrjälä

Tapio Syrjälä

Tapio's shop.

Tapio’s workshop.


Tapio's race car that he built.

Tapio’s drift car that he built.



I am interested in just about any edged tool or weapon, the puukko and leuku are my favorites but I am also interested in axes and other vintage tools, one of which is the billhook. Visually, the billhook in some of its forms reminds me of a leuku, but  its primary use is in agriculture and horticulture, although it looks like it would serve well as a weapon if need be. It is somewhere between an axe and a knife.   I have seen billhooks in the “flea markets” here from time to time, also the closely related brush axe which is a billhook mounted on an axe handle with a steel strap. They aren’t as common as an axe or hatchet, but you can still find them.

A Wards Brush Axe.

A Wards brush axe.

A Collins Brush axe. Collins was a major manufacturer of axes, hatchets, hammers and other tools in the USA.

A Collins brush axe. Collins was a major manufacturer of axes, hatchets, hammers and other tools in the USA.

Bob Burgess of Heytesbury Wilts in the UK is the proprietor of the premier website on billhooks so I wrote to him and asked him if he would consider writing something for Nordiska Knivar. He graciously replied and sent me this excellent article.

Please visit his site

He is always looking for new information and would like a contact for information on Finnish billhooks. Thank you Bob!

The Billhooks of Scandinavia and Northern Europe

by Bob Burgess

The history of the billhook is well documented for Southern Europe and
Britain, also for Central Europe and as far north as Germany, but for
Northern Europe; i.e. the Baltic States and Scandinavia it is less well
known. In part this is due to language difficulties (it is only recently that
major studies and theses have been written in English), and in part
because anthropologists and ethnologists have frequently ignored tools,
concentrating mainly on culture, religion and works of art. This article
attempts to trace some of its history and development further north,
through Denmark into Scandinavia, and eastwards through the Baltic
States to Russia.

The billhook is a tool that does not fit into any one category – similar to a
sickle and often used like an axe, it is not just an agricultural tool, but one
found in towns and cities or in carpenters and coopers shops. It has many
forms and it comes in a range of sizes. Small versions were the tool of the
gardener, used for pruning all types of shrubs, fruit bushes and trees and
even for harvesting flowers. In warmer climates it was the pruning tool
for grape vines, and in the Roman period was found as far north as
Cologne (Köln) in Germany.

The Iron Age billhook appears to have descended from the Bronze Age
sickle or pruning hook, and in southern Europe was common before the
Roman occupation. There is little archaeological evidence of its use in
Northern Europe, but as trade between tribes and regions was common
(Baltic Amber was found all over Central and Southern Europe and
Britain) it is not unreasonable to assume it was also found further north.
Shaped like a sickle, but with a thicker and heavier blade, sometimes with
a secondary, axe like, blade on the back, the billhook is a tool most
suitable for cutting green wood up to the size of a large sapling, say 50mm
diameter. The billhook was common throughout the Roman Empire, and
many different blade shapes from this period survive. Many would be
recognisable as such today, and as found on modern tools, the handles
were fitted by using a tang passing through the handle or a socket that
contains it.


Above: Roman era rebmesser or vine pruning hooks from Germany, from Brauneberg (Leiwen) and (bottom) from Piesport (Trier).

Moving further north into Denmark, the billhook is known, but is no
longer common and it is difficult to find images or examples despite
various names: udtyndingskniv (thinning knife); grenkniv (branch knife); rydningkniv (clearing knife); tjørneskniv (thorn knife). Research has not found any reliable images, other than a square blade version used for trimming root vegetables such as beet.

Around the southern and eastern Baltic Sea, it was more common, being
found in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Russia. Again information
is hard to come by, but the Estonian National Museum has a good
collection. Known there as the ‘kiin’or ‘võsanuga’ a wide variety of blade
shapes can be found.

One type of ‘kiin’ is of particular interest, as a similar shaped one has been
found in the Viking excavations of York in the UK. With a separate beak, it
would appear to be made specifically to chop firewood, with the beak
hitting the ground to prevent the cutting edge being damaged.


Above: (top) Estonian ‘kiin’ and (bottom) from 8th or 9th century Viking York (UK)

Moving further north, into Finland the billhook is still common, and
several makers are still producing them commercially. Known as: vesuri;
kassara; hakokirves; havukirves; havurauta – there are three basic forms.
The ‘vesuri’ (below) generally has an open socket handle and a pronounced beak to the blade.


vesuri_9Lehdesrauta_or_vesuri%0d%0a ._–_Grotenfelt_1898%0d%0a
The ‘kassara’ (below) is similar in shape but has a tang fitted handle, and
may also be double edged, i.e. have a back blade.



The ‘havukirves’ (below) is similar to the English block bill, and has a
straight blade with a back hook for pulling the branches towards the user.





As well as being used in coppice work, for chopping firewood and other
tasks common in other parts of Europe, one of the principal uses of
Scandinavian billhooks is cutting brushwood and leafy material for use as
cattle fodder during the long winter months.


Above: pages from the Billnäs (Takeista) catalogue, c 1928.

Below a page from another catalogue of the same era.


Many examples of Finnish billhooks can still be found, and various
museums have a good range of examples. The traditional vesuri is still
being made by a small family firm, Härmän Tyaonta O – until recently they
used to also make kasseri and havurauta (and may still do so if sufficient
quantity was ordered).

The other major Finnish edge tool maker, Fiskars, have stopped making
traditional wooden handled tools, now only selling a small range of plastic
handled tools that are being aggressively sold throughout Europe (sold as
a brush hook under the Gerber name in the USA, and as Wilkinson Sword
in the UK).

A Fiskars brush hook.

The Finnish vesuri was also found on the old flag of the Karelia region,
next to the Russian border:

In Sweden and Norway the billhooks is still known and is relatively
common, although I have not been able to track down any commercial
maker in either country, it is probable that it was not just the product of
the village blacksmiths, but made on a commercial scale in both countries.
Known in Sweden as a lövkniv; vesoin; lövhacka; riskniv; rissnapp: lövhark; krumkniv or faskinkniv – the first term is most common and translates to leaf or foliage knife, i.e. used to cut winter fodder for cattle, as in Finland.

Similarly in Norway it is called a lauvkniv (also løvkniv) – literally a
‘deciduous (leaf) knife’ and also lauvsigd (leaf sickle), hakkekniv (chopping knife) or snidel. The shapes of blade are very similar to those from Finland, without a great variation of profiles as in southern Europe where a great number of regional styles exist.

 Swedish ‘lövkniv’:



Norwegian ‘lauvkniv’:



One of the problems in researching tools of any kind is the wide variety of
regional and dialect names used – this worsens when one is working in
another language. The term for billhook is also often synonymous with the
word for sickle or axe. Tools have been generally little studied, with many
museums concentrating on other artifacts, e.g. weapons, which have
always held greater interest than the tools used to produce them. It is
hoped this short article will initiate further research, and other amateur
tool enthusiasts and collectors can contribute to the scholarly research
carried out by ethnologist, anthropologists and archaeologists.
© Bob Burgess (UK) February 2014


Bob Burgess site:
Härmän Tyaonta O:
Lapland museum:
Finnish museum (portal to a number of collections):
Norwegian museum:
Swedish museum:
Estonian museum:
Danish Museums:

Saku Honkilahti: Birth Of A Puukko

A few months ago my friend Bill wrote to Saku Honkilahti to inquire about a custom made puukko. He requested ” a puukko made with a 100mm handle, sallow root if possible(curly birch if no sallow root)and silversteel fittings, 70mm silversteel blade with secondary bevel.”  We asked Saku if he would be interested in making a work in progress piece while he was creating this knife.  Saku agreed and this post is the result.

I really like Saku’s puukkos and it’s great to be able to watch him work and follow the progress step by step.  Thank you Saku for doing this project, beautiful work as usual!

Birth Of A Puukko

Part One: The Blade

It all begins from 12mm round silver steel stock, named Böhler K510. I use a 100 year old anvil, a 50 year old hammer and an almost new gas forge.



Right temperatures are really important during forging. That’s why I am working almost without lights, I can see colors of the steel, I can almost smell when temperatures are right. Hammering is a hard job, but it is the only way to get round stock to blade, and I believe that a carefully forged blade is the one and only way to do it.



After forging and some heat treatments is it time to use the angle grinder for rough job and the grinder to get the final result.




Before hardening and tempering it looks like this:


After heat treating it is time to polish the blade. It is almost all done by hand.


And final polishing.


Now the soul of the puukko, the blade is ready. I do some testing routines for every blade I make: brass rod test, whittling birch and paper slicing. They are not extreme tests, but those tests tell me that the blade works like I want it to.


Part Two: The Handle

A birch bark handle with brass bolsters is usual for me, but this time it is a little bit different materials: sallow root gnarl and nickel-silver. Only very thin slices from birch bark comes between bolster and wooden part.

First I must cut some nickel-silver with the hack saw.


With drill and needle files I do the hole for the tang.


This is a tricky job, because of the blade geometry. It takes time and many adaptations. The face of the front bolster gets final polishing when it sits nice and evenly in its place.


Back bolster comes next, then the wooden part.


Again, with drills and needle files, the tang get its place. This is also time consuming and an important part. Of course, I use glue and peening, but if I want really solid construction, also this adaptation must be careful.


When all fits nice and easy, it is time to clean all surfaces with acetone to be sure that the epoxy glue gets a tight hold.

I don’t use presses or other aids, I trust for the peenings power to get all surfaces together.


And it looks like this.


When the epoxy is hard, it is time to shape the handle. I use same old electric drill and round sanding wheel with very rough grade paper. Basically, puukkos handle shape is very simple. But still, this operation needs finesse and steady mind, because puukko is really born in this stage.


And of course, the final results comes with elbow-grease.



Now the bolsters need polishing and the wood needs some oil and polishing.

Part Three: The Sheath

The wooden insert, the lesta, is an important part of the sheath, so sheath making starts in the wood pile. I prefer birch as it is homogenous and relatively easy to work but still hard and reliable.


I draw blade lines and carve a place in the wood for the blade.


Then I shape it with band saw and sander.


And here you can see all essentials for sheath sewing. The fork is for marking the holes and the knife is to smooth out the leather. Sewing is done with wet leather, so when the leather dries, the puukko fits perfectly in the sheath.


When sewing is done, I cut the excess leather off, with my puukko, of course.



And when the leather is dry, it looks like this.


The secure belt loop is essential.


I dyed the sheath with black color. This picture is not so nice at all, but you can see how it looks inside. Notice the wooden insert, which protects both the puukko and the puukko user.


And after some final greasing, refinement and polishing it all looks like this.


As you can see, hand made puukko making includes many different work phases. It is time consuming but also very satisfying. No need for high tech or complicated machines, it is all in my fingertips.




”Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” is one of my favorite pieces of wisdom.