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.