My search for information about birch bark sheaths, tuohituppi, led me to a maker by the name of Eero Kovanen in Turku, Finland. I wanted to find out what he knew about birch bark harvesting, preparation and fabricating. Eero responded to my inquiry and we’re working on a two part post where he’ll discuss the tupohituppi in depth. I really like these sheaths but I don’t see them that often. I think they are a traditional craft that should be revived. As Eero pointed out to me birch bark is a very tough, resilient and flexible material and has been used for many purposes in Finland. We’ll discuss that in the next post or two, in the meantime I would like to show some of Eero’s puukkos as well as a short interview I did with him.
You can contact him through his website at http://www.eerokovanen.com
When and how did you become interested in puukko?
-I grew up in the countryside and used puukko as a kid. Also I used a peeling iron, axe and other cutting tools.
How did you get started as a puukkoseppä?
-I made my first puukko at the age of 16, my friend gave me parts for puukko and I tried to make one out of those parts. When I finished that one it was so interesting that I ordered some blades from re-sellers and built a few more puukkos. For a few years I made puukkos from factory made blades and then I wanted to try forging. My first blade was a total failure, I had no idea how to do heat treatment. I read some books about blade making and made an ok blade. To learn more I went to a forging course and learned basic forging technique there. Slowly I learned making blades and after that I have been doing everything myself.
Who and what were your influences?
– I have been doing handcraft all my life. My parents are both skilled at handwork, my father is good with wood and my mother with knitting etc. In my home village lived an old man who did woodworking and birch bark products. I learned birch bark techniques from him and I’ve been learning more from books. I don’t think I’ve had any strong influence in puukkos from anyone in particular. For long time I did puukkos all by myself and just did what felt good.
Are you self taught or schooled, how did you learn the skills?
– First I started from the scratch, read some instructions from Brisa pages and just started working. Learning by doing. It was slow, just learned by mistakes…
What’s your favorite type of puukko?
– I love to make maaseppä style puukko. Usually an 80 mm blade and 105 mm handle is nice combination. It is just a simple and beautiful piece. With a birch bark sheath it is 10+ 😉
What materials do you like to use?
– All my blades are carbon steel, handles are usually curly birch or birch bark. Sheath materials leather and birch bark. Fittings brass or aluminum. I’ve made puukkos from rare materials too, but those are my basics.
Do you have a favorite puukko that you use often?
-Here is my favourite puukko. One that I thought was not good enough to be sold so I kept it for my own use. It was some time without sheath and then I wove a birch bark sheath for it. After that it’s been my number one puukko. It’s not pretty but it is just nice shape and size for me.
Do you have a “philosophy” about puukko design?
– KEEP IT SIMPLE. Every puukko is made to use.
Do you have other interests or hobbies?
– Traditional Finnish handwork, fishing, especially ice-fishing. I was the Scandinavian champion in 2008.