Monthly Archives: March 2016

Roman Kislitsyn: Sami Style Carving WIP

In celebration of post number 100 on Nordiska Knivar I would like to present a special piece that has been in the planning stages for sometime.

I have presented the knives of Roman Kislitsyn on these pages before (Roman Kislitsyn) and I was in awe of his work. I asked him where he learned how to make Sami style knives with such beautiful and intricate carving. He told me he was self taught and some of what he learned was from Nordiska Knivar.

I asked him if he would consider doing a work in progress post to show a work in its various stages and he graciously agreed. I hope you will enjoy this post as much as I do.

Thank you very much to Roman for taking the time to do this for Nordiska Knivar!

Please visit his blog at Roman’s blog (

Sami style carving my way by Roman Kislitsyn

First of all, a disclaimer: This is how I do carving. I learned it all myself using information from the internet and by no means it is the only way or even this is right way to do Sami style carving. But this works for me.

The hardest question to answer about carving is “How do you come with the patterns, where can I learn it?” This question has no answer. Or, more precisely, every maker has his own answer.

I grew up in the Kola region, north-west Russia. This land used to belong to Sami people for hundreds and thousands of years. Very few Sami people were living there by the time my family moved up north, but most of the topographic names came from Sami language and they always sounded like a mystery to me. I never had Sami friends, but grew up with the music of the names of mountains, rivers, and lakes: Kukisvumchorr, Aikuaivenchorr, Tuliyok, Kaskasnewyok, Chudzyavr, Pyatnyavr…I was fascinated by these long words and their secret meaning. I like to believe that this helps me to see the beauty of Sami carving patterns and helps me to create my own combinations of traditional design elements. I also get inspiration from seeing other Sami crafts, jewelry, tools, and, of course, Sami knives.

I try not to copy other people’s work, but rather learn new elements and patterns, try to draw them in different combinations and see what works and what doesn’t.
I like to go out and sit on the lake shore or on the top of the hill and look at the Nova Scotia landscape which reminds me of places where I grew up, and this also helps to come into right mood and I often come up with ideas this way.

In my work I mainly use traditional materials like reindeer antler and all sorts of figured birch, but I like to experiment with other woods as well. If you ask me what is my favorite wood, it’s probably a birch burl. I used this wood for my very first knife and I was fascinated by the deep three dimensional structure of this wood. And even now, a quarter century later I still find it very attractive.

As to the reindeer antler, many people believe that it is best if it’s white or almost white, like ivory. I think that plain white is rare, but boring. Antler has many subtle tones and colors which are beautiful and which create a unique pattern on each piece…but let’s get to business.

This tutorial is about Sami style carving on reindeer antler, not the whole knife making process, so the first few photos briefly demonstrate building of the knife, then I show my carving tools, and then explain process of carving.

Everything begins with selection of blade and materials. By this time I usually have an idea of what this knife will look like. Often I draw a sketch, but over time I figured that the pattern from original sketch rarely looks good on the real knife. So I just roughly draw an idea and then, when the knife is ready for carving I draw on it and see what pattern looks good. Anyway, here are a few photos of how knife is made.









On the last photo both handle and sheath are sanded down to 2000 grit and buffed with velvet wheel on my Dremel. This makes the antler surface very smooth and even tiny defects become clearly visible. If small scratches are not completely removed they can pop up after paint is applied and then it’s too late to get rid of them. Also wooden parts are stained and covered with two or three layers of teak oil. Now I’m ready to draw the pattern. After few experiments I come with the pattern I like.

I take a photo at this stage and in a future I use this photo as a reference because pencil lines get erased easily from the smooth surface of antler as I start carving.


Now it’s time to say “damn! I forgot the rivets!” Believe it or not but by this time I get so excited to start carving, that I forget about rivets in about 50% cases. Ok, rivets are installed and filed flush with the surface, everything is sanded down to 2000 grit again and NOW I can finally start with carving. Since it will be two colored pattern, I first draw and carve main lanes for the black part.


Here is my carving knife. This is my main tool which I use for pretty much everything except for round dots. To make dots I use an awl. I made this knife from a flat lathe blade using my Dremel tool. I think it’s called parting blade, but I’m not sure.



The carving knife needs to be very sharp and I hone it before each session with 1000 grit wet stone and green polishing compound. I also hone it with green compound after each 10-15 minutes of work or if I feel I need to.


Carving technique is very simple. Everyone who carved his or his girlfriend’s name on a tree or on the neighbor’s fence knows how to do it. Basically I hold a knife like a pencil and drive it with one hand, while pushing it with a thumb of the other hand and holding the work with all free fingers. This way I carve along a line…

…and then carve it back along same line removing tiny amount of material and forming a V-shaped groove. This way I carve all the lines. To make thicker lines I hold a knife at lower angle to the antler surface. To make thinner lines I keep a knife more vertical. It is very important not to push too deep. Grooves need to just a fraction of millimeter deep.


To make little triangles I use a different technique. Line forms a base of triangle, then I take my carving knife like an awl and with one push I make a cut from the bottom of triangle to the top. This is a deep cut with a corner of the knife. Then I turn backwards and make same deep cut from the top down to the base. If everything is done right, I get a nice triangular hole.


After the carving is done I carefully check it and clean all corners. Then I lightly sand everything with 800 grit paper. If I’m doing one color, I would sand it to 2000 grit again. But this time I’m doing 2 colors and will have to sand it again after the second session of carving. So, I will sand it to 2000 later.


Then I thoroughly paint everything with artistic oil paint.


And thoroughly wipe it off.
Do same with the knife handle.


After paint is dry I thoroughly (you probably noticed by now that all the paint stuff need to be done thoroughly) rub all black lines with the candle to cover them with paraffin. ThenI wipe paraffin from open areas, draw and carve brown lines.



For some reason artistic oil paint does not come in brown color. Instead it comes in a bunch of colors like Van Dyke brown (which is rather black to my eyes), or burnt sienna(which I think is rather dark roast color). So, I figured that to get a brown color I like, I mix 1:1 Van Dyke brown and burnt sienna, and then add a bit of white until the resulting color is light enough. Then (yes, that’s right!) I thoroughly paint all brown lines and clean excess of paint. Ta-da!!!




After brown paint is dry it’s time to remove protective layer of paraffin from black lines. I carefully warm it up on the stove until paraffin starts melting and thoroughly wipe it off with clean soft rag.
All I have to do now is to stitch and dye the leather top for the sheath.
And here is a final result:







Risto Mikkonen: Puskusauma WIP

This post features Risto Mikkonen; a look at a few of his puukko and a WIP on how to stitch a tuppi, or sheath using the puskusauma style. This method of stitching makes for a low profile and an attractive seam.

Thank you very much to Risto Mikkonen and to Juha Nikki for translating Mr. Mikkonen’s text. Risto Mikkonen puukkos are available at

Risto Mikkonen:

“When I was working as a sales manager for a big Finnish company, I didn’t have time nor possibility to do handcrafting. When I retired, at the end of the 90s, my interest in puukko making was on the rise. This also was because my older brother, Esko Mikkonen, was a smith and among other things he crafted puukkos. In summer 2000 I took my first try at puukko making at my brothers smithy. I made my first puukko there.

A few years back my wife and I bought a small farm in Laitila, a village north of Turku. Then I built a small workshop in the old barn where I first made some woodturning with a lathe, but after trying knife making I was more excited by it. I made a liquid propane forge, got an anvil, necessary tools and then started practicing. I took one puukko class, but that wasn’t exactly motivating as we made puukkos from ready forged blades and traditional forging was missing.

I felt making puukkos was my thing, so I went really deep into it. My brother was a lot of help: we went through many phone conversations almost daily and many times I visited his smithy for some practicing. Due to strong determination I achieved a professional education as puukkoseppä in Savonlinna school in 2003. That same year I was invited to Vakka-Suomen folk school to teach puukko making and I’m actually still working there. In my lessons I try to emphasize the tradition of the Finnish puukko and its making, but to be honest some amount of “modern time” has come in, in form of machinery. Still, we start making the blade by hand forging. During 12 years of teaching some from the hundreds of students I had, have become good smiths and had won awards in Finnish competitions, even first places.

Risto puukko 2

In my courses blades are primarily forged from carbon steel, which I sometimes use too, though I’ve mainly shifted to stainless steels such as Niolox and RWL-34, both representing the best in wear resistance. Also their heat treatment is demanding and interesting. As handle materials I have moved more and more, partly due to customers’ requests, to birch bark, which is very pleasant in hand as it’s warm and grippy.

Risto puukko 3

I do the sheaths with traditional stitching which takes a lot of attention and care and is much slower than vastasauma. This is the conventional stitching used in puukko making: they put the leather around the insert and the knife, close the leather so that its edge-to-edge and then stich the leather. So the stitching is about 2-3mm high and it takes 15-20 minutes all in all.

I use the puskusauma, made without the knife or the insert inside. I measure carefully the dimensions of knife and insert and then do the stitching. This stitching is only about 1 mm high and more eye pleasing.

Risto Seam

In 2004 began an interesting 10 year period in my life when I was chosen as a secretary and treasurer in the Finnish knife makers guild, the Finnish Puukko Association. I was the secretary for 10 years and I’ll be treasurer until spring 2016. The time as a secretary was very much giving. I got to know Finnish and other Nordic knife makers, even the best of them, and learned so many new techniques from the conversations with them. So much giving has also been being the jury secretary during puukko making SM competitions. A couple of times it has been interesting to evaluate and guide soon-to-become puukkoseppä final works and master puukkoseppä final works.

Risto puukko

Nowadays teaching and making custom order puukkos for my own firm is taking most of my time. A good and necessary contrast to this lonely work is classical music. I go to concerts in Turku philharmonic every other week. Music takes me away from puukkos and everyday life.”

WIP: Puskusauma style tuppi

My attraction to the beautiful and stylish butt seam in a knife sheath has become noticed among  knife smiths, and several requests have come in for written instructions complete with photos and associated captions. It’s worth mentioning at this stage, that the instructions I’m about to present aren’t the only way to make a butt seam. For example, Erik Nylund’s book “Korupuukko” mentions another style, chiefly originating from Sweden.

Making a butt seam requires great accuracy and patience. It is slower to make than the ordinary plain seam, but a good end result will reward the maker.

For making a butt seam you’ll need two needles, thread, beeswax, a puukko knife and the insert for the sheath, e.g. a Stanley or a craft knife, a piece of leather, a stitch marker, awl or a miniature drill, a pencil and some squared paper.



Combine the insert and puukko and attach a piece of masking tape along the entire length of the knife and insert. Draw a horizontal line across the top of the paper, which will be equal to the top line of the sheath. Draw a vertical line in the middle of the paper and make a scale for the measurements at every other square, and number it.


Define/mark the top edge of the sheath into the puukko, which you’ll then align with the horizontal line on the paper. Then copy the scale with its numbering from the paper to the knife’s masking tape.

From same leather as you intend on using for the sheath, cut an approx. 3 mm wide and 15 cm long strip, which you’ll use to measure at each point of the scale the circumference of the puukko and insert. Mark the circumference into the strip with e.g. a pin.



Measure the circumference and add 3 mm to it. For example, circumference 85mm + 3 mm = 88mm. Divide this figure by 2 and mark the lenghts on either side of the vertical line. DO THE MEASUREMENTS AND MARKINGS ACCURATELY!!!





At the bottom of the pattern about ½ cm from the tip of the insert, draw a horizontal line, which extends 9mm either side of the vertical line. Combine the measured points and draw the pattern, into which you should add extra in the shape of the attaching point for the belt loop, any type you choose (the “ears” at the top of the pattern).

After checking the pattern is symmetrical, cut it out draw the pattern with a pencil onto the top (good) side of the leather.



Cut the leather out accurately along the line with the top of the knife tilted 30-40 degrees outwards. Thin the leather on the reverse side around the belt loop attachment extensions and at the bottom end of the sheath, in order to make it bend more readily. You can also cut the top edge at an angle, unless you want to fold it double. If you do want a fold at the top, you’ll need an extension at the top, which you’ll thin down.



Draw a line with a pencil on the top side of the leather 2.0 – 2.5 mm from the edge, along which line you’ll use the stitch marker to mark the spots for the stitches. The hole will extend to half way of the slanted cut surface or a tiny bit below it, but under no circumstances beyond the edge of the cut surface. With half-tanned leather you can also make the holes such that they don’t extend to the raw layer.


You can make the holes in the traditional manner with an awl, in which case you should make the leather wet. A modern and quick alternative is to drill the holes with a miniature drill or Dremel into dry leather. A dentist’s flame bur is well suited to the job, as long as you sand down some of its roughness from its outside surface. The variations of leather hardness won’t make the job any more difficult when using a Dremel for the holes. The method is excellent for half-tanned leather. When making the holes, you should have a piece of firm foam under the leather.

Stitching the sheath, I use a dacron fly fishing bottom line at the strength of 20 pounds, the length 7 times the length of the sheath. I remove the slipperiness of the thread by treating it with beeswax. A saddler’s round tipped needle to each end of the thread such that at first I put the needle through the thread about 5 cm from the end of the thread, and then thread the end of the line through the eye of the needle. This way the thread won’t slip out of the needle. If the sheath insert isn’t very much wider than the puukko handle, the sewing will start from the bottom end of the sheath. If this is the case, you’ll have to count the holes on either side, so they’ll match at the top end.



After starting the stitching, it is useful to attach the leather into a “sheath stick” in a vice and tie the leather with rubber bands in order to keep the sheath steady and free both of your hands for stitching. It’s good practise to lock each stitch such that you put the thread through the loops formed, one side of the seam from top to bottom and the other side bottom to top. Once stitched to the end, it’s good to backstitch about three stitches and you can cut the threads by burning.



Before putting the puukko and lesta into the sheath, it is imperative to protect the (especially carbon) blade by oiling it and the whole puukko by wrapping it into cling film or a piece of a freezer bag. A freezer bag has less friction than cling film and hence it is easier to get the puukko out of tighter sheaths. You can rub some candle into the insert to reduce friction and then put the puukko and insert into the sheath. Check to get the seam straight, after which you can start forming the sheath with e.g. a bone tool. When the sheath starts to dry, it’ll get lighter in colour, and it’s time to make decorative patterns into the sheath. While drying, it’s useful to keep pressing the leather surface down with a (bone) forming tool, which is when it’ll get a nice even shiny finish.

The free drying time of the sheath is at least 48 hours.




There are several alternatives for belt hangers and loops. If your attachment is like the one on the left or in the middle, it is worth putting a slightly thinned down piece of leather between the leather and the sheath in order to have space left for the hanger attachment.

You can position the seam on either side, front or even twisting around the sheath.


Finished butt seamed sheaths with different belt hangers. The sheaths on left and in the middle have been made with a natural colour leather, the left one has been dyed with a leather dye. The one on the right has been coloured at the tannery.

Leather is sheath leather by Lapuan Nahka Oy.


Photos and text: Risto Mikkonen