In this post I would like to feature Mikko Heiskanen from Kuopio, Finland. Mikko was influenced at a young age by his grandfather Mr. Tuomas Juntunen who was a village blacksmith. I admire Mikko’s work, hand forged blades and beautiful clean lines featuring traditional as well as modern materials.
Visit his website at www.heiskanenknives.com
“My grandfather was a blacksmith in a small village called Jyrkkä which is situated in Sonkajärvi municipality in central Finland. He started his career as a blacksmith in the 1950´s when farming was the main source of income in Finland. It must not have been easy, there were no books or other sources of information available to get the needed information for steel processing. Of course, there were other blacksmiths in nearby villages, but they kept their knowledge to themselves.
Looking back I can see the reasons why I became interested in knife making. First of all, I have always been a very passionate hunter and fisherman and as a result of that knives have followed me my whole life. Secondly, I lived my childhood’s summers mainly in rural environments which means that you need your puukko at least in every 10 minutes to cut or whittle something. Besides that, being a man in farmhouse requires a knife hanging from your belt at least from 8-years old boy´s point of view.
As a child I used to listen to the hammering sound that echoed from my grandfather’s dark and smoky smithy. The process where the steel is quenched was a very accurate work process and I was allowed to watch it only from the doorway. I think I was strongly influenced from my childhood’s atmosphere and as a result of that I have followed my family heritage of blacksmithing.
I always knew that someday I would make a puukko of my own, it was only matter of time. I graduated from the forestry school in 2005 and after that I spent many busy years at work doing only some carpentry in my spare time. After awhile life steered me and my family to Kuopio near my childhood home and the vision of a new lifetime hobby started to grown strong.
Finally in the summer of 2015 it was time to dig my grandfather’s old and rusty anvil from the smithy and begin to learn the old tradional knife making methods. I started from scratch using a well known method called learning by doing. Naturally the quencing and tempering were the most difficult parts at the beginning. There is not much to tell about my first knives but never-ending persistence was rewarded when pieces started to finally look and work like puukkos.
After fifteen knives I am still at the beginning of my journey as a knife maker but I have learned a lot. Unfortunately I didn´t get the opportunity to learn all the blacksmithing methods from my grandfather, so I have done a lot of self-study in knife making. Luckily there is lots of information available in print and on the internet, so starting was far easier than in the 1950´s I believe. Nowadays my daytime job and my family keep me very busy, so my biggest challenge is to find time for knife making as much as I want.
There are plenty of excellent knifemakers in Finland and many of them are still quite young and ready to learn new methods and maintain the traditional ones. Because of many talented knifemakers I believe the roots, traditions and blacksmithing methods of Finnish puukko are largely preserved. That is something what makes me happy.
When it comes to my own knifemaking I am not making a large number of different kinds of puukkos, but I am trying to produce as high quality puukkos as possible. Every puukko from my smithy has some kind of story to tell, why the design and what the main use of it is. My puukkos are typically very simple and I am trying to keep the lines as clear as possible. I believe preference for simplicity is a national trait in Finland and part of the circumstances in which we live here.
For my eyes the handle is made only from one material and sheaths are done without patterns. You could call it Scandinavian style, although that phrase is nowadays almost a cliché.
I forge all of my blades from 12-14mm steel bar by hand. It takes time but in that way I get exactly what I want. In my previous work I have used mainly birch bark and curly birch as a handle material, besides that I have used some more exotic materials like ebonite and micarta.
I think the most satisfying part of knife making is making the handle, because in that moment the puukko is getting its spirit and starting its life as an object. In puukko design my leading principle is that handle and blade are forming an unbroken wholeness together in a way that the handle is like an extension of the blade. To be honest, that happens only every now and then and that is the main reason to make a new puukko and try again.
If I put my puukkos in a Finnish category I believe they mostly represent Tommi style puukkos. It´s no wonder because the Tommi-style puukko is the most used model in the Savo region where I live. As a knifemaker I am always looking for new working methods and challenges, there is still plenty to learn.”