“My name is Laurent Juhel. I am a French guy, growing up in Normandy and now living in the countryside of Brittany. I started knife making as a hobbyist ten years ago, and now it is gradually becoming a real work activity.
Why do I craft puukko style knives ? For a long time, I have been fascinated by the great landscapes of the North. Therefore my passion is hiking and outdoor life usually in Nordic surroundings. This is clearly the main reason why I craft this kind of knife. The puukko is a beautiful and perfect tool for all outdoor requirements.
As a child, I remember I tried to break flint to make prehistoric cutting tools. Prehistoric people, flint tools and wild living fascinated me. I also remember a fascination for the Arctic and Inuit people. One of reasons was probably that this environment equivalent to that of the prehistoric ice age during which the first people lived. Later, I searched and found prehistoric tools on the Normandy coast. Later I finally became a professional Prehistory archeologist. At this time I made my first real knives with flint, to reproduce prehistoric artifacts I was studying.
Around ten years ago, I decided to make my own knife (with a steel blade!) for the purpose of outdoor trips and activities. After some research, Scandinavian knives definitively caught my attention. Those were the perfect link between my original passions and my outdoor needs. I started to craft Nordic style knives with blades usually bought from Scandinavian bladesmiths, usually Antti Mäkinen, and also classic blades made from Lauri Metalli.
What I love in puukko is the shape, simple lines, no guard and a none aggressive design. And of course I like the fact these knives are real tools, made for hard use. In addition, I am pleased to know and think about the links between wild landscapes and this tool : I mean that these knives have been determined by an environment and peoples needs, over many centuries. These knives draw their roots from Nordic landscapes, and they have proved their worth!
My first steps in knifemaking were mainly guided by the blog of Roman Kislitsyn. Thanks to him for that! Of course I also self learned many thinks thanks to many other blogs and websites, such as Nordiska Knivar.
For many years I did not produce my own blades. Three years ago, I met Karel Janik, a knifemaker living and working not far from my home. He quickly became a friend, and agreed to teach me blacksmithing techniques. Today, we work together and he helps me with many projects. Because learning is never done!
Thanks to the web and social networks, I believe we all have many cross-influences, but I am bound to speak here about Pasi Jaakonaho knives. I saw his inspiring work on the web at the beginning of my interest in knifemaking. I said to myself “wow, I’d like to craft something like that !”. Of course, I have many favorite knifemakers. I can not mention all of them, but I confess that many are from Finland. I also want to say I love traditional Sami knives and crafts, especially Fredrik Prost and Nils Johan Labba works. I admire the way they bring to life the ancestral culture of their people.
For my blades, I only use high carbon steel, actually 100Cr6 and 135Cr3. Both of these steel give a great edge. I mainly forge with charcoal. But I also use a gas forge for some heat treatments, particularly for big blades.
I prefer handles without any metal parts, and only built from natural materials as oiled wood, antlers and barks. For now I am committed to traditional materials as birch wood and reindeer antler. This is my way to convey the “spirit” of the North. So I try to pick up some materials during my periodic travels in Scandinavia, and I am pleased to know that the knife owner gets a little parts of these trips in its handle.
I am also in connection with a guy in Greenland who provides me with some musk ox horn from his hunts. That’s a great and precious material from the Arctic, and I try to highlight it in my knives. This material from Greenland has a particular significance for me, and I think it gives a personal touch to my puukko.
I try to develop my own style following traditional techniques, clearly inspired from Finnish “puukko” and “leuku”. I am also particularly interested in Sami knives and sheaths, because of their very efficient shape in the field. Most of the time, I shape a Sami style pommel on my handles.
For the rest, my idea about knives remains simple and clear lines. I let the raw hammer finish on the back of my blades. For handles, my actual main design is to combine antler or horn bolster with a bark ring and curly birch or burl. And I love raw natural materials without mechanical polishing, only satin hand finish.
I always try my best for meticulous finishes, because I think that is a way for a craftsman not to stop learning and progressing. But I never forget I want my knives ready for heavy use on the field.
Actually I share my time between knifemaking and archeology, but in 2020 I will try to work as a fulltime knifemaker. For many reasons, I have always dreamed to work and live from craftsmanship. The time has come to try. Sure it will be a great challenge, but also the right way to continue to learn new techniques and develop new designs.
You can follow this adventure on my website juhelknives.com, and also FaceBook and Instagram.”
Some landscape photos from Laurent’s travels: