The Leuku (Sami: Stuorraniibi), Sami Knife or Huggare is the traditional knife of the Sami people. The Sami are the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia). They are nomadic Reindeer-Herders that live in close connection to their animals. Due to their life style they always had the need for a knife. Typically the Sami carry more than one knife. A smaller knife called “Puukko” with a blad up to 4 inches/ 10cm , for light chores and a bigger heavier knife called the “Leuku” with a blade starting from 7 inches/ 18cm up to 9 or 10 inches / 25cm. The Leuku is used for all the heavy-duty work, such as chopping wood, butchering large animals and building shelters. It is usually made of carbon steel and comes with a traditional leather sheath. The handle is commonly made of natural materials such as wood (most often birch), Reindeer antler, bone and brass. In its style and appearance the Leuku is a typical nordic knife. However its size and heft is unusual for the knives of the north. In my opinion this knife is equivalent to the heft and capability of a large Bowie knife or a camp knife.
My particular leuku has been hand forged by Antti Mäkinen, a blacksmith from Finnland. The members of his family have been blacksmiths for several generations. Their maker’s mark is stamped into the blade:
Maker’s Mark: Yrjö Puronvarsi
This leuku has a 9 inch / 23cm long blade. It is meant to be a chopping tool, which you can tell as soon as ýou pick the knife up. It is hefty and the balance point is about 3 inches / 7cm in front of the brass bolster, which aids when chopping. However the knife is also capable of some finer tasks, such as making a feather stick. The blade has a beautifully polished convex scandi grind. The flanks of the carbon steel blade are left unpolished and show the oxide coating that is typical for hammer forged blades. This gives the knife a rustic, tool-like look.
The blade is 0.177 inches / 4.5mm thick and keeps its thickness over the entire length of the blade. This adds to the stability and weight of the knife.
Strong tip – reminds me of an icebreaker
Almost all nordic knives are stick tang or hidden tang knives. This means the tang is not as wide as the blade. It narrows down so the handle can be fitted over it. The handle is then peened onto the tang with a brass rivet. This construction has the advantage that there is no metal exposed to the hand. Thus it prevents the hand from freezing onto the knife in the extreme cold conditions of the nordic countries. The handle of my leuku is made from birch wood which is then sealed with varnish to protect it from moisture and swelling. With a total length of 4.7 inches / 12cm and the wide oval shape it provides a safe grip during chopping, even for people with large sized hands.
The knife came with a typical nordic style leather sheath that is fitted with some simple embossed ornaments. The belt loop extends around the top of the sheath. When the knife hangs from a belt the loop chocks on the handle and thereby secures the knife in the sheath. The knife also sits very deep within the sheath to keep it safe and to protect the handle, only 2 inches are sticking out.
The leather is sewn together at the back of the sheath. Inside of the sheath is a plastic inlay which gives it its shape and prevents the knife from cutting through the leather.
The following pictures show the YP Taonta Leuku next to some other nordic knives. First up, another leuku knife, made by Marttiini. This shows the size of this massive knife. The Marttiini Lapin Leuku has a 5 inch / 13cm blade and is definitely not a small knife, however it looks tiny next to the custom leuku. Somewhere I have read that knives of the size of the Marttiini would be considered women’s or children’s knives by the Sami.
And finally, just for the fun of it, the leuku next to another custom knife made with a Brusletto Badger blade:
If you would like to learn more about YP Taonta knives check out the homepage of Antti Mäkinen: http://www.yp-taonta.fi/
To find information about leuku knives, I would recommend having a look at the following two blogs:
© Text & Pictures: Philipp Jakob