Prior to my trip to Lapland last year, I commissioned seasoned knife maker Ilkka Seikku to craft me a Saami-style big knife. I wanted to have a knife that would be “native” to the place I would be going. I was very pleased with the results when I received the knife (especially considering the fact that he made it on very short notice).
As with a lot of my other gear, I like things that are traditional and simple in design, yet attractive and, most importantly, functional. Ilkka didn’t disappoint me here. The handle is made of curly birch and antler with leather spacers, the blade is high carbon steel with a convex grind and the sheath is cowhide with a carved wooden insert to protect both the edge and the user. Though the blade is about 9 inches/23 centimeters long and 0.2 inches/5 millimeters thick, the knife is surprisingly easy to wield. The handle feels good in my hand thanks to its oval profile. Though it is a sizable knife, it does ride well on my belt, and if I position it right at my side, it doesn’t flop around much at all.
There were a few points where I wanted Ilkka to deviate from the traditional leuku (as it is called in Finnish) design. The main difference was a comparatively higher grind (in other words, a shallower edge angle/thinner edge). In my opinion and experience, this makes the knife more capable of biting deeper into wood and also better at slashing brush/vegetation and slicing food. Another change was to make the tip somewhat finer and therefore capable of being used for smaller tasks if need be. Somehow, what I had pictured in my head was transmitted directly to Ilkka’s brain, because he made the blade exactly how I wanted it. In actuality, this just reflects his experience and talent as a knife maker.
My motivation for wanting a Saami knife wasn’t just my trip to Lapland. Ever since moving to Finland several years ago, and in fact even beforehand, I realized the great versatility of the Saami knife. Part axe, part machete, part draw knife, part butcher knife, yet at the same time none of those things, the Saami knife was fine-tuned over a long period of time to meet the needs of the reindeer-herding people of the boreal forest and tundra. Traditionally used to chop and split wood for fires, chop poles for shelters and fences, skin/butcher/ break the bones of reindeer and more, this invaluable tool was one of the reindeer herder’s most prized possessions. Though my job description couldn’t be further away from “reindeer herder”, I do love being in the woods in my spare time, and I have managed to find plenty of uses for my leuku in the wilds.
Here’s some firewood I processed in Lapland:
A small green sapling which I felled and limbed at my campsite:
A baton, weenie-roasting stick and pot hanger made with the leuku:
Slash-cutting a small sapling:
The leuku is not my first choice for whittling, but then again it’s not supposed to be a fine carver. Pair it with a puukko knife (like this one made by Antti Mäkinen), and you have an extremely versatile blade combo for the woods.
So far, my Saami knife has held up well and keeps a very good edge. It is absolutely one of my most prized outdoor possessions and will continue to accompany me on many trips, including to Lapland. If you are in the market for a large camp knife for a variety of tasks, you can’t go wrong with a fully handmade leuku!