The simple tool and cultural icon that’s part of a Finnish Arctic experience
The compact knife that’s a symbol of the Sámi
Person whittling stick in the snow with a puukko knife
The puukko knife is a strong, round handle made of elegant birch wood or reindeer antler with a short, single-edged blade. It’s been a fundamental tool for life in the Arctic for thousands of years. Today, it’s even more than that – it’s a symbol of Finnish pride
A simple knife of epic significanceOn the road with the Porsche Travel Experience Arctic in Finland, we’ve just made a stop by a frozen lake. Here we meet Petri, a Sámi, who pulls a trout out of the hole carved out of the ice. Deftly, he skins the fish with his knife. The handle of a puukko knife sits perfectly in his hand. “We’ve always done this with this simple tool,” he explains, as the trout grills on the logs. “All my ancestors used the puukko for hunting, fishing, preparing food and as cutlery, just to survive outdoors in the snow and ice.” His voice rings with pride. Petri is the fourth generation of his family to be a reindeer herder. He’s never without his puukko when he goes out into the vast forests to look after his reindeer herds. It’s an indispensable tool that’s central to understanding what the true Finnish Arctic experience means.Historical evidence of this everyday knife used by the Sámi dates back to Viking times. Even though it’s now classed as a dangerous weapon, the puukko has retained its legendary status in modern times. These days, carrying the knife in public is forbidden, unless it’s for work. Nevertheless, the leather sheath is an important detail displayed on the belt of every traditional Sámi outfit. The knife is a source of pride, as it testifies to the harsh life inside the Arctic Circle and also to the unique heritage of the Sámi people. Elaborate and ornate versions of the centuries-old tool are given as gifts by the Sámi to commemorate extraordinary achievements. Around the world, collectors hunt for the most beautiful specimens.
Various traditional puukko knives laid out on reindeer fur
Small craft workshops in Finland make the handles from reindeer antler and birch wood | Courtesy of Lauri House Rovaniemi
An indispensable part of the Finnish Arctic experienceThe handle of a puukko knife is never more than ten centimetres long. It’s simple, without any additional guard or protection to prevent the hand from slipping. And the blade of the knife is even shorter still – straight but, typically, curved towards the end. The straight back of the blade is also symbolic of the simple but hard life in the wilderness of the Finnish Arctic experience. The blade itself owes its distinctive appearance to the particular way it is created, using what is called the Scandinavian grind – a double-sided, flat grind without a secondary bevel, with a grinding angle of 17 to 19 degrees. This blade allows the user to carefully remove the fish skin from the flesh.
Knife stuck vertically into birch log, flaming log behind
The Sámi are intensely proud of their puukko knives. It’s a tool, an everyday knife, and cultural treasure |
The Sámi used to make their own tools by hand, carving the handles of their knives from reindeer antler. This traditional raw material, which has been used here in the far north of Scandinavia for centuries, was an integral part of Sámi life. Since the end of the 1960s however, only a few have mastered the craft of working with reindeer antler. But if you are looking for an extremely ornate puukko knife, you will almost certainly find somewhere to purchase a beautiful collector’s item while driving on the Porsche Travel Experience Arctic. If you do, you will be the owner of a rich part of Finnish history. Small in size, but mighty in its cultural significance.
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