Monday, September 10, 2007

The Big Knife

Reading many US websites you'll get the impression that you'd need a far bigger knife than those typically favoured by bushcrafters. 6 inch plus blade lengths are regularly mentioned prehaps a hangover from the bowie knife? The utility of big knives was shown a lot in areas where big game was part of life - an example being the American Buffalo Knife (comparable knives)

(Quotes on the usage from Tactical Knives November 2005, pp19-22, Dan Shechtman)

"Here is a knife made to order for the hunter or cook responsible for breaking out chunks of carcasses of the game animals to be served up to the trappers"

"The Edmonton hunters always use large heavy knives for the purpose of cutting through branches when traversing dense fir woods that cover a great part of that country; some of them use extremely heavy ones, half knife, half axe - like a narrow sort of butchers cleaver with a point instead of a squared end"

(on butchering buffalo) "The half breed goes through this whole process with a large and very heavy knife lika a narrow pointed cleaver which is also used
for cutting wood and performing the offices of a hatchet"

An example can be seen here
Personally I'm more in favour of a European approach and thanks to my Mora I'm becoming more and more of a fan of the scandanavian grind for wood working and general ease of maintanance.
Looking for a big knife in Nordic Europe leads you to just that - the "big knife" of the Sami. This knife seems to go by more than one name and I've found it hard picking out which is used by whom. I think that Leuku is the Finnish name, Samekniv the Norwegian and stuorra niibi in Sami. (thanks to wikipedia and the Finnish Puukko blog)
The particular knife I've bought is made by Iisakki Jarvenpaa and I bought it along with my other items from Ben's Backwoods. The knife itself is great - a solid carbon steel blade about 4mm thick with a wide bevel and a curly birch handle with a solid brass butt cap for pounding and cracking nuts. The sheath looks nice but the belt loop seems a little slim and the whole sheath is already a bit dirty and has a few cut lines near the top in only an afernoon's use. It is a prime candidate for hot waxing should I find some beeswax.
One of the reasons I bought the knife is that the majority of the woodland here consists of similar woods, allbeit slightly faster growing, to those in Lappland - lots of pine and birch with willow in wet areas. The grind of the knife combined with its seven inch length lets it be used as a draw knife or scraper and when braced against your knee it makes lovely fine shavings - I'm still a little new to this technique for photos but they'll come soon.
The knife effortlessly chopped through everything a fingers width or less and would be great for quickly making and felling poles. It was rapid at chopping through a downed birch and fairly effortless as the swell at the end of the handle means you can hold it lightly and let the knife just do the work. Indeed holding this knife gives you a nice secure feeling that it could handle carving, splitting and chopping as well as felling trees up to arm thickness with a very low expenditure of effort. Much less effort would be expended than using a smaller knife even if a baton is still used. It is also lighter than even my bag axe giving me a good idea why such knives would make excellent survival tools.
The edge bevel of the knife is ground differently along the length. The straight section has a good general grind whilst the curve towards the tip is finer to allow wood shavings to be easily made. The tip itself has quite a steep grind to give the point strength when being used to chip ice, be hammered into trees or pierce anything. As it has only one bevel along its length (after a few minutes with an Arkansas stone) it will be easy to maintain the different gradients on the bevel.
The knives were developed by reindeer herders so it should be good at skinning and breaking open bones should the need arise.
I used the knife to cut up a few birch branches and some bark to make a quick brew fire - I was trying to make a pine needle tea but I underestimated the number of birch twigs I'd need as they were wet. As a result I didn't manage to boil the water as the twigs burned away too quickly without producing enough heat. I wasn't too worried though as I learned to use a match to light a piece of birch bark in my hand and not to try to move the match to birch bark in the fire lay. It sounds simple but I wasted a couple of matches till it occured to me!
I did pick up a piece of birch to try to carve a netting needle out of but as it had come from a downed tree it had begun to rot and broke rather than split - I'll give it a try carving as soon as I can.


Torjus Gaaren said...

The big Saami knife was a trusted friend of mine before I started using stone tools only.

Pablo said...

Good write up Sam. Cheers.
I like the idea of a longer knife.

John said...

I owned a knife set from Kellam knives purchased a while back. I took the puuku and leuku with me to Alaska while hunting black bear and fishing for salmon. The knife was great for processing salmon. I sold it not too long ago. In a way I sort of miss the knife.

One good thing about heavy knives like that is that they can do double duty such as chopping wood or brush. I was chatting with a former Ranger who went to Vietnam. He told me that a machete is alright but when you cut with it the thin blade makes a ping which can be heard over a distance. I figured his experience in such matters was much greater than mine so I took his word for it. It may be a consideration if you want to camp or do woodcraft where you don't want to be disturbed.

Perkunas said...

Hey,and thanks for joining to my readers,i really appreciate it.

Your stuff looks good too,and as always is nice to see Finnish Leuku´s in some other countries:)

sam_acw said...

Thanks for the comment Perkunas.

To be honest, I don't post on here now - I have a new blog over at