Knifemaking: softening, sturdiness, and the Finn

“”Fire will not burn you once it has
made your acquaintance,
will not abuse its kin.
When you come to fire’s dwellings,
to the bright one’s barricade,
there you will become beautiful,
rise up to be magnificent
as men’s fine swords.””

-Rune IX, The Kalevala

I based this blade loosely on the puukko, the traditional knife of Finland.  Carried for centuries by outdoorsman, this simple and unassuming knife has been the backbone of many livelihoods forged in a harsh enviroment.  It is characterized by a blade with a deeply curved edge and straight spine.  In order for the puuko to be authentic, it must be made in Scandinavia.  The handles are traditionally made of Curly Birch and the blade is made with Finnish Ovako 100Cr6 steel- although other materials are most certainly used.

 There is a fantastic Finnish knife blog called Nordiska Knivar.  They speak a lot more on the matter.  These dudes love their puukkos….

I had an old Nicholson file that I wanted to craft a blade from.  There are several sources that say they are made of either 1095 or W1 steel.  Both of these will make a good blade.  I had to soften it first- otherwise it would just eat through all my cutting discs, sanding belts, and ruin my other files.  To do that I let it sit in hot coals for several hours, letting it glow red and then cool slowly…

IMG_1960The reason we soften things is that they become easier to work with.  A set of knowing hands can work soft clay into something beautiful.  Mistakes (and there are always mistakes) are easier to fix in this way.  In this place it’s easier to be free, to let go and go for it.  Just as it’s very difficult to work with clay that has been fired in a kiln, metal that has been hardened, or paint that has cured, it can be difficult to be with ourselves in a hardened state.   Softening gives a chance to freak out at all the work we have to do, to look at things objectively, to make a plan, and to deviate from that plan as we sometimes have to do.  Softening gives us space to work, to breathe and to live.

 And then sometimes things warp in the softening process.  This is ok.  In this instance I just heated it back up and hammered it straight, as we do…. I came up with this:  a nod to Scandinavian sensibilities and a hidden tang, something I haven’t done before.

There she is…
IMG_2198 I put a saber grind on this blade.  In this grind the bevel starts about midway through the width of the blade so that the spine retains full thickness.  It also left the remains of the file.  It’s important to remember where you came from.IMG_2199Ready to hardened and tempered again:

Handle fittings- mesquite and steel.

IMG_2203 After sanding, filing, hammering, and swearing…he’s in.IMG_2205

IMG_2206Almost there…IMG_2210

The Finn

He is sturdy, beautiful, and capable.  It takes some time but the work we do in our softening does not go unrewarded.


The lesson here is to not be afraid to soften, to not worry about how long it will all take, and to definitely not compare yourself to where others are in all of this.  There is ample time to jump in the forge and find our sturdiness.

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