Puukko - the Finnish Sheath Knife
New Exhibition in THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF FINLAND 6.10.2006 - 22.4.2007
Throughout history, the puukko sheath knife has been the most important personal tool of the Finns, who wore it on their belts wherever they went. It was part of daily chores and festivities, war and peace, and work and leisure, ever since childhood.
The puukko is a short single bladed weapon and all-purpose tool carried in a sheath and particularly suited to carving wood. The handle is roughly 10 cm long, and he blade is usually shorter than the handle. The puukko was previously called veitsi (knife) in Finnish, as it is generally translated into other languages. The word puukko originally meant "a knife with a wooden handle".
Lithic tools resembling the puukko were already made in the Stone Age, being used for partly the same purpose as later. Medieval puukkos and their sheaths in particular have been discovered in the excavations of medieval towns and other sites, such as castles. These artefacts resembled the later folk puukkos in many respects. During the 18th and 19th centuries, regional traditions emerged in the making puukko blades, handles and sheaths. Clasp knives also began to be made at the time in Finland.
In the early 19th century, the industrial manufacture of puukko knives began in Finland, first at the Fiskars ironworks under the direction of skilled knifesmiths from England and later in other parts of Finland. After the middle of the 19th century, the province of Ostrobothnia and in particular its southern part became a centre for making puukkos. At present there are some five puukko factories in Finland, the largest ones being the firms of Iisakki Järvenpää (founded 1879) and J. Marttiini of Rovaniemi (established 1928). The low-cost products of Mora, Sweden's leading knife manufacturer region, are the most popular imported puukkos. There are also approximately forty puukko-makers operating on a small scale, most of whom work on a purely handicraft basis.
As an all-purpose tool, the puukko has had countless uses. In addition to making wooden scoops and spoons, vessels, chip baskets, birch bark artefacts, containers and other utility items, the puukko has been used for eating and preparing food. It is among the standard equipment of hunters, fishers and Finnish soldiers. In the early 1900s it was, alongside the spoon, the most important personal item of cutlery. When needed, it was taken from its sheath or from the wall. For many years, knives and forks were rare among the common people and were used only at major celebrations. The housewife's puukko, worn on the belt and used for a variety of household chores was a kitchen knife made completely of iron that was small, slender and handy in use. The Sámi puukko, or leuku, is still an important everyday all-purpose tool.
The puukko has been an important element of ancient costume, folk dress and later national costumes. It is a common and valued gift in Finland, while also a design product and an art object. Wearing a puukko of certain type is a means of reinforcing identity and expressing membership in a group such as the Boy Scouts, or the Civil Guards of the pre-war years.
The puukko has been and still is a dangerous weapon. Approximately one third of all homicides in Finland are carried out with a puukko, and three out of four attempted homicides. Wearing a puukko outside work was first banned in 1850, and its possession in public places was finally outlawed in 1972.
source: National Museum of Finland