Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Puukko: Finnish Knives from Antiquity to Today - Anssi Ruusuvuori

Summary:  For a Finn, the puukko is the most important tool and at the same time the most feared weapon.  You could almost say the puukko has the same importance for a Finn as the samurai sword has for the Japanese.  It is a 2,000-year-old mystical weapon that has been used for centuries with the same conviction and dexterity during times of peace and war.  This comprehensive resource on the Finnish puukko is the only one available and covers the history and the various types by using extensive photos of examples.  Anssi Ruusuvuori has reprocessed the history of this remarkable knife type in a form unique up to now.  He deals with technical and design aspects of the puukko and guides the reader through the history of this legendry tool and weapon from the Viking era up to the present.  He reports about the great master smiths of industrialization in the late 19th century and about rediscovering the puukko in the recent past.  This book's initial focus is on the puukko's technology and history.  In the second section, the author introduces the different puukko types according to their materials and construction.  Thereafter are presented the multiples regional types and special puukkos, which are essential to know about as a collector and knife enthusiast.  This book provides a comprehensive overview with respect to the topic "puukko" and transfers a rich treasure of knowledge.  During its long history, the puukko was used for a great diversity of tasks, such as the production of ladles and other household tools; the carving of ornaments: scratching ice off cart wheels; cutting food; gutting and skinning of game, fish, or livestock; climbing out of an ice hole back to firm ground; and magic rituals (to protect children from evil spirits, to pray for a good harvest, and so on).  It was used for self-defense and for duels.  The main source of material for this book is the puukko collections of Finnish museums and private collectors.  The greater part of researched knives is from the National Museum of Finland.  Additional material was gathered from the Kauhava Puukko Museum, the Peura Museum, the Turku Regional Museum, the Aboa Vetus et Ars Nova Museum, the Ostrobothnian Museum, the Museum of Crime, and various private collections.  (Summary from back of book - Image from - This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  When I married my husband, I also married into his Finnish heritage and his love of Finnish knives.  So, when I saw The Puukko: Finnish Knives from Antiquity to Today while flipping through the Schiffer book catalog, I knew he would kill mame knock over the elderly love to get his hands on it.  When he finally did, he parked himself on the couch and poured over it, mesmerized for a solid hour before coming up for air, eating some dinner, and diving back in.  Honestly, I can't say that I blame him.  The Puukko is a hefty volume, full of a wealth of historical information and a vast collection of puukko photographs.  All that having been said, I'm really not the best person to review any book on the subject -- so I'll just let him tell you:

In the late 1800's and early 1900's, immigrants from Finland settled in the small communities near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington. The Finn's were drawn to the logging and fishing industries; and the similarities to the homes they left behind. At that time, several of my ancestors emigrated from western Finland. They brought with them their language and heritage, which has been passed down and celebrated. I remember many trips out to the old family homestead to visit my great Aunt Alice. It was always fascinating to look at all of the old family heirlooms that decorated her walls and shelves.  Among the items were two very old Finnish puukko, or knives, in worn leather sheaths, that had belonged to my great-great grandfather, Able.  My great-aunt still lives on that homestead and the knives are still displayed on one of her shelves.  

My family has always celebrated our heritage throughout the year, but never quite as much as during the third weekend in June when local Scandinavians in Astoria, Oregon host an annual Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, a three-day event is filled with crafts and food, music and dancing.  I remember with fondness wandering through all the different booths, but my favorite by far was the booth with the large display cases of  Finnish knives.  Year after year, I would return to admire the ornate knives.  There were all manner of knives with carved brass pommels, birch bark handles and brightly polished carbon steel blades.  There were larger hunting-style leuku, the smaller puukko, and other combinations with a large knife and small knife sharing the same sheath.  There were the more practical knives, similar those of my great-great grandfather and even fancy, ornate knives for special occasions.  I longed for one of these knives.

I finally got my first Finnish puukko in early adolescence, when my parents bought me a knife to go with my Finnish dance costume.  It was a special edition Iisakki Jarvenpaa puuko with brass horsehead pommel and a black handle (seen above) and was worn clipped to a leather belt, adorned with dangling brass hearts. I wore the knife for many years, dancing at the festival.  On more than one occasion, the knife would work its way out of the sheath during one of the dance numbers, much to the chagrin of the dance instructor, but I always felt that a Finnish puukko stuck point-down into the stage made the dancing a little more exciting.  Not only was my puukko a thing of beauty, it was sharp as hell (Finns are quite finicky about the sharpness of their blades).  Although my dancing days are behind me, my fascination with Finnish knives has remained and in recent years I have started experimenting with making my own puukkos. 
My wife surprised me with The Puukko: Finnish Knives from Antiquity to Today when I got home from work and I was immediately engrossed in what I can only describe as the foremost authoritative compilation of the puukko I have ever seen.  It became quickly evident that I barely understood the historical and cultural significance of the puukko.  The author begins by laying out the history of the knife, identifying some of the earliest puukko that have been discovered, detailing the knife style in the time of the Viking and early European eras and on to the development of the knife in modern day. 

It was actually rather difficult to read the first part of this book, because it is chock-full of full-color photographs of fascinating knives (see examples below).  After covering the history of the puukko, the book becomes more showcasing and describing the individual knives.  Each page thereafter displays a few examples of similar puukko, with additional photos and descriptions that are significant to the knives shown.   The pages identify the maker of the knife, size, materials and other interesting facts.   The writing pulls you in as it describes the unique features of the different kinds of knives, sheaths or knife makers.  

The Puukko: Finnish Knives from Antiquity to Today would be a great coffee table book. These knives are more than just practical tools; they are pieces of art.  Even someone who has never heard of the puukko, will get pulled into this book by the beauty and intricacy of the various knives and sheaths.  Any serious puukko enthusiast or collector will appreciate the beautiful photographs, historical background, and references.  By the end of the book, both the casual observer and the avid collector will be able to say that the Finns really know how to make knives!

Okay, back to me now.   As you can see, my husband straight-up loved this book and I scored some major brownie points by giving it to him (with the caveat that he review it here...I am not above bribery).  In case his review didn't make it incredibly clear,  The Puukko: Finnish Knives from Antiquity to Today would be a great gift for any collector, knife maker, or knife enthusiast in your life, especially if they happen to be Finnish.  

My Rating:  5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  All clear

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