What is Leuku or Sami Knife? Where to Buy One?

Different varieties of knives exist for outdoor enthusiasts having diverse requirements. Some of them are highly versatile enough to work efficiently while performing different tough chores in extreme temperatures. One of them is the Sami knife.

Known as Leuku in Finnish and big knife or stuorraniibi in Sami culture, the Sami knife is typically a big tool that the nordic people in the far northern Europe designed and used since the primitive times. Also known as the Huggare, the Leuku knife is one of the traditional tools of this tribe.

In the untouched frozen northern Europe where greasy softwoods such as pine and birch flourish, the Sami clan came up with a knife that was light enough for wood carving and long enough for chopping. Let’s dig more into this nordic knife and find out its salient features and uses.

The Origin and Evolution of Sami / Leuku Knives

Helle Knives - Lappland - Sandvik 12C27 Stainless Steel - Traditional Field Knife - Made in Norway
Helle Knives – Lappland

Right since the prehistoric era, the Sami people of Lapland or Arctic Europe have survived and worked in a region that expands across the northern parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Russian Kola.

Typically, these people have engaged in a myriad of livelihoods such as fur trapping, shoreside fishing, and sheep herding. However, their most famous source of income is semi-nomadic herding of reindeers.

For them, this is a special knife that has developed significantly to become a hands-on, daily-use tool for carving, bushcraft, fire lightning, and other general outdoor applications.

The Samis are the indigenous folks of northern Scandinavia that includes the aforementioned four regions. They are itinerant reindeer-herders who have a close relationship with their animals. The Laplanders found in the northern European parts have always treasured harmony with nature.

Due to this lifestyle, they recognized the need for a knife. However, they introduced more than one knife. This is evident when you see both men and women carrying more than one knife even today.

A small one designed for light tasks is known as the Puukko having a blade that is 4-inches long. A big, heavy one for tough tasks is called the Leuku or Sami with a blade that can be 7- to 18-inches long. There is also a larger model called Väkipuukko, which is comparable to a seax, another ancient Scandinavian knife.

It is also believed that the Leuku knives were made by the Sami tribe, commencing from the Viking seaxes and Väkipuukkos in Finland. They along with steel handling techniques entered the Scandinavian and Baltic cape once the migration period was over, which comes to around 400-700 A.D.

Since then, the Leuku has advanced to cater to their needs, ranging right from chopping small trees to butchering reindeer. Handmade by expert smiths, the Sami is praised for their elegant look and sharpness. It is a status symbol for the Laplanders even today, as it reflects the clan’s role.

The ancient Sami folk used this knife even therapeutically. They used it to stop bleeding while treating conditions such as boils and warts. Such is the cultural relationship with this knife due to which even children used to get their first knife when they were just 8 to 10 years old.

The reindeer-herding people, even today, survive and move with their grazing herds. They rely on their herds and land for survival, a lifestyle that needs a big, versatile knife like the Sami that they carry. This way of life remains the same as it was for their forefathers for several centuries.

The Design of Sami Knife

Joker Hunting and Mount Knife Sami CL128, Brown Leather Sheath, Handle Curly Birch Wood, Blade 4.84 inches Sandvik 14C28N, Tool for Fishing, Hunting, Camping and Hiking
Joker Sami Knife

The Sami knife is designed as a reliable and versatile tool to fulfill the nordic needs of the Sami people who live amongst animals and in the wild. The design is the same today as it was in the olden days.

This knife features a robust, wide, and long blade that is ideal for light to heavy chores such as cutting small trees, de-limbing, brush clearing, making shelters, butchering, and bone breaking. Yes, you can expect it to perform all the camping chores.

At times, it replaces an ax for chopping and ripping small quantities of firewood from the upright dead trees, a vital use when the collapsed and deadwood gets hidden under several snow layers. The knife is also useful for combats due to which it is a standard tool currently for the Norwegian Army along with their specific forces.

The edge usually features a Scandi grind, which means it has a single flat bevel.  It is sharp and tough enough to rip reindeer bones. However, the grind could vary instead of being only Scandinavian, depending upon the designer’s preference and knowledge.

The wide flat pommel enables another hand to put force when struck. It also helps in removing the knife out of a sheath with mittens or gloves on. A few models come with fullers.

The material with which the edge is made is tempered well to work well in low temperatures. The handle is typically made using birch to provide a safe grip, especially required in snowy regions. That said, you also get better control over the blade, especially at the time of draw strokes favored while the hands become numb or while handling with gloves.

While the blade is typically made using carbon steel, the handle is made using some other natural materials such as brass, reindeer antler, and bone apart from the birch wood. This steel holds up better, especially in the cold weather.

Typically, blades are relatively thin, which is below 4 mm. A thin blade suffices for chipping the wood of the tundra region.

The bolsters are made up of brass. The tang passes through the handle that is without a crossguard. Most nordic knives have a stick or hidden tang. In simple words, the tang is less wide than the blade and shrinks downward so that the handle fits well over it. Using a brass rivet, the handle is then affixed onto the tang.

This design gives the benefit of no metal exposure. Therefore, it keeps the hand away from freezing onto the handle when it is too cold. This is adorable considering that such chilling temperatures are common in the Nordic countries.

In short, the clear features of a Sami knife are full pommel, handle, straight or a drop-point (somewhat curved) spine, and a long blade that is neither truly pointed nor tapering lower towards the tip.

The style and look are of a normal nordic knife but the size and weight are unusual for the north European knives. It is alleged that this knife of Lapland is the same as a big Bowie or a camp knife in terms of capability and weight.

Ahti Leuku 180mm Carbon Steel Scandinavian Knife from Finland
Ahti Leuku

The size and style of a Leuku knife indicate that it is meant for hitting. It has already served as an all-rounder tool useful for tasks ranging from batoning and splitting wood to skinning animals. However, it is not a true whittler, as a puukko knife is designed for such small tasks.

A Leuku knife typically comes with a leather sheath also known as tuppi. It is made from reindeer skin or cowhide and profoundly covers the full knife. Some sheaths may have simple decorations on them.

Even today, the Sami / Leuku knives are among the vital tools for the herders, campers, hunters, and fishermen of Finland’s Lapland. They are the reliable survival tools when their owners are stuck in the harsh situations of the wilderness.

These days, the handmade Leukus can differ significantly from each other. The thickness can be between 3 mm and 6 mm. You can find them in different types of grinds, ranging right from convex to Scandi, with probably secondary bevels.

Regarding decoration, it can be simple or a bit complex but you can find some stunningly carved ones. Even the build materials can differ, ranging right from Kydex to reindeer antler. However, these changes do not twist the performance of a modern Leuku or a Sami.

Current Manufacturers

Currently, there are a few smiths designing a traditional Sami / Leuku, which are available from a couple of Nordic knife manufacturers. While some modern knife brands do make them, an old, esteemed brand that continues to make the most authentic models is Strømeng.

Currently, it is situated in Karasjok, it is still one of few makers left to provide thee legendry knives to the Sami people.  The forefathers of the Strømeng family began earning their living as blacksmiths during the latter half of the 18th century in Karasjok. Across the period of these two centuries, they have passed the craftsmanship traditions from one generation to another.

At present, it is the sixth generation of this family that is still into making these Lapland knives. The Strømeng knives are popular among those who are not just reindeer herders but are also bushcrafters or outdoor adventurers who love to camp and hike in the woodlands.

These knives feature a blade made using carbon steel whose hardness on the Rockwell scale is around 59. Their handles are made using slow-growing birch and are greased with linseed oil.

You can find them in a variety of sizes. Despite this, there are some typical uses. The blade nearest to the shaft is primarily reserved for doing rough tasks. Its middle portion is highly reliable for precision cutting.

Where to buy Sami or Leuku knife in the US

Lucky for you there are some Scandinavian knife manufacturers sell their knives here in the US. One of them is Helle Knives from Norway. They named their Sami knife Lappland.

Here are some other Sami knives you can consider.

Prices and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

 

Conclusion

A Sami knife or a Leuku knife, which means a big knife, is a traditional tool developed and used mostly by the Lapland or Northern Finland people known as the Sami. It is a multi-purpose knife instead of only a woodworking knife. It was developed considering the different requirements of the reindeer herder-lifestyle of these native people.

Visually, these knives feature a long blade and a stout handle. They are sturdy enough to split firewood, break and rip bone, clean fish, skin game, carve wood (not whittling), and make shelters without using an ax.

The look, design, and feel of these handles are standard that is used in the far north of Europe. They render a solid grip for the pull strokes that are preferred with hands in gloves hands or stiff with cold. The accompanying sheaths fit in the full handle, which indicates how critical a lost Sami can be in the woods.

The knife is deeply rooted in the Sami culture and their way of living. The materials and time may have changed but this tool yet has a place of reverence in this culture as a cardinal tool.