Finnish Knife

by Amy Azzarito

Have you ever, while traveling, fallen so in love with an object that you had to bring it back home with you? Maybe even despite the fact that it was impractical for your real everyday self? I’m trusting that since you’re reading this site, you’ve been in this place before. A few weeks ago, I visited Finland with my good friend Jessica Oreck, who had just finished a documentary about reindeer herders in Finnish Lapland, Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys. Jessica had invited a few close friends to see Lapland with her, to stay in the cabin that had become her home while she filmed the movie and to meet the family of reindeer herders. When we arrived to the cabin, which didn’t have heat or hot water, the first order of business was making a fire, and Jessica showed us how to make a fire the Finnish way. The technique centered on a particular way of shaving the wood to create little curls for the kindling. The wood was soft birch, but it was still impressive to see the knife in action.

The knife was a Marttiini made just a few kilometers below the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, where they’ve been made since 1928. I became totally enamored with the Marttiini knife when the reindeer herders, the Aatsinki family, hosted a dinner (following a sauna), and we all watched in awe as they not only made a kindling but also carved wooden flowers and wooden spoons as easy as one, two, three. I should say that I didn’t actually end up buying the knife. When I finally decided that I had to have it, the shop was closed and I had to head back home to New York. Then, Jessica surprised me with it for my birthday a few weeks later back in New York. I may not be carving flowers anytime soon, but I’m hopeful that I’ll go camping and make a huge bonfire. When I do, I’ll make my kindling the Finnish way. — Amy Azzarito

For more unique souvenirs, see Sneak Peek: Best of Bringing Travel Home.

Images above: Stills from Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys

Image above: Quickly formed wood flower and spoons that were meant to be tossed in the fire after they were used and enjoyed. But I couldn’t bear to watch them go up in smoke, so I carefully packed both in my suitcase.

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  • Janne Marttiini was my uncle’s stepfather! I never met him but he’s kind of a legendary figure in the family. I love seeing those beautiful knives; my parents brought some back after a trip to Finland this past summer. I didn’t know making a fire could be such an art form!

  • there really is something special about these knives! i have one also and mine is over 50 yrs old! – it used to be my grandmother’s and i remember her using it all of the time in her kitchen, so it makes it even more special to me, since it brings back memories of her :)

  • I love Myriapod Productions! Came across it from someone here in Sri Lanka!
    Amy, this post made me go back and check all the others you had put up in connection with them. :) Love it all.
    And I love the knife! Though like you said, I doubt I’ll use it frequently if I ever get one.

  • Gorgeous find, I wish I could hop on plane to Finland right now! I went to an Antique Festival in Lucca a week ago and I found these incredible imported Kilim rugs turned pillowcases. I got one but I wish my suitcase and budget were bigger to bring home a dozen or two!

  • Tehnically speaking, in Finland it’s bad “joss” to he given a knife. You should buy it, or make it yourself. But as an american, I guess this doesn’t apply. ..

    Even so, yes, we Finns love our knives, and we love them because they are very useful tools. We even have distinct words for different types or knives. The one you got, is a puukko. The general term of “knife” in finnish is “veitsi”, which is in fact more or less a kitchen knife. A puukko can be anything from 1″ to 10″ long. The distinction between a puukko and a knife might be that the ridge is quite thicker in a puukko.

    I prefer myself very short puukko’s, because I’m mostly doing woodwork with them. But then again, I have my Sissipuukko to do that bonfire work for me when its needed :) I recommend you check that out, to see what the traditional tool has evolved into…

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