My new workhorse: a Leuku and its sheath

Until now, I mainly used a hatchet, puukko and some spoon knives for carving. I often felt like I was using a cannon to kill a mosquito while using the hatchet, and like I was using a spoon to dig my way through a mountain while using the knives. In short: I missed something in between the hatchet and the knives. A tool that can chop, but with precision. That can waste wood quickly, but not too quickly. A tool that could still be used to carve without it becoming tiresome. As it turns out, this new Leuku I made is such a tool.

The Leuku is traditionally used by the Sami people, who live in the very north of Scandinavia, Finland and part of Russia. In many ways, this big knife is their hatchet. They use it for chopping wood, butchering, clearing undergrowth, and many many “bushcraft” tasks. I can see why, this knife is amazingly versatile. I’ve been testing it for the last couple of weeks (in the woods in the German Eifel, about which I will write a post soon) and I used it for carving, preparing firewood, limbing trees, even shaving flat a cutting board. It came razor sharp, hold a good edge, and is very easy to re-sharpen. I can highly recommend the specific blade I bought, which is a Lauri Leuku.

The handle of the knife is made of cleft oak from the same log as I made my bench, spoons and spatulas out of a while back. It has a buffalo horn bolster and brass butt cap. The tang is peened on the end. I put on the bolster and butt cap for aesthetic as well as practical reasons: they seal off the end grain of the oak, which is the part of the wood that absorbs the most moisture.

Below you can see the finished handle. this is the first picture I took. Same story as always: it starts out as an experiments, which turns out to work, and I suddenly realize I should take pictures for the blog. Anyway, I got this far by splitting a piece of oak, hollowing out a space for the tang with some knives and chisels, and then carefully sticking it back together with epoxy. You can’t even find the line where it was glued now. I then carved it down to the shape I wanted and sanded it smooth. I then drilled out a slot for the tang in buffalo horn, and glued the horn on the oak with superglue (cyanoacrylate). Then I sanded the horn flush with the wood.

Oak and buffalo horn handle

Then I cut the but cap from a sheet of .8 mm brass with some tin snips. I hammered it flat with a wooden hammer and filed the edges clean. then I drilled and filed a hole in the middle for a tang. I left the brass a little oversized so that I could later file it flush with the wood. I glued the cap to the bottom of the wood with slow setting cyanoacrylate.

cutting and filing the butt cap

Then I immediately put the tang in the handle, and glued it in with my homemade cutler’s resin (epoxy would have been fine as well, though it is less elastic and can crack with heavy use). Then I peened the tang to clamp everything together. No further clamping required, everything was quite solid and there was no movement at all after the peening. I put the knife aside for a day or so to allow the glue and resin to set.

Peened tang leuku


And below is the finished Leuku.

Finished leuku

The knife is very sharp and quite big. I thought it would be safest to keep it in a strong sheath with a liner. I made a liner out of the same oak as the handle, using more or less the same method: cleaving, hollowing, gluing back together and carving to final shape.

Carving out the oak liner


Though I like how the liner looks by itself, it wouldn’t be practical as a sheath for this knife. Maybe I’ll make a sheath that shows off the liner material sometime. Oak sheath liner

I stitched a leather sheath around the liner. This is all pretty straight-forward. I wet the leather so it could be shaped to fit the liner, then I just started stitching. It’s saddle stitched together using waxed linen thread. I decided to only stitch the leather around the liner, and leave the part that would go around the handle open. This is to prevent the knife from cutting the sheath open when taking it out. I put a book screw and gun knob in the top part of the sheath to keep the leather together. For more detailed pictures of how to make a sheath, see my earlier blog post.

stitching the leather sheath around the oak liner


The finished knife and sheath (a bit battered from a couple of weeks of hard use and testing).

Leuku and leather sheath

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