Knives have been around since caveman chiseled stones to meet their daily needs. Nowadays, thankfully, knife making has progressed quiet a ways. In Europe knife making and knives have a rich, deep, and complex history, dating back to cavemen themselves. Therefore, the continent is home to thousands of diverse and unique knives and knife making cultures stretching from medieval Belgium to Ottoman Turkey. Being such a diverse and unique area, however, we wondered how knives differed around the continent. For example, is an iconic knife in Belarus the same as a knife in Bulgaria? Is there an iconic knife from Albania? Due to the fact that there has never been any in-depth research of this kind before, we took it upon ourselves to find these answers. We contacted local knife makers, museums, knife collectors, and local historians from every country in Europe. This never-before done research took over a month of grueling research and labor.
Who knows better than the locals? That was our philosophy during our hunt for Europe’s most influential knives. Therefore, we got in touch with locals across all of Europe to hear their opinion on their nations knife making and its history. The research yielded two interesting findings. The first finding was that in some areas there were too many traditional knives to chose from. These countries had a plethora of historical/traditional knives and therefore finding the most iconic ones required even more research and investigating. The other finding was the opposite. In some regions there seemed to be no national knives. This, however, wast just the surface. By consulting more locals and doing more digging we eventually found a traditional and historical knife.
The knives listed are not necessarily old, but, most importantly, they’ve been among the most iconic and influential knives in their respective country.
ICONIC KNIVES IN EUROPE- INFOGRAPHIC!
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ICONIC KNIVES BY COUNTRY
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Albanian Bursa Knives
For those of you who don’t know, most of the Albanian population lives outside Albania itself. Their traditional knife is no exception.bursa
The “Bursa Arnavut Çakısı“, literally the “Albanian Knife of Bursa“, is a pen knife that Albanian immigrants brought with them to the Turkish city of Bursa in the 1990’s. Little can be found online about this knife, but there are knife makers in Bursa, like Süleyman Güney, who are still crafting these knives. In fact, this knife is still an essential part of the cutlery in Bursa to this day.
Here are some peculiar characteristics about the “Bursa Arnavut Çakısı“:
- The handling is made of horn (specifically, ram horn)
- The number of stars on the knife identifies the size
- The knife maker’s name appears on the blade
Read this thread on a popular polish knife forum for more pictures.
Austrian Glock Knife
The Glock Knife is a military knife developed by Glock in cooperation with the Austrian Jagdkommando (Hunting Command) and the Austrian Army. Besides being used by the Austrian Armed Forces, it is also used in the Royal Danish Army, the German Federal Police, the Polish Military Gendarmerie and more.
The Glock Knife is a multi-purpose knife, that can also be thrown.
The “Belarusian Navaja” was a very popular knife in Belarus during during the 1980’s and 1090’s. It is manufactured and produced in Belarus.
- Made in Gomel (Belarus)
- Available in blue, red/pink and black
- Overall length: 245mm
- Blade length: 110mm
People we’ve talked to remember this as a reliable and multi-purpose knife.
Belgium has a long and rich tradition of knives. I got in touch with the Gembloux Tourism Office, and Tim was kind enough to shed some light on Belgian traditional knives.
In Belgium, there were different cities where they made traditional knives in the past. Examples are Lier and Aarschot in Flanders, and Houyet, Namur and Gembloux in Wallonia. In all of those cities they made numerous of different typical knives. If I had to choose one, I would go for the Lierenaar. But that might be because I was born and raised in lier. In different areas, different knives are popular.
The Belgian Knife Society also recognizes the Lierenaar as one of the most iconic knives from Belgium.
Bosnian Traditional Bichaq
These knives were made in the 18th and 19th centuries, in Sarajevo, Foča and other Bosnian cites. Although some of them possess unique and unusual variations, most of them are of the same design.
Bulgarian Knives From Gabrovo
Gabrovo, a city in the middle of Bulgaria, is home to a very rich and deep tradition of knife making. Blacksmiths were held with high regard and were among the first ones in town to create a guild organization. Folk songs were even created to recognize also how important blacksmiths were for the economy of the city.
There were three ways blacksmiths made knives:
- Iron and steel were welded together and then forged. This process was called “Kainak” and the resulting knives were promptly named “Kainaklii”. These were cheaper knives used for everyday chores.
- Iron and steel were forged several times until they became homogeneous, making the blade tough and sharp. High quality armaments were made using this process.
- Steel was the only material used for the blade. Among others, razors were made following this process.
Gabrovo historian Dr. Petar Tsonchev estimated there were over 150 types of knives (some are pictured above). Even if most of them have been lost with only their names remaining, Gobrovo is still known for its traditional knives and many blacksmiths still work there today.
The Karakulak is the a shorter bulgarian version of the turkish traditional Yatagan.
“The first one sons get, the first that they lose but the last they forget”
To date, Mikov makes from 30 to 50 thousands of these knives every year, including limited editions. It’s the most successful Mikov knife and a symbol every Czech knows about.
Czech Mikov Fixir
The Fixir is another Czech knife made by Mikov. it’s a popular hunting knife that has been sold for over 50 year.
Danish Erling Vangedal Scout knife
This is the most popular danish scout knife. Erling Vangedal bought the factory in Lyngby (Denmark) in 1968. He sold the factory in 1980, to focus on a new idea: the ice cube bag, which turned out to be a great success.
It was very hard to find any information on Estonian knives. Talking with Viljo Marradi, an Estonian knife maker, he told us he’s not aware of any classic Estonian Knife.
We eventually stumbled upon the “Estonian Puss“: very similar to the Finnish Puukko, the only official difference is that the Estonian model is wider near the blade.
Finland has a very long and rich history in terms of knives. The Finnish Puukko knives, with over 2500 years of history, are known, sold and collected all over the world.
We got in touch with different Finnish knife makers, the Finnish Knife Association and knife collectors and narrowed down the (huge) list of Finnish puukko knives to these 3 important models. If interested, I suggest you to read this blog about nordic knives for more.
Finnish Horsehead Puukko
Finnish Lapin Puukko
Finnish Wood Jewel Puukko
The Opinel knife is one of the most famous french knives in the world, and overall one of the most iconic and easily recognizable pocket knives ever.
Its production started in 1890 in Savoie (France). The knife became popular among farmers and winemakers towards the end of the 19th century. The word spread fast in France and, later, around the world. The rest is history.
The Laguiole is another iconic french knife from Occitania. It’s most likely the result of the Spanish Navaja brought by immigrants merged with local pocket knives. The first model was designed in 1829.
German Marcator K55K
The K55K is a very simple German pocket knife produced since 1867.
The knife designer’s name is Kaufmann, which means “trader” in english. “Mercator“ is the latin word for “trader“. The first “K” refers to the designer’s initial, “55” is the company street address number and the last “K” stands for “Katze“, that means “Cat” in english.
The Jadnicker is a classic german hunting knife.
I had the pleasure to ask a local, Aris, his opinion on greek knives.
I believe you’d have a hard time tracking down a typical traditional greek knife. This is due to three reasons, a) terrain, b) external influences and c) decline of artisanal production in favour of imported stuff roughly starting in the ’50s. Communication between provinces was hard due to the terrain, mainly mountainous or insular. Also, ever since the roman conquest Greece has been occupied by external forces that brought about an amalgamation of influences: the Romans, the Thracians, the Phenicians, the Egyptians, the Slavs, the Albanians, the Ottomans and many more, they all interacted with the indigenous population and that can be seen in some knives made by smiths in the Venitian-occupied islands of the Ionian sea compared to knives made by smiths in the mainland that was occupied by the Ottomans.
Greek Lefkaditiko Knife
Greek Cretan Knife
when I think of a traditional greek knife the cretan one comes to mind; mainly because it is still being made. I believe most greeks would say the same
A traditional Hungarian knife, dating back to the early 1800s. Tibor Szankovits and his sons Viktor and Örs make these knives, following their ancestors’ traditional techniques.
Another traditional Hungarian knife, the Maskara. Knifemakers follow the same techniques used 100 years ago.
You can also find more pictures here.
A small bronze Irish dagger. More info here.
First seen in the 1400 in Italy, the stiletto developed into the switchblade knife we know today, and large quantities were imported in the US after the second world war.
Resolza Knife From Pattada (Sardinia)
The Resolza or Arresoja is a traditional knife from Pattada (Sardinia, Italy). It’s the most iconic knife from Sardinia, and it was first developed by two brothers between the 19th and the 20th century.
You can also find the biggest Resolza in Pattada’s museum: it’s 4.85m long, and weights 297kg.
Macedonian Zhrenche Knife
The Paardenmes or horse is a classic dutch kitchen knife. These knives were mostly made from boxwood, with intricately sculpted handles.
Norwegian Classic Knives From Telemark
These traditional knives are from Telemark (Norway). It was the first place in Scandinavia (or even in Europe) where laminated steel was used.
With over 100 years of history, Busletto is a traditional knife maker in Norway.
Norwegian Helle Tollekniv
The Tollekniv is an all-purpose belt knife by Helle.
Polish Bandit Knife
This is one of the only knives that can be considered Polish. It it said it was once used by bandits in the Carpathian Mountains.
I suggest you to read this interesting article about it (It’s in polish- use a translator).
Talking with a Portuguese knife collector, he told me he finds the “Cut-and-Stick” the most iconic Portuguese knife. It has a fork on one side, and a blade with a wine opener on the other other.
A traditional Portuguese knife.
Romanian Traditional Curved Blades
After researching classic Romanian knives for a while, it was clear that this country doesn’t have a strong knife making history, and there’s no Romanian knife factory. Romanian knife enthusiasts tried to find a traditional knife for their country, as you can read here and here, but failed.
I got in touch with local knife makers and two of them told me that the most common knives used in Romania were curved and edged on the inside, the so-called “sickle knives”.
There are so many classic Russian knives, whether you consider fixed blade knives, foldable knives… it’s just impossible, and unfair, to choose one.
In fact, the territory is so vast that people had different needs and a wide variety of different knives existed.
USSR Hunting Knives
See more here.
USSR Foldable Knives
See more here.
Serbian Knife From Turija
This knife is from Turija (Serbia).
Slovak Shepherd’s Knife
A classic shepherd’s knife from Slovakia. You can find more here.
Mora Knives are traditional knives made in Mora and in villages nearby.
Swedish Mora (Carl Andersson)
Swedish Mora (Broderna Jonsson)
Jönsson Brothers were knives manufacturers from Östnor, just outside Mora.
One of the most iconic folding knives in Europe and one of the oldest still in production. The first Navaja knives appeared in the late 1600s.
Swiss Army Knife
The Yatagan is an Ottoman knife that was used from the mid-16th to late 19th centuries. It was also used in the Balkans.
English Fairbairn-Sykes Knife
Classic Scottish knife, part of the traditional dress.
English Jack Knife
Classic english knife made in Sheffield.
One of the only traditional Ukrainian knives known. I asked more about it to an Ukrainian knife maker, Bogdan Popov (you can see his beautiful knives here).
It is said there was a Zaporizzya cossacks combat knife called “kolodach” but I know little about it. In the western Ukraine where I live people used polish, hungarian and german (austrian) knives .
What are the most popular knives in your country?
Let us know in the comments below!