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'Siberia is a home to the cultures of indigenes, including people whose ancestors migrated to the Americas'
A.J. Haywood

Forging knives like our ancestors, secrets of the Yakutian blades

By Vera Salnitskaya and Olga Gertcyk
25 December 2015

Master blacksmith reveals how modern knives are closely related to those excavated from ancient archeological sites.

Alexander Gogolev, 41, spoke as he forged his latest creations, deploying methods handed down through time. Pictures here and below: Vera Salnitskaya

In Yakutia, they call these knives the 'third arm' of local herders and hunters. They're used to kill bears, cut wood - and shave - based on a technology that has been tried and tests through many centuries. 

Alexander Gogolev, 41, spoke as he forged his latest creations, deploying methods handed down through time. 

'Our knives are manufactured in line with old traditions, we forge the blades in such a way that no one can copy its shape,' he said. 'People understand why this shape of blade is good but cannot figure out how we make it.'

He explained: 'Our knives are made in the old tradition. They are forged. Previously, there were no machine-tools, so everything was hand-forged with small hammers.

Master of Yakut knives


Master of Yakut knives


Master of Yakut knives

'Our knives are made in the old tradition. They are forged.'

'And then when the machine-tools appeared, everyone began to use it. You get a straight blade, and that's all. But my teacher Stanislav Balitsky began to forge like the old masters, and his knives had an astounding success. We brought about 30 knives to an exhibition, and sold them all in two hours.'

Speaking at his forge in Yakutsk, he said: 'We work with steel which doesn't stain, and leather for the sheath from Moscow region. We make wooden sheath and cover it with oxtail.

'The Yakutian butcher's knife, used for cutting meat or fish has an excellent sharpening angle, it's like a razor. A knife sharpened properly is enough to butcher entire elk. Of course, if it is a big one, it's necessary to sharpen the knife a bit after the butchering. There is skin, stiff hair.

Master of Yakut knives


Master of Yakut knives

'People understand why this shape of blade is good but cannot figure out how we make it.'

'I have two knives. One is in my backpack, the other one is on my belt. Things happen, you can drop it, drown it. I use my own knives only, I don't trust other knives. Your knife feels different in your hand.'

Some local knives have been made with the bones of woolly mammoths, but he says this is not ideal. 'I don't make knives with mammoth bone, because in a month or two it will crack because of temperature changes. Then you'd bring such a knife to me and complain: 'What nonsense'. Such a knife using mammoth bone is made for decoration, but I'd rather make working knives.

'The fact is that a knife needs to be used, it is a helper, a third arm. If you are to choose between a gun and a knife when in the forest, go for the knife. What can you do with a gun? Nothing. But if you have a knife, you can make a bonfire, make something to eat.

Master of Yakut knives


Master of Yakut knives


Master of Yakut knives


Master of Yakut knives

'If you are to choose between a gun and a knife when in the forest, go for the knife.'

'A knife is used for skinning, to cut the meat, to do something with wood. My main customers are hunters and herders. All the technologies are based on the needs of people who deal with knives on a daily basis.'

This includes making allowances for the extreme winter cold in Yakutia, officially known as the Sakha Republic, the largest and coldest constituent region of the Russian Federation.

'At minus 50C, the blade stays resilient and doesn't crash when cutting bones - that's different from other solid steels,' he said. 'Of course, I wouldn't recommend to nail with it, there is a hammer and a chisel for that. Though, if there is no choice, you can use it. 

'The ogival shape of the blade - resembling a lancet - has a very limited touch area and can be used along almost its entire length. It looks as if the meat is not cut but just bursts.

Master of Yakut knives


Master of Yakut knives


Master of Yakut knives

'A knife sharpened properly is enough to butcher entire elk.'

'You can also have custom-made handle. If you have no special preferences, we simply use birch and birch burl. The handle can also be made of mountain walnut. 

'I have a customer who is a truck driver, and whenever he comes here, he rushes to me and asks for a couple of knives. He needs a massive handle and a wide long blade. I can make as many as two knives a day if I start early in the morning. The price of a knife starts at 9,900 roubles ($154).'

The blade of the traditional Yakutian knife is sharp, razor-sharp on one edge, and a straight or almost straight back, features noted from excavations of ancient sites. Another feature is asymmetric sharpening of the blade, it was noticed by the very first researchers of the Yakut lifestyle. 

Master of Yakut knives


Master of Yakut knives


Master of Yakut knives


Master of Yakut knives

'The ogival shape of the blade - resembling a lancet - has a very limited touch area and can be used along almost its entire length.'

On one side, it is flat, and the opposite - left - side of the blade is curved. This helps to prevent the knife getting stuck. Knives for left and right handers are different. 

They come in different sizes but also have differing functions. The tundra knife has a narrow blade, and is mostly used for cutting or drilling. The taiga knife has a wider blade, and is used for cutting meat and carving wood. The blade is made of soft steel so that it's possible to sharpen it on a rock or stone.

Comments (16)

Trying identify a knife bought in Alaska about 20 years ago with the mark PM. A picture is in bladeforum.com under thread Alaska handmade knife.
Bill hunter, Usa
06/09/2017 22:05
0
0
Dear Jane,

Sorry you didn't get a reply - please can you email again and we'll answer immediately.

Thank you,
All the best
The Siberian Times,
26/06/2017 20:25
0
0
Hi there,





Messaged this emailed address a couple of times, and haven't heard anything... are these still available to purchase?


Thanks!
Jane93, Birmingham
26/06/2017 20:12
0
1
Hi there,



Messaged this emailed address a couple of times, and haven't heard anything... are these still available to purchase?

Thanks!
Jane93, Birmingham
26/06/2017 19:26
0
0
Ken Craig, you can mail us e-shop@siberiantimes.com to purchase
Alexander,
24/03/2017 00:16
0
0
Can't find a web site to purchase one of your knives. Can you forward information?
Ken Craig, Gallup, New Mexico, USA
24/03/2017 00:13
0
0
Welcome to Yakutia , www.Yakutia.com
Yakutia.com, yakutia.com
21/05/2016 09:56
0
1
Tom, San Francisco Please, mail us e-shop@siberiantimes.com
Alexander , Siberian Times ,
08/04/2016 22:49
4
2
Hi, I'd love to purchase one of these. Do you know how I would contact the maker?

Thanks,
Tom
Tom, San Francisco, USA
08/04/2016 22:45
9
6
I've always loved knives snce I was a small boy. And I've always wanted to forge one. I think your knives are beatiful and I would like to buy one. Is that possible? I wish you the best. If I could buy one please contact me at; dfisher1@sandi.net. Keep up the good work
Dave Fisher, California, USA
16/01/2016 01:36
9
0
Apologies for delay Dave - please can you email us on e-shop@siberiantimes.com?
The Siberian Times
Alexander , Siberian Times , Siberia
11/01/2016 23:14
2
1
I've always loved knives snce I was a small boy. And I've always wanted to forge one. I think your knives are beatiful and I would like to buy one. Is that possible? I wish you the best
Dave Fisher, California, USA
09/01/2016 02:20
5
1
These knives are definitely on my wish list
Alain, Cambridge, UK
30/12/2015 20:28
6
0
I would gladly buy some of these knives.
Gene, USA Virginia
30/12/2015 10:18
9
1
Efficent and beautiful knives.Everyone is single in traditional production.Good work.
Jocelyne, FRANCE
28/12/2015 19:48
15
0
12

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