Erin Healy Blog

Maker Continues Laplander Culture with Sami Knives

Roman Kislitsyn makes knives in Sami style. Sami people are native reindeer herders of northern Scandinavia.

This Roman Kislitsyn sheath is made in North Sami style with a pronounced hook, which interferes less when sitting. The 4-inch blade is made by Pasi Hurttila in 80CrV2 steel. The handle is reindeer antler and birch root burl.

Roman Kislitsyn grew up in Apatity in the Murmansk region of northwestern Russia. Close to Norway, parts of the area also include the lands of the Sami people (in the past referred to as Lapps or Laplanders) which traverse the Kola Peninsula of Russia, and the northern and coastal regions of Finland, Sweden and Norway. Roman and others in his family are geologists so he spent much of his childhood with outdoorsmen, hunters, fishermen and those expert at surviving in the Russian wilderness. Always an admirer of Finnish and Swedish knives, Roman was most drawn to the beauty of the knives made by the Sami, the native reindeer herders of Scandinavia.

Russian Roman Kislitsyn makes knives in the style of native Scandinavians.

Roman Kislitsyn makes Sami-style knives.

Roman’s exposure to knives and survival equipment, combined with a love of crafting things with his hands, led to his first attempt at knifemaking when he was 15 or 16. “It had a blade made of high-speed steel from a piece of mechanical saw, wooden handle made of birch burl, and simple leather sheath, but I was very proud of myself,” Roman related. He made a few more knives, left to attend university and life intervened. A few years ago, he returned to knifemaking and cannot stop.

The traditional Sami lifestyle depends on reindeer herding, hunting and fishing. Roman explained that the design of their knives developed over the course of hundreds of years. They also mastered their own style of decorating things made of reindeer antler. “I like to use Sami-style decoration on my knives too. Even though I’m not Sami, but this makes me feel my connection to the land where I grew up,” Roman stated.

Native Scandinavians roamed the areas in yellow, approximated on this map.

Sami lands, in yellow, historically reached farther south, encompassing Roman’s home region, marked in orange.

Roman makes two types of knives, either Sami style or Finnish puukkos with Sami-style carvings. He does not make his own blades. Some Sami blacksmiths existed, but using blades made by other makers was, and still is, a common practice.

Roman works with high-carbon steel blades made by his friend Alessio Salsi in Belgium. Lately, he’s also being trying laminated and pattern-welded steels. Since Roman makes Scandinavian knives, the grinds are all Scandi. He used to employ blades made by Pasi Hurttila from Finland before Pasi stopped making knives. Roman also used blades made by Randal Graham in Nova Scotia. Randal took a hiatus from knifemaking but has now returned, and Roman hopes to resume collaborating with him.

Roman Kislitsyn designed this knife with a stacked birch bard handle for feel and warmth..

Roman Kislitsyn put a stacked birch bark handle on this 3.2-inch Pasi-Hurttila-made 80CrV2 blade. Carvings on the antler are in Sami-style. Bark handles are popular for Finnish puukkos; they never get slippery or cold, even below freezing.

Roman is self-taught, learning everything about knifemaking and carving through the Internet, forums and social media. With the exception of light use of a hand-drill and a Dremel, Roman uses only hand tools. “No grinders, sanders, band saws, nothing. Only files and rasps, only hardcore!” he explains. Roman’s goal is to make “functional art,” as one of his customers put it, and not a knife that just sits on a shelf. His favorite handle materials are reindeer antler in combination with birch burl and-or bark, which are all traditional materials in Sami-style knives. Maker’s list price starts at $450 US.

Roman left Russia in 2002 and now lives in Nova Scotia, but you can converse with him through forums like British Blades, Canadianknifemaker.ca and the Russian forum zadi.ru. His website and blog are at Girvas. “Girvas is a name of a lake in same region where I’m from,” Roman added. It is the Russian pronounciation of the Sami word hirvas, meaning “reindeer stag.” You can visit Roman on Facebook at Roman Kislitsyn or on Instagram @roman.kislitsyn. You can e-mail him at roman.kislitsyn@gmail.com.

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