The Spyderco Nilakka is one of the more interesting regional knife interpretations to come to Spyderco’s ethnic series. As a collaboration with decorated blade-smith Pekka Tuominen it has a distinctly Finnish aesthetic deriving its lines from the traditional Puukko.
The Puukko has permeated Nordic culture due to its time tested utility and local production. These fixed blade knives are well respected for their versatility, being at one time found in every facet of life from professional to domestic. Because of their excellent ergonomic design and versatile “Scandi” or “zero-sabre” grind, they have also been adopted by many bush-crafters as their go to cutting tool the world over. Although the Spyderco Nilakka references the pattern of the traditional knife it still differs significantly in function, making it fundamentally different.
As with the original Puukko, the blade has a standard or straight back profile matched with a gentle curving cutting edge that terminates at a fine point. Rarely seen on your standard variety, The Nilakka adds a long swedge that thins the tip to a needle-like point for easy penetrating cuts.
Although seemingly alike, the Nilakka’s full-flat zero grind is very different. This isn’t the same thing as a Scandi or zero-sabre grind which usually terminates at half the width of the blade producing a larger inclusive angle. The Nilakka’s much finer geometry makes for an abnormally weak edge. Spyderco later patched this with a micro bevel in order to stem chipping problems that people were reporting.
Another contributor to the issue is the steel used. S30V, while a super steel, isn’t heralded as much for its toughness as it is its combination of corrosion resistance and ability to take a keen edge. Some find that while easy to get very sharp it is also fragile, something I personally believe to be true. It is important for the average user to note that the high hardness required to fully leverage S30V’s properties combined with this delicate grind is a recipe for an easily damaged edge.
There is also the issue of sharpening this knife. Typically when you sharpen a zero grind, the bevel is laid flat against a stone, or like abrasive. As you sharpen, the entire bevel is worked to maintain the zero-grind. On the Nilakka this will be an issue. If you were to attempt to maintain the knife in this way, you would eventually wear away the blade markings and undoubtedly make a hideous mess of the cleanly machined bevel, no matter your level of sharpening. If you add a secondary bevel to preserve the knife’s perfect satin finish you won’t have a zero grind any more; a feature that is used as a selling point.
The delicate edge combined with the inability to maintain both the blade and looks could easily be considered a glaring error in design judgement. On the other hand, it could be looked at as an achievement in aesthetics as well as manufacturing since the blade looks incredible. The bevel and swedge are accurately ground terminating at a keen cutting edge. The corners where the sides meet the spine are crisp and even.
For deployment the knife utilizes Spyderco’s trademark thumb hole. Although much smaller than many of their other models, the knife can still be flicked open if preferred, thanks to an ample access cut-away and excellent pivot. The smooth action is due to tight tolerances, phosphor bronze washers and a strong detent. The detent also allows for safe tip-up carry. On opening the tang meets a sturdy stainless liner lock. The spring is rigid, but can be disengaged comfortably due to the cut-away combined with three subtle notches added for traction.
The handle is a partially closed back construction clad in brown G10 scales. These have been shaped with a distinctive ridge line that adds some traction along with an attractive detail. It also creates a good amount of palm swell that fills the hand nicely. In order to maintain the clean, symmetrical look of the handle the pivot is hidden beneath the scales leaving only three evenly distributed torx fasteners visible per side. The minimal aesthetic of the handle is deceptive and the inside of the Nilakka is as interesting as the out. When the scales are removed a series of weight saving cut-outs in the liners, hidden hardware and the tang’s internal stop pin are exposed showing an involved yet elegant assembly.
The ergonomics are straight forward. The slightly bowing shape sits comfortably in hand while the cut-out for the thumb-hole acts as a partial finger groove. There isn’t need for other features such as jimping because the knife hasn’t been designed for aggressive cutting. Additionally, these would detract from the handle’s lines. For carry the knife has a deep riding, right handed pocket clip. To avoid disrupting the profile, it would have been nice if the attachment point of the clip was recessed into a slot in the pommel. It looks a bit stuck on to the cleanly drawn, rectangular shape. This and Pekka Tuonimen’s signature on the blade are my only criticisms of the aesthetic choices on this knife.
Over-all the Nilakka is an interesting offering. It has an immaculate fit and finish and while extremely modern in appearance it still has all the key visual features of its ancestor. While the pivot and locking mechanism are precisely made and robust in build, its blade is unusually delicate out of box and herein lies the fundamental difference: the puukko evolved to be a tough multitasking, easy to maintain cutting tool capable of weathering everyday life all the way from the kitchen to the shop, in or outside. The Nilakka unarguably does not fit this role and Spyderco is self admitted about it’s limited application by a rather lengthy, preemptive disclaimer that comes with the knife.
The sharpening issue will also be key in deciding if this knife is for you. As mentioned, maintaining a zero grind on the Nilakka is impractical. If you plan on actually using it rather than having it as a collectible design object, be prepared to introduce another bevel. That isn’t to say that it will no longer perform well. The blade is plenty fine enough to cut well with the added geometry, assuming you have some sharpening chops. That said, if you bought the Nilakka for its zero grind, you’ll be out of luck at this point. Lastly, the fit, finish and ambitious machining will definitely be enough to please the collector. At just under two hundred dollars you are getting a truly stand out knife when it comes to good looks.
length overall 8.13″ (207 mm)
blade length 3.51″ (89 mm)
blade steel CPM-S30V
length closed 4.62″ (117 mm)
cutting edge 3.34″ (85 mm)
weight 5 oz (142 g)
blade thickness 0.177″ (4.5 mm)
handle material G-10
Made in Taichung, Taiwan