Whale teeth, sheep horns, horse hooves, and petrified trees are some of the ‘special ingredients’ that make these knives the stuff of legend.
It was my last night in Iceland when I found Páll Kristjánsson’s little shop of
horrors wonders. Simply named “Workshop,” the unremarkable building on the outskirts of Reykjavik belies a place of pure mastery and beauty.
For 30 years, Kristjánsson (nicknamed Palli) and his apprentice-turned-wife, Soffía Sigurðardóttir, fashion blades befit for Vikings. They combine intricate Damascus steel with unique handles made from bizarre treasures.
Each knife has some combination of hand-picked materials from the island, including antlers, hooves, bones, and even 16 million-year-old fossilized wood.
Their work is so uniquely, well, Icelandic, that the pair is now a featured attraction in pamphlets and must-see lists for tourists.
Knifemaker, Palli Kristjánsson
There are no fancy signs for the husband-and-wife shop. In fact, there is no official name for the business other than “Knifemaker.”
But their work is world-renowned and has sold for as much as $10,000 for a single knife. Palli mans the pocket knives and traditional outdoors blades, while Soffia has developed her hand (and market) for one-of-a-kind kitchen knives.
Icelanders pitch in to the ma-and-pa cause by dropping off unusual items the pair might one day use. A collection of washed up baleens from dead whales, a host of found skulls, a barrel filled with an assortment of horns, and a smattering of crustacean claws retrieved from seafood restaurants litter the shop.
Everything is handmade here and no two blades are exactly the same. You can buy off the shelf or place a custom order online. Be aware: If you try calling the shop, don’t be surprised if you get no answer; the two still use a rotary landline.
And for every knife, there is a custom-made sheath. Leather from cow, sheep, seal, or fish is perfectly fit to its mated blade.
Labor Of Love And Time
Palli might modify or sharpen the blades, but most of the metalwork comes from outside Iceland. The couple uses Damascus steel or stainless blades from Scandinavia and Denmark.
If you have a chance to visit, Palli will even show you his locked case of intricate, shapely knives that are not for sale. These, he told me in heavily accented English, he discovers as he goes.
An aggressive-looking Damascus blade with an ivory-colored Eagle’s head carved from a whale tooth is his favorite. And it is never going to leave that case.
Each knife will take five hours to five days, but that’s spread out over weeks of work. Custom orders ship out four to eight weeks after they are placed.
Because a single knife will range from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand, it may not be the most practical investment. But it’s hard to resist the sheer beauty and craft of these remarkable blades.