I am aware of the irony of beginning Independence Day week with a string of posts featuring a French knife style and Maker. But it is how the timing shaked out with all of the moving pieces, including this introductory piece, a Nightly Knife Porn in the queue, 5 from the Grinder with Christophe Durand -maker of my Laguiole folding knife, and finally my review of the knife I received from Sport Hansa, the importer of the many European cutlery brands including Helle and Hults Bruk as well.
The Laguiole folding knife is a style that belongs on the list of “famous knife styles you might not have heard of”. I had never heard of it, my French knife experience being limited to Opinel for the most part. However, this regional style of knife, with its graceful sweep and decorative embellishments has a lineage dating back almost 2 centuries.
Classic laguiole knives feature a slim, sinuous outline. They are about 12 cm long when closed, with a narrow, tapered blade of a semi-yataghan form, steel backspring (slipjoint) and a high quality of construction. Traditionally, the handle was made of cattle horn; however, nowadays other materials are sometimes used. These materials include French woods, exotic woods from all around the world, and fossilised mammoth ivory from Alaska or Siberia. The blade is often made of Stainless steel or High-carbon steel, with XC75 steels being 0.75% carbon and XC100 being 1% carbon.
The traditional laguiole utilizes a single blade, but sometimes a corkscrew or some other implement is added. This necessitates an even slimmer cutaway handle, the shape of which is fancifully known as the “lady’s leg”, the bolster at the base resembling a foot. A ‘Shepherd’s Cross’ consisting of 6-8 inlaid metal pins forming a cross can be found on the handle of some laguioles from the end of the 19th century to the present day. This embellishment is a reference to a legend of Catholic shepherds in need of a cross for prayer during their seasonal migrations between the mountains and the plains. Far from any chapel or cathédrale, the shepherd would thrust his opened laguiole blade-down into the earth, exposing the visible cross on the handle for purposes of prayer.
The cross of pins is only one of the cosmetic features of this knife that makes it so distinct, the most famous being a “bee” or other playful embellishment on the dorsal surface of the spring. When one’s thumb is place upon it, is erves as a manual lock. Before the bee first appears in 1909, this was often a flower.
1829: Casimir-Antoine Moulin is the first cutler-blacksmith to set up shop in Laguiole.Monsieur Glaize sets up his cutlery and forge in rue du Valat, in Laguiole.
The first folding knife produced in Laguiole in the 1820’s was the Laguiole Droit, the straight Laguiole, a knife without a decorated bee and with a forced notch. The handle was made from bone or ivory, and finished in the shape of a bird’s beak. The blade had a “bourbonnaise” shape with a centred point. The model was made in Laguiole until 1900.
The Bee has been a popular motif since 1909. But is is a “bee” at all?
(from a different page at Forge-du-Laguiole):
To bee or not to bee?
If you happen to go through the Aubrac region of France, go up to one of the herds of Aubrac cows. Look them straight in the eye and you’ll almost certainly see a few Aubrac flies – pretty, all things considered, and fairly gentle too. Is it a bee or a fly on the Laguiole knife? The story makes for interesting reading.
Where the fly came from – The Laguiole knife used to have a so-called “mouche”, which translates as “fly” but is known as the bee. The bee was the small piece of triangular or oval-shaped metal, sometimes with a ring, which you needed to push up to allow the blade to close.
Today, on the forced notch of the Laguiole, the bee no longer has a functional role. But it is still there as a decoration, as a testament to the technical feature of its origins.
The Laguiole folder I have been given for testing is from La Coutellerie de Laguiole Honoré Durand. The company is run by a pair of Brothers – Honore and Christophe, who have worked in the family business since they were teenagers. Christophe has done a 5 from the Grinder interview, which as I mentioned will run later this week. The Durand Company is one of many small companies producing the Laguiole knife in the region from which the style hails.
My example consists of 14C28N Sandvik steel, olive wood scales, and a forged Bee on the forced notch. More to come in the days ahead.