Masunin knife from Genoa area

Masunin, a knife from Genoa area

Masunin is the knife from Masone, a village in the Stura river valley, not far from Genoa.

This model is commonly considered in the group of the Alpine mountain knives, even if Masone is still, from a strict geographical point of view, on the Appenines mountain range. The limit between Appennines and Alps range is in fact conventionally considered in Bocchetta di Altare, some 50 km west of Masone.

The history of Stura valley has been linked since ancient times to iron working and in 1400 Masone, with three iron foundries and an oven, was one of the most important production centers in the area. The number of forges then grew up since about 1850, despite the advance of industrial production

The knife from Masone was originally a big knife used for woodworking and for country work. Over the centuries it became smaller and with a thin blade, inseparable “pocket” companion for all the daily moments, including work in woods, gardens or for cooking and eating

The handles were usually made of various essences but the traditional model is made of laburnum, the so-called “poor people ebony”, known as Abûrnü, in local dialect.

Masunin knife with laburnum handle

The knife is usually compact but, as its brother models from other mountain areas, it conveys a sense of solidity and efficiency. In its classic version it’s usually small, about 15 centimeters open, the handle is made in just one piece of wood (laburnum, as we wrote before, but even other types of local woods), without liners, and presents at the end an enlargement to accommodate the tip of the blade and to improve the grip.

There is no locking mechanism for the blade. A metal band (iron or brass) in the pivot area guarantees a reinforcement and a support for the blade in the opening position. The blade is short with a curved edge and a very low bevel, to permit an easy penetration in wood fibers. One of Masunin’s main uses was in fact for splitting young chestnut or hazel branches. These were then used to make baskets.

Mario Ottonello, one of the last Masunin knife makers
Mario Ottonello 1916-2005, one of the last Masunin knife makers of the old generation (photo courtesy of Massimo Ravera, Mario’s nephew)
One of the last Masunin knives made by Mario Ottonello

One of the last Masunin knives made by Mario Ottonello, (photo courtesy of Massimo Ravera, Mario’s nephew)

The same model was produced in nearby villages in slightly different versions.

In Campo Ligure, just 4-5 km from Masone, in an upper portion of the Stura valley, Masunin knife was produced by Repetto brothers, locally known as Sünâi.

Masunin knife marked G.Repetto - Campo Ligure
The brass band of a Masunin knife marked G.Repetto – Campo Ligure

In Piampaludo, Savona province, about 30 km from Masone, local knife makers used to produce knives very similiar to Masunin with a thinner shape and a different blade. The metal band in the pivot area, made using iron or brass, was sometimes engraved and the handle could be decorated with brass nails. French boxwood was also used, in addition to local species, since local woodcutters went to nearby France to make crosspieces for the railway tracks. Each craftsman gave his knives a personal touch that differentiated him from the others. Informations and pictures about these knives were kindly given by an inhabitant of Piampaludo, Giovanni De Prati.

Piampaludo knife
An example of Piampaludo knife
Liguria knife from the village of Piampaludo
The boxwood handle is decorated with small brass nails