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Old 3rd November 2010, 05:32 PM   #1
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Default Russian Prison Knives

Around 2000 I came across some knives in South Russia that may be of interest to the Forum members. These things are apparently all kinds of illegal. In Russia they are classified as Cold Weapons and possession without a hunting license is a felony. The irony of this is glaring. These tools make the crude shivs and shanks made from sharpened toothbrushes common in the US seem very unimaginative. Their provenance, technology forms of self-expression make them remarkable, not to mention their cultural context of apparently being fabricated within prison workshops. Obviously, not all inmates in Russian prisons are oligarchs and novelists.

My colleague came across the knife with the cream colored Delrin scales when a driver brought in some samples to his office. He was impressed by the high level of craftsmanship; the hollow ground blade and the unique locking mechanism. Depress the metal lever shown on the right of the second photo and the blade will close. Unfortunately it had no way to lock the push-button. Suggestions were made to the driver for possible design modifications, and an order for three units was made. Later inquiries about delivery were disappointing. The driver reported that while the new knives had been made, they could not be smuggled out of the prison. They were never delivered.

The middle one has aluminum scales with wood insets. The opening mechanism is a coil spring; an innovative idea, but the spring doesn’t have enough force to open the blade. An assisting flip to the pivoting cross guard provides for a leisurely opening action.

The stainless steel knife is the crudest, but has the greatest “cultural content”. The blade looks to be taken from a common kitchen steak knife. The engraved Wolf is the national symbol of Chechnya.

High quality prison knives are not well documented. Their manufacture apparently is not limited to a single institution, but more than likely part of a cultural milieu of perhaps Soviet prison life. Some time ago I saw an academic article on Ukrainian knives on the net that had a section on prison knives, but apparently it is no longer available. Does anyone know of other references or can bring addition light to this fascinating area of collecting?

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Old 3rd November 2010, 07:17 PM   #2
Jim McDougall
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This is an absolutely intriguing topic Edster, and I really wanted to welcome you to our forums! I'd like to thank you for the outstanding information on the takouba markings on the other forum as well. It is always rewarding to have such enthusiam and interesting information presented. Very much looking forward to your posts!!!

All the very best,
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Old 14th November 2010, 08:03 AM   #3
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hello , good to hear somebody else has an interest in prison knives...
yes all over the former soviet union they were made, also a little in bulgaria ive seen,
but in bulgaria there was during communisim a thriving cottage industry of homemade knives so i thin it was not developing a specific style,

in the soviet union the only place you could make knives was in prison,
as civillian knife production was illegal and the knife making areas were mostly in tula for the militart and in vorsma for most everything else and a little in zlatoust but the laws of rthe 1950s the cold weapon laws put a halt on most legal production
then there was uzbekistan, tajikistan and the other stans.. exsluding kazakhstan which if i recall had draconian knife restrictions like the rest of the union,
the other parts of central asia where much of these laws were disregarded ( laws in the soviet union were mostly not nation wide but region specific)
central asia a cottage industry and several state factories continued legally during communisim..

in the caucasus the knife laws were as in the russia areas of the ussr..
so there is regional specific styles of prison knife aswell ,
ther eis indeen a book written about the prison knives of the ukrain,

generally there is however very specific styles of prison knife made now and then , they are made all over in these styles and even have specific names.

much of the modern knife industry producing hunting and fighting knives ows its origins to prison knives... as this is where their first workers and some of their styles came from ,

still in the areas of folding knives the russian prison knives are miles ahead of the legally factory produced knives

the button lock auto has been made in russian prisons for many decades maybe since the end of ww2...
there is many weird autos with very unique mechnisims comming from the prison knives,

there is also ethnic type of knives,
there is the prison style of contured curved bladed knives with very grippy handle smade from wood , plastic or textolite ,
there is little keychain barrel knives for opening the old bottles of vodka and beer bottles, the double as a kubaton..
there is the weird folds some are having strange or unique mechanisms , like side folding butterfly knives or other stuff,
there is prison art knives also,
there is then just normal kitchen knives, hunting knives and pen knives..
hunting axes with engraving
some are very good some are very bad.. some are normal,

really i think some prison should get some decent machines and put these guys to work making interesting prison knives ,, i know id buy them ..
( i remember it was a common sort of humor to say " all the greatest minds are in prison" :d .. well this may not be true there is a lot of know enthusiasts in jail and some of them know how to make knives. )

the guards then sell these products knives and other things as well and give the inmates a little kickback for the work , sometimes the prison is in trouble for this .. but normally it is business as usual,

the wolf on the fold is not a specific reference to chechnya or chechens,, the would put a more specific marking , it is actualy an imitation of a very common and rather crude vorsma made folding knife with a black plastic jumping wolf on the grip i think most soviet boys growing up in the 50s or 60s would have owned one..

it shows up often on prison knives,

to to say some chechens might not be excited buy such imagery as they are avid makers and users of prsions knives and big fans im sure, ( same as dagestan sees lots of people like the quality of the prison knives over the chinese junk in the bazaars i remember being shown many locally made crude folds and prison knives .. seems that most prison knives come sharp, almost convex sometimes.. while the commercial cheapies are blunt as hell.)

your 3 folders are quite interesting,
all are typical "styles" of prison knives.. in the auto style.. some times gun stock style handles and swing guards are common ,

ive seen some nice lever lock autos that were fitted such,
Зековские ножи- zek's knives, or finka - Финка
is a popular name for them but it is meaning specifically the long bladed Scandinavian style prison knives that are popular weapons with street thugs and such, "gopnik specials" i guess..
many knives have funny markings like made in the u.s.a. or made in finland,
this can be seen on illegally made handguns and long guns also... (kind of "prison guns" they are built with the same look and style not made in prisons though ... mostly , ive heard say some prisons converted gas guns to firearms though)

there is a commonly made prison knife it is a folding spike or small steel knife where the handles fold to cover the blad and it can be carried like a pen, once i saw a tanto tipped one with a japanese engraving on the covers ,, one side was a scene of bamboo and the other sides were various water scenes all in very good detail.. really was well made an one done,, ( of corse most are not)

talk about prison made knives and many many images...


more again

the old knife with the dog or wolf on it in its original pattern

more wild styles

and here a google images search for you
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Old 14th November 2010, 04:06 PM   #4
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Thank you so much for adding your knowledge and insight to this subject. Also, the links to Russian forums and those great images puts these knives in a fuller perspective.

The diversity of designs shows that a lot of creativity exists at the grassroots.

Thanks again and best regards,
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Old 14th November 2010, 09:13 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Edster

Thank you so much for adding your knowledge and insight to this subject. Also, the links to Russian forums and those great images puts these knives in a fuller perspective.

The diversity of designs shows that a lot of creativity exists at the grassroots.

Thanks again and best regards,
hi thanks , yes i guess you could say they are user-makers ...
prison knives are quite fun, i think they are sometimes rather good knives sometimes, although mostly heat treat is not so reliable
there is also non prison made knives that are homemade as well ,
and there is quite a common practice of converting cheap folding knives using their frame and parts and putting a new better blade in,
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