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What is a Sgian Dubh?

Often spelled Skean Dhu, a Sgian Dubh is a traditional Scottish, single-edged knife which is worn as part of a highland wear outfit. The words Sgian Dubh directly translated from Gaelic means black (dubh) dagger (sgian). Traditionally a sgian dubh would have been the everyday knife that was small enough to be carried in a pocket or sporran. It was used for all manner of things like cutting rope, food or material but it was also used for protection.Unlike a dirk which was a long bladed knife worn on the belt, a sgian dubh could be retained for protection in clothing or under an armpit when visiting places where weapons may not have been allowed. Wearing a sgian dubh openly became more customary as a sign of trust and hence the reason it is now placed in the sock as part of a traditional highland wear outfit. Historically a sgian dubh would have been placed in the top of the sock of a highlanders dominant side. This would usually be the right sock for right handed people and the left sock for left handed people. Although a sgian dubh is purely ornamental today, the same rule applies for placement when wearing a kilt outfit. There are three main elements of a sgian dubh which are the handle, the sheath and the blade. Handles come in a variety of options and materials. There are plastic handles, wood handles as well as fallen stag horn handles. These handles can be ornate with celtic patterns or plain and there is also the option to have a handle with a stone or pewter top. The handle of the sgian dubh is the only part that is visible above the sock line which is why there are so many different options and designs. The sheath can also be available with a pattern or design but this is less important as this is hidden under the sock when worn. The same goes for the blade, although rarely seen, some are available with patterns etched into the metal and some even come equipped with a bottle opener. These bottle opener sgian dubhs are less traditional but are arguably more practical even if in a novel way.Although the laws around knives in the UK are rightly strict, wearing a sgian dubh in public is legal as long as it is worn as part of a highlandwear outfit. For those who would prefer to not carry a real stainless steel sgian dubh, plastic bladed variants are available. It is also worth noting that regardless of what you wear, sgian dubhs must be placed in hold luggage when traveling through an airport. Rules in other countries may vary so it’s always best to double check the laws when carrying a real sgian dubh outside of the UK. When buying a full outfit from MacGregor and MacDuff a real sgian dubh is included in the package and when hiring, a replica sgian dubh is included. If you have any questions or would like to speak to us about buying a new sgian dubh, give us a call on 0141 280 3398 or email info@macgregorandmacduff.co.uk.