The Helle Harding knife is a pleasure to look at and a pleasure to use. I've wanted to get my hands on a Helle knife for quite some time after reading and hearing very good things about them, I'm glad I was finally able to.
The Helle Knife company has been hand crafting knives since 1932 and enjoy a reputation for being one of Norway's finest knife makers. I've read that it takes up to 45 different manual procedures to complete a single Helle knife, which I find refreshing and fascinating in a time when automated mass-production is commonplace.
Helle blades are created using a triple laminate stainless steel which, according to Helle, makes them almost impossible to break. I wasn't about to put the Harding through a full on blade destruction test, but I will say that after significant usage the polished blade appears almost untouched. The center portion of the laminated blade is made of a high carbon stainless steel, hardened to 58-59 HRC. This is the harder part of the blade that holds the razor sharp edge. The outside layers are described as a tough 18/8 stainless.
Nicknamed "The Helle beauty", the Harding was designed by Erling Opstad in 1986 and has been in production ever since. The overall knife measures 8.5 inches not including the tang stopper on the end of the handle and has a 4-inch drop point blade. That sounds like a lot of knife but it feels oddly much smaller in my hand than I thought it would going by posted measurements alone. Here are the full specifications:
- Blade Length: 3 7/8 inches
- Steel: Helle triple laminated
- Grind: Scandi
- Overall Length: 8.5 inches
- Blade Thickness: 0.13 inches
- Handle Material: American Walnut, leather, curly birch
- Weight: 5.125oz (knife 3.375oz, sheath 1.75oz)
A Lightweight Workhorse
I wanted to specifically mention the weight of this knife because it feels and is very light weight for its size, which may be a surprise to a lot of people, it was to me. For example; Mora/Frost bushcraft knives have a solid reputation for being affordable quality knives that are also very light weight. For comparison purposes, my KJ Eriksson Mora Knife #711 weighs a total 4.375oz (for sheath and knife). The Helle Harding is less than one ounce heavier! I think that Helle achieves this through careful use of a thin but more than adequate blade which has a rat-tail tang instead of a full tang (more on this and the blade below). Also the handle, though made of wood and leather, is very light weight. It may be because of kiln dried wood - I don't know for sure.
I have several knives that have leather sheaths and have to say that both the quality of the leather used and the fit and finish of the Helle sheath is by far the best I have seen. I don't know why other knife manufacturers pay so little attention to the quality of their leather sheaths. Seeing that a knife comes with a leather sheath has often turned me off the particular knife because my past experience has been less than satisfactory, but the Helle sheath is in a class of its own.
After several months of pretty hard use in all weather conditions I haven't noticed any of the loosening that can sometimes happen with leather sheaths. The knife still fits very snug and secure. In addition to the secure fit the Harding knife comes with an extra flap of leather at the top of the handle that serves as a fastener to snap over the brass pommel that is attached to the end of the blade's tang. This provides a second level of security to ensure that the knife is not going to come out of the sheath by accident. I'll confess that I don't always attached the extra strap to the knife when it is being carried, but it's there if I need it.
The belt loop on the back of the sheath is wide enough to accept even the largest of my belts. I've measured the size and it appears able to accept belts up to 2 1/4 inches wide with no problem. The belt loop is attached with a single large, sturdy, steel pop-rivet.
The handle of the Harding is where you really start to notice the craftsmanship and attention to detail that has gone into producing this knife. Carefully stacked sections of American walnut, leather, and curly birch make for an exquisite but highly functional handle material. The sections are put together in the desired order, clamped very tight, then held in place using a brass pommel that is hammered onto the end of the blade's protruding tang.
The handle is then shaped and sanded down to a traditional form that fits very comfortably in my hand. It is a pleasure to hold when compared to more expensive knives such as my Koster Bushcraft knife that required several hours of sanding to shape the micarta-scaled handle. My only complaint about this knife is around the handle itself. As beautiful and functional as it is, there is a very rough and abrupt finish to the end of the handle that looks as though it was not quite finished. I've seen many more Helle knives that have this same rough cut end, so I know that's how it is intended to be, but I can't help wanting to smooth it off, which I might end up doing. Helle, please consider this as an improvement suggestion.
The Helle laminated steel blade is polished to perfection. I'm not usually a fan of polished blades because I tend to feel bad about scratching them up, but I really haven't been able to do a lot of damage to the finish of the Harding blade even after making dozens of feather sticks and batoning through my fair share of fire wood. I don't know enough about metallurgy to know if the polished surface help protect the blade or not, but it seems to work for this knife.
The center layer of the blade which is a high carbon steel holds an edge extremely well. The Harding came to me with a razor sharp polished edge. Sharper than any of my other knives. In fact I haven't had to re-touch the edge since I got it and it is still sharp enough to slice cleanly through a sheet of newspaper - a benchmark that I know a lot of people use.
I've heard this knife, and other Helle knives, referred to as having a full-tang blade. That is not accurate. It has what is known as a rat tail tang. In a rat tail tang blade, the tang section narrows significantly as it goes through the handle and is typically held in place with a pommel that secures the blade to the handle. So technically, the blade does past through the entire length of the handle, but it does not retain the full width of the blade as it does, therefore it is not a full tang design. That said, there is still no play in the blade what so ever.
The Helle Harding is the lightest weight and highest quality finished knife of all the fixed blade knives that I own. It is not necessarily the best all round knife, because the Fallkniven F1 is practically bomb proof, but it is certainly very high up on the list. The fact that this is such a lightweight knife means that I hardly have to think twice when throwing it into my pack or attaching it onto my belt for a trip. I had thought that I had given up carrying a fixed blade knife because of the weight, but the Helle Harding has given me a great option of having a little extra "comfort" but at the same time keeping my overall pack weight down.
If you are trying to go lightweight, but are reluctant to make the switch to a small SAK of other folding knife, take another look at the Helle range of knives. They make some even smaller models that would be even lighter. I wish that the weights of each knife were more clearly listed some place.
Disclosure: Makais.com provided Brian's Backpacking Blog with a complementary Helle Harding Knife to review.