Helle Harding Knife Review

Photograph: Helle Harding Bushcraft Knife by bfgreen, on Flickr

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.

Photograph: Helle Harding Bushcraft Knife by bfgreen, on Flickr

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.

Photograph: Helle Harding Bushcraft Knife by bfgreen, on Flickr

Leather Sheath
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.

Photograph: Helle Harding Bushcraft Knife by bfgreen, on Flickr

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.

Photograph: Helle Harding Bushcraft Knife by bfgreen, on Flickr

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.

Photograph: Helle Harding Bushcraft Knife by bfgreen, on Flickr

Handle
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.

Photograph: Helle Harding Bushcraft Knife by bfgreen, on Flickr

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.

Photograph: Helle Harding Bushcraft Knife by bfgreen, on Flickr

Blade
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.

Photograph: Helle Harding Bushcraft Knife by bfgreen, on Flickr

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.

Overall
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.

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  • http://makais.com/ Todd

    Brian, this is very thoughtful review. I have become a huge fan of the Helle brand ever since I received a sample from the company last year. Actually, our company (Makais.com) had no plans of selling these knives until I held the sample knife in my hands. The quality and craftsmanship of these knives is just amazing. I think they are priced right, and are a good value. If you take care of it, a knife like the Harding will last you for life! Another cool thing: since these are handmade, no 2 knives are the exact same. You’ll noticed small differences between the handmade wood handles, for example. I like that. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04660196754822006501 Dart Head

    Thank you Brian for your great review, and thank you Todd for the fast delivery on such a wonderful knife. I ordered mine shortly after reading this review. The review was spot-on.

  • http://makais.com/ Todd

    Dart Head: thanks for your order! I hope you enjoy it :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02683832651419525662 Paul

    I’m a huge fan of helle. TO satisfy my DIYness I’ve been making my own handles and cases using helle blade blanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Paul, that’s great to hear. After using the Harding for some time now I’m really loving it. If I could change one thing it would be the abrupt finish to the end of the handle.

    What types of handles have you made and do you have any photos you would like to share? I’d be happy to post them.

  • http://twitter.com/makaiscom Makais.com

    Hi Brian, the end of the handle does look weird unfinished. Does anyone know if there is a reason for it?

  • http://twitter.com/makaiscom Makais.com

    Hi Brian, the end of the handle does look weird unfinished. Does anyone know if there is a reason for it?

  • Anegent

    The rough end is because the pommel end is fitted and peaned over before the shaping of the handle. Dont forget folkes while these are ‘hand made’ they are made by machine, with a human operator. Sanding the end would take longer and risk catching the pommel thus more time and expense to finish them.
    Of course they could sand this one face to finish before clamping them in….which is a shame they dont really.
    Dont get me wrong i like these knives and use their blades a lot but there is handmade and ‘hand made’. There being differences in the handle because of the wood is good ‘cos all the handles are vertually identicle and shape. Its something i have noticed with Helle the finish of the handles is not always there strongest suit.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Oh I realize this is partially hand made, but these unfinished end seems like a mistake or afterthought. If it’s deliberate then they should potentially redesign the end to address this as it’s sloppy compared to the rest of the knife.

      It’s a shame because overall the quality is really quite good.

      I just got my hands on a Helle Alden and was surprised to find a very sharp edge to the front of the first pommel. More on this later…

  • Anegent

    The rough end is because the pommel end is fitted and peaned over before the shaping of the handle. Dont forget folkes while these are ‘hand made’ they are made by machine, with a human operator. Sanding the end would take longer and risk catching the pommel thus more time and expense to finish them.
    Of course they could sand this one face to finish before clamping them in….which is a shame they dont really.
    Dont get me wrong i like these knives and use their blades a lot but there is handmade and ‘hand made’. There being differences in the handle because of the wood is good ‘cos all the handles are vertually identicle and shape. Its something i have noticed with Helle the finish of the handles is not always there strongest suit.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Oh I realize this is partially hand made, but these unfinished end seems like a mistake or afterthought. If it’s deliberate then they should potentially redesign the end to address this as it’s sloppy compared to the rest of the knife.

    It’s a shame because overall the quality is really quite good.

    I just got my hands on a Helle Alden and was surprised to find a very sharp edge to the front of the first pommel. More on this later…

  • Rick O’Shay

    I was up in the air about which knife to order. But after reading this review I’m sold. Just ordered my Harding and I can’t wait to get it.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      That’s cool. Where did you order it from if you don’t mind me asking?

  • Rick O’Shay

    I was up in the air about which knife to order. But after reading this review I’m sold. Just ordered my Harding and I can’t wait to get it.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    That’s cool. Where did you order it from if you don’t mind me asking?

  • http://www.facebook.com/andre.soyb André SOyb

    i guess you could just take a bit of fine sanding paper and smooth it down a little yourself? it what i will do once it has arrived.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andre.soyb André SOyb

    i guess you could just take a bit of fine sanding paper and smooth it down a little yourself? it what i will do once it has arrived.

  • Christopher Zapart

    I have a Veidmann 53, with the gut hook – the gut hook sucks —-> I tried to unzip a deer and it didn’t budge, thank god I had my Gerber on me, besides that the knife is fair …. however I was VERY disappointed when the gut hook did not work.