The Helle Bleja is a traditional Scandinavian folding knife that is fully hand-crafted. It is named after a Norwegian mountain and captures the same rugged character found there. Just like any natural treasure, the Bleja requires a bit of extra care to properly maintain, though with such care this heirloom quality knife will also endure for generations. To be fair, those future generations might notice that the uncompromising hand filling Bleja feels a bit like a mountain in their pockets.
Key Specs: Helle Bleja
Triple Laminated Stainless Steel/High Carbon
Helle is a small company that makes every product focusing on the highest quality possible. Their goal is to make the best outdoors blades for use in the real world. As a hand crafted show piece you can feel the love that went into the Helle Bleja. It is a full sized lock back outdoors knife with beautiful wooden scales. The sculpted Curly Birch scales are smooth and comfortable in the hand, with the natural sheen of amber and honey. The Scandi grind blade is made out of triple laminated steel with an impossibly buttery smooth edge. Out of the box the action was smooth with no need for break in. Everything about the pocket mountain just feels “right” in your hand, though unfortunately a little big in your pocket.
Of course, one must pay for this level of hand-crafted excellence. The retail price of around $230, is notably steeper than for many mass production knives featuring similar construction. Though if you are choosing this knife, you are likely more concerned with how, why, and who made it. I strongly suspect you would be choosing this knife explicitly for the craftsmanship and natural materials. You are likely the a person who strongly values being outdoors using the sorts of tools that actually belong in that setting. In short, you are likely the sort of person who identifies with the ideals of a real people from a real place, a people who have lived alongside the Bleja mountain and in harmony with nature for millennia.
The blade of the Helle Bleja is a 3.2 inch modified Scandi grind as it has a small secondary bevel. A traditional Scandi grind knife has only one bevel making the edge of the blade. This makes for the finest, sharpest, but most fragile edge possible. Helle has added a secondary micro bevel to increase durability by limiting the fineness of the cutting edge. With this compromise, they may have lost a touch of the fine slicing prowess for which Scandinavian are famous, but you could never tell from the way it cuts.
The edge from the factory is just spectacular. Despite its geometry the Bleja is razor sharp, silently wiping away arm hair with a velvety caress. While it is not quite ‘scary sharp’, the edge has the feel enthusiasts lust for in the very best straight razors, as if the edge was made on a natural coticule hone in well practiced hands. The bevels are all constantly even and uniform. The grind is just immaculate. It is clear that a master craftsman cared deeply for this blade.
The steel Helle uses is a little bit of mystery. It is described as a triple laminated steel, having a heart of high carbon steel bound to layers of stainless steel on the outsides. The high carbon steel at the center is extra hardened to maximize edge retention. The outside layers of stainless steel are softer and more flexible to protect the center from corrosion and shock. You can see the feint transition between steel types as your eye moves across the blade. This layering effect is just one of the many features connecting the pocket mountain to the real Bleja mountain, in this case the sedimentary layers found in natural rock formations.
Layering steel is an expensive time consuming way to make blade stock. Historically, before the advent of modern alloy steels, craftsman would use similar techniques to build functional tools out of the imperfect materials at hand. Helle chooses to continue making their knives in this tradition, blending modern and ancient techniques. This is a theme that runs deeply with Helle, their factory is even physically located on a Viking burial ground, literally connecting their place of manufacturing, their techniques, and their products to the long history found there.
Helle does not advertise the exact steels used, but they do use 12C27 Sandvik steel is some of the their other products, and with its high corrosion resistance is a likely candidate here. Edge retention on the Bleja is in line with a quality high carbon steel. It clearly surpassed plain 12C27 and is strikingly similar to the 1095 high carbon blade I tested against. It did not seem have the edge retention of a super steel, but it was more than adequate for real world tasks. Also of note is that I had no issues with chipping during any of my testing, the blade proved to be quite resilient.
The pocket mountain ran through normal paper/cardboard/food prep tests with no issues. With a lock back, you have to be conscious not to over stress the lock, so this is not a knife meant for batoning or gross YouTube destruction test abuse. Though fine carving, such as making feather sticks, was a pleasure with the remarkably smooth factory edge. The Scandi grind easily bit into wood to cut notches. As long as you respect the limitations of a lock back, this knife will excel at any task you might ask of it.
Sharpening the Bleja was no struggle. The large bevels and minimal layer of high carbon steel made for easy hand sharpening. Plus, with exceptionally large flats, clamping continuous angle sharpeners to the Bleja is very easy. Maintaining this knife in the field with portable sharpening equipment will be no issue. Just remember to oil after, as the non-stainless core will be the prone to rust, and as far as edge retention is concerned, that is the worst possible place for it.
Handle and Ergonomics
The handle is where the Bleja really shines. Helle’s Curly Birch is an absolutely a thing of beauty. There is a nearly holographic glow to the wood, the amber and honey highlights just dance as you they catch the light. Helle uses a wax treatment on the wood that repels moisture but still lets the natural colors of the wood shine through in remarkable ways. There is no heavy varnish obscuring the natural beauty here. With exposure to the elements, the Bleja may over time become dirty, but soap, water, and a new coat of wax should bring it right back.
The handle and ergonomics of the Bleja are warm, hand-filling, and comfortable. This is no surprise for a blade that was developed in Norway. The winters of the region are notoriously cold. Tools made of steel or titanium steal warmth from the user. Curly Birch, on the other hand, transfers heat much slower and is more comfortable in the cold. This focus on working utility continues into the well thought out handle shape. The contours fit the human hand well and maintain adequate grip despite the wood scales having no added texture. The belly and choils work well together to keep your hand in place, plus the flair at the butt end locks you in securely for hard use. Combine all that with the 3/4ths inch handle width, and you have a knife that does everything in its power to fit your hand.
Unfortunately, there are a few hot spots to report. The biggest being the angular surfaces on the upper butt end of the scales. The wood here flares out and is not rounded like the rest of the knife. Plus, under the handle the steel liners were left bit angular and could have also used more rounding over. During use, these edges are minor distraction as your finger skin finds its way between them. Overall the ergonomics of the Bleja are still very good, but the faults are there.
Let’s get it out of the way: this is not a high speed, low drag, tactical knife. This is a traditional two hand opening nail nick knife. It came out of the box smooth, but not hydraulic smooth. However, it was clearly more fluid than any modern lock back I have had my hands on. The rocker bar slides into and out of the notch cut in the blade tang with no hang ups. It take two hands, but opening and closing this knife are both smooth and secure.
Lock up is solid with a hint of up and down play, but no side to side play whatsoever. In practical usage the up and down movement was all but invisible. Minor play is the side effect of smooth operation out of the box. The stick typically found during the break in of mass production lock backs was absent here because it has been polished into oblivion by the craftsman finishing this knife.
The placement of the lock back is in the ideal location, the top middle of the handle. It is neither so far forward or so far back that the meaty parts of your hand accidentally actuate the lock. The spring is also very well balanced: it is heavy enough to stay locked when it needs to be but light enough that it is not a struggle to depress. You just need to push the lock back with reasonable but deliberate force.
I will note that I was able to open the knife one handed. The action is light enough that you can jam your thumb into the nail nick and overcome the spring tension of the lock back to open the Bleja. I manged to do it a few times, but I never felt like it was the safest thing to do. That said, in a pinch it is possible to operate one handed. I just don’t suggest doing it in anything other than an emergency.
The pocket mountain truly earns its name when you carry the knife. This is a thick, hand filling folder that makes no compromise for portability or weight reduction. The scales are full slabs of steel with no lightening cuts. Curly Birch was clearly chosen for its raw, natural beauty. Folded, the Bleja is wide and substantial. The knife weighs in at 5.4 oz, while this is not boat anchor heavy it just feels bigger than that number might imply.
You will rarely forget you have a Bleja on your person. Though with the nature (and price) of the blade, it makes more for a scene of security than of burden. If this is the sort of blade you EDC, you are clearly not choosing it to forget about it. This knife refuses to be just one more toy; it demands to be your partner. Everything about it screams timeless dependability, and the knife is determined to remind you of this commitment with every step you take.
Fit and Finish
The Helle Bleja is beautifully hand fitted, all the way around. This means that there are slight variations everywhere in the knife, where a real live human being used hand tools to make something ever so slightly unique. The material’s mostly line up with the wood scales being just slightly more sanded down than the metal liners behind them. There are slight variances in the shape of the two scales. Metal parts are chamfered with slight variation on every corner. In short this is an organic thing with its own “fingerprint”. This is not just another sterile construct of modern mechanical uniformity.
The place where this is most apparent is in the lanyard hole; it is hand drilled and reamed. The openings are not symmetrical to themselves or even one another. The crags and outcroppings of the lanyard loop have a distinctly rocky appearance and feel right at home on the pocket mountain. They add charm and are one more element tying the pocket mountain to the real Bleja mountain and the lifestyle found there.
As a knife enthusiast, I love modern manufacturing. At it’s best it makes impossibly uniform blades that jump to life with the flick of a single finger, but something is lost in that equation. With no variance from one knife to the next, you loose the connection to the people who made it. Sure, the designers personality still shines threw, but they are just one member of a huge team working on a finished product. Helle trust’s their craftsman to leave their own fingerprints all over Bleja. There is a different presence on the blade, the scales, the lock, and the hardware. You feel the human element that modern manufacturing processes relentlessly attempt to eradicate. This is in no way an attack on the modern knives we all know and love, I have an embarrassingly large collection myself, I am just pointing out an organic quality that none of my other knives posses.
Last word about the packaging – it came in an ‘eco-friendly’ cardboard tube complete with attractive Helle cleaning cloth. Nothing special but elegant in it’s own way.
Below are some alternative offerings you may choose to consider before buying the Bleja.
Helle Dokka (Amazon) – The Bleja is a strengthened update of their older Dokka model. The Dokka features the same triple laminated steel, Curly Birch scales, and lock back. The cost is only $150; the weight is 20 grams lighter, and it includes a leather sheath for belt carry. However, the lower weight is due to the omission of steel liners, so it might not stand up to as much hard use as its newer heavier brother.
Lionsteel Opera (Amazon) – The Opera is a smaller, lighter knife than the Bleja, and makes for a more gentlemanly carry. The blade is made from mid grade 440C, so edge retention will be lower than the Bleja. The olive wood scales are attractive in a less busy way than the Curly Birch of the Bleja and are cut focusing on continuous flowing lines rather than all-out working ergonomics. The price is under $100 but it still captures a similar natural beauty.
Benchmade Crooked River (Amazon) – The Crooked River from Benchmade is the high speed, low drag alternative to the Bleja. It make use of somewhat similar materials, but complements them with bright modern colors and has the mechanical feel mentioned above. The Axis lock makes for instant, almost effortless deployment and safe one handed operation. The clip point saber grind is tuned for hunting and skinning rather than general bushcraft. The Crooked River is as tied to wilds of modern Oregon as the Bleja is tied to historical Norway. Both of these knives capture the unique essences of the places they were made.
Cold Steel Finn Wolf (Amazon) – If you want the rugged capabilities of the Bleja but are on a budget, the Cold Steel Finn Wolf might be a great option for you. The handle is plastic, and the blade is made from the soft-ish AUS-8, so you will have to sharpen it more often. However, it uses the legendary Triad lock and will clearly make for the strongest lock up in this group, making it the real work horse of the roundup.
The Helle Bleja is a knife that has a deep connection with the places it was made and inspired by. The pocket mountain is not a perfect knife, but it is a knife who’s “flaws” present themselves as character not deficiencies. This is a knife built with history and tradition. It will speak deeply to a select few kindred spirits who can see past a steep price tag. At it’s price point modern alternatives have an intimidating amount of bells and whistles to throw at a consumer, though in some ways they are poorer for it. This is clearly not a knife made for the masses as not every one has an interest in finely crafted traditional cutlery. Helle has purposely chosen a path between the modern and the traditional to created a knife that truly belongs on it’s own mountain, or on any mountain you happen to find yourself on.
- Hand crafted and naturally beautiful, excellent blade
- Some hot spots, feels big in the pocket
Review by Seth Gunn