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Reviews > Knives > Fixed Blade > Helle Algonquin Knife > Test Report by David Wilkes

Test series by David Wilkes

AS Helle Fabrikker Algonquin Knife

Initial Report - April 20 2015
Field Report - 7 July 2015
Long Term Report - 8 September 2015

Tester Information

Name: David Wilkes
E-Mail: amatbrewer@yahoo.com
Age: 47
Location: Yakima Washington USA
Gender: M
Height: 5'11" (1.80 m)
Weight: 200 lb (90.7 kg)

Biography:

I started backpacking in 1995 when I moved to Washington State. Since then, I have backpacked in all seasons and conditions the Northwest has to offer.  I prefer trips on rugged trails with plenty of elevation gain. While I continuously strive to lighten my load, comfort and safety are most important to me. I have finally managed to get my basic cold weather pack weight, not including consumables, to under 30 lb (14 kg).

Product Information

Manufacturer:

AS Helle Fabrikker

Year of Manufacture:

2014

Manufacturer’s Website:

http://www.helle.no

MSRP:

MSRP not available from the manufacturer

Listed Weight:

Knife:  60 g /  2 oz
Sheath: 30 g /  1 oz

Measured Weight:

Knife:  60 g /  2 oz
Sheath: 30 g /  1 oz (without lanyard)

Listed Specifications:

Blade material: Triple laminated stainless steel
Blade thickness: 2.8 mm  / 0.11 in
Blade length: 69 mm / 2.72 in
Handle material: Darkened oak, curly birch and leather
Handle length: 92 mm / 3.62 in
Sheath material: Genuine leather

Knife with sheath

Product Description:

Description
The AS Helle Fabrikker Algonquin is “designed for self-reliance and freedom in the wild” and is a one of their new 2015 line of knives. Its design is credited to the world renowned photographer Laura Bombier, and named after Canada’s Algonquin Wilderness. With its short blade and small wood handle it is intended to be worn as a neck knife and comes with a leather sheath and lanyard. Its triple laminated steel blade is intended to hold an edge while being easy to sharpen and corrosion resistant.


Initial Report

April 20 2015

KnifeBefore applying for this test I had never heard of AS Helle Fabrikker. I have since done some research and it seems they are a small company in Norway established in the 1930’s by two brothers (Steinar and Sigmund Helle). AS Helle Fabrikker knives are hand crafted. One signature feature used in many of their knives, including this one, is triple laminated steel. It uses a core of high carbon steel wrapped in layers of stainless steel. The idea is a tough core that holds a sharp edge with a softer outer layer that resists corrosion and helps make the blade easer to sharpen. Over the years I have struggled with the dilemma of wanting the convenience of a folding knife, while desiring the lightweight reliability of a fixed blade knife. However most fixed blade knives of sufficient size and strength to suit me are designed to be belt knives, and I can’t really wear a knife on my belt and comfortably wear a backpack hip belt over it. However when I have put my knife on my backpack, then taking off my pack also means taking off my knife. Recently I started carrying a neck knife, and it seems to be the solution I have been looking for. So obviously I was quite interested in testing this product.

I must note that I consider my outdoor knives to be tools, and very important ones at that. I expect an outdoor knife to be able to do what it was designed for as well as put up with a bit of abuse (prying, pounding, etc.) without failing. I also find that form follows function and so a well-designed tool tends to also be very elegant looking. However this knife seems to be on the fine line between a finely crafted tool and a work of art. But that won’t stop me from using it like the tool it is intended to be.

In sheathThis particular knife uses dark oak and curly birch for the handle with red leather inserts (separating the sections of wood) creating a very nice looking contrasting pattern. The knife features a short curved blade with a straight spine (also referred to as straight tip or straight back) but when examined closely I can see there is a slight curve to the back of the blade. Note this is different from the very popular drop point style blade common to many outdoor knives. As best I can tell the tang (portion of the blade that extends into, and sometime through, the handle) is not the full width of the handle as with a full tang, but more like thin rod often referred to as a rat tail tang. All things being equal, the full tang makes for a heaver knife but is also stronger, while the rat tail tang is lighter but not as strong. The tang appears to extend the full length of the handle, connecting to the pommel. The knife features a small pommel that is used to secure the sheath/scabbard.

The included sheath is leather, and includes a leather lanyard. Like the knife the sheath is simple but elegant and appears to be of high quality materials and workmanship. There is a plastic insert inside the sheath that holds/protects the blade. I would note that the stitching of the leather looks to be excellent and the loose ends of thread were melted to prevent them from fraying or working loose. I do note two small imperfections to the sheath on either side. It appears as if the sheath was bundled tightly, possibly for storage.  And, yes, I am “nit picking”. The quality is excellent, making small imperfections that would otherwise be unremarkable noticeable.

The knive's handle is a very simple design with a small finger grove and a slight widening of the handle near the pommel. It is apparent from the minor irregularities, only noticeable if I look hard enough, that this handle was hand crafted. While the handle looks rather small, it actually fits quite nicely. For reference, when purchasing gloves I tend to be on the border between size medium and large for most brands. The length of the handle is just barely long enough fit my hand, while the diameter fits my hand very well. I can comfortably hold the knife with my thumb behind the blade for power, or with my thumb and fore finger on either side of the blade for precision work, or simply in my fist for basic cutting tasks. In examining the handle I notice the edge of the wooden handle at the transition to the back of the blade, where I would place my thumb, is a bit sharp. Not enough to cut, but enough that when I push with my thumb as I would when carving a feather stick, the edge is uncomfortable, bordering on painful. If this does not wear down with use I may be forced to file or sand it down myself. Please make note of my “nit picking” comments throughout this in this review, this would fit in that category.

As mentioned above the pommel is a small (brass?) knob like projection on the base of the handle. In addition to securing the blade in the handle, it acts as a catch for the leather cover/retainer of the sheath. I prefer a substantial pommel on my outdoor knives suitable for tasks like pounding stakes, but I must admit that I rarely actually use my knives for this, so I doubt this will be a problem.

The blade of the knife is finely polished and stamped with the “HELLE Norway” logo and “Algonquin”. Based upon examination of the blade and some research it appears that AS Helle Fabrikker sharpens this knife using what is referred to as a “Scandi” (Scandinavian) grind. This means the blade is ground down at a single long flat angle to the edge. There are a few main styles of grinding a blade and countless variations which are beyond the scope of this review. But my understanding is that the Scandi grind makes for a very sharp edge that is effective for carving wood and easy to sharpen because all that is necessary is to lay the blade on the stone and grind following the existing angle. This is the first knife I have had with this type of grind so I will be interested in how well it holds edge, how strong it is,  and when necessary how easy/difficult it is to sharpen. The blade had a small amount of protective oil on it when I first removed it from the sheath.  The blade is quite sharp, not quite what I would consider ‘shaving sharp’ (yes, I tried shaving the hair on my arm) but very sharp none the less. The edge shows some VERY minor imperfections, and there are some grind marks still visible on one side of the blade. Nit picking again; the blade is excellent which only makes these minor cosmetic flaws all the more noticeable.

The knife fits snugly into its sheath. Snug enough that it should stay in place even without having the securing flap snapped over the pommel. Tight enough that I must hold the sheath in order to remove the knife, but not so tight that it is difficult to remove. Removing the flap from the pommel is quite easy, and securing it in place takes a bit more force but is not difficult. The flap looks like it should hold the knife in place very securely while allowing quick/easy removal. The lanyard appears to be a long strip of the same leather as the sheath, and is about 48 in (122 cm) long. It was shipped with a single knot in the end making it far too long for me to wear as is, so I tied sliding adjustable knots (like used for “friendship bracelets”) to allow me to adjust the length as needed. It also came with a shorter length of leather cord (about 15 in / 38 cm) which I assume could be used as an alternate method of carrying the knife e.g. on a pack or belt loop.

The brochure that came with the knife has some basic care instructions. They include wiping the handle and sheath dry and occasionally applying wax to prevent the wood from drying out. And simply wiping the blade dry and occasionally applying grease. They suggest occasional treatment of the leather to prevent it from drying out. They also include some basic sharpening recommendations.

The last accessory that was included in the tube the AS Helle Fabrikker knives are shipped in is a small cleaning cloth with the HELLE logo.
If it was not obvious from the above text my first impressions of this knife are very favorable. But as with any outdoor product, its real value is in how it performs. Over the next 4 months or so I will be using this knife in to see if its performance matches its appearance.

Field Report

July 7 2015
Use:
  • Day hike - Snow Mountain Ranch (Central Washington Shrub step) – altitude ranging from 1850’ (550 m) to around 3000’ (900 m) Temp approximately 75 F (24 C) and clear. Estimated distance 2 miles (3 km).
  • Day hike - Bear Canyon (Eastern foothills of the Washington Cascades) – altitude around 2200’ (670 m) approximately 70 F (21 C) with scattered showers. Estimated distance 6 miles (10 km).
  • Day hike - Deer Lake (Central Washington Cascades) – altitude ranging from 4500’ (1370 m) to 5260’ (1600 m) Temp approximately 75 F (24 C) with scattered showers. Distance 6 miles (10 km)
  • Trail Maintenance - Goat Peak Trail (Central Washington Cascades) – altitude ranging from 3300’ (1000 m) to 4100’ (1250 m) Temp approximately 75 F (24 C) with fog/mist and thunderstorms in the area. Estimated distance 2 miles (3 km)
  • Backpack (1 night) - Deer Lake (Central Washington Cascades) – altitude ranging from 4500’ (1370 m) to 5260’ (1600 m) Temp approximately 75 F (24 C). Distance 6 miles (10 km)
  • Daily use at home and work
Wearing the knifeI have used this knife for daily chores at the office, home and in my yard and have no complaints. I have used this knife to cut cord and rope of various materials and thicknesses with ease. But where this knife has really gotten my attention was while hiking. I have been trying to hone my primitive skills, so I have been experimenting with various traps and snares, as well as using a bow drill for fire making. Obviously a knife plays an important role in these tasks. For the traps and snares this knife works very well at trimming and carving the sticks and twigs required. I was concerned that the knife might not be up to the task of cutting the larger sticks required for making a bow drill but found I could easily whittle through the size stick I needed for the drill (a little larger than my thumb). I found the rounded tip of this knife to be almost ideal for drilling out the starter socket of my fireboard. The one area I ran into trouble is that the knife is a bit small for splitting wood large enough for making the fireboard. The good fit in my hand and stiff blade affords me very good control, allowing me to make very nice feather sticks as well as whittling shavings for tinder.

The back of the knife is very flat with squared off edges. I found this to do a good job for scraping shavings off of a magnesium block for fire starting. However the stainless steel outer layer does not work very well for striking sparks from a ferrocerium rod. In the tests I performed I was completely unable to generate enough of a spark to get a fire started with it even under the best conditions.

As mentioned in the Initial Report the blade comes with what is referred to as a Scandinavian grind. That is the angle stays the same all the way down to the edge, as opposed to other grinds that have the edge ground at a different angle than the taper that leads up to the edge. In concept this should make sharpening easer since all I have to do is lay the blade on the stone and grind the entire tapered edge at the same angle. The knife sharpening system that I have is designed to help keep a consistent angle does not work with this knife, none of the available angles match the grind on this knife, so I had to relearn what I would refer to as “old school” sharpening using a set of standard sharpening stones. It took me a bit to get comfortable with manually stroking the blade across a stone, as opposed to my sharpening system that holds the blade in a clamp and I move the stone across it. As intended the majority of the material removed was the softer outer steel and only a small amount of the harder core metal, so I was able to achieve a very sharp edge quite quickly. One advantage to this is that I can carry my small pocket sharpening stone and easily re-sharpen this knife in the field if needed.

So far the sheath has worked well and the knife still fits snuggly enough that I sometimes don’t bother snapping the leather cover into place if I am going to use it again. However I have found the leather strap to irritate my neck while on the trail so I have replaced it with a softer nylon cord to see if that is more comfortable.
Lanyard
If I were to suggest one change, and this is really nit picking, I think I would prefer if the holes in the sheath were located a little further down so that when I am not wearing the knife I can wrap the cord around the sheath. In its current location the cord tends to work its way up above the edge of the sheath such that removing the knife, if I am not careful, could slice through the cord. I have helped solve this by putting a toggle on the cord I am currently using but am considering adding new holes further down. But I will probably wait until after the conclusion of this test.

Long Term Report

September 8 2015
Usage:
  • 5 day car camping in Salt Lake City (“roughing it” in a KOA campground in the city)
  • 1 day hike Yakima Skyline trail – Eastern foothills of the Washington Cascades (1343 –1866 ft / 409-569 m). Distance unknown
  • 1 day hike PCT Central Cascades, approximately 18 miles (Trail maintenance scouting trip)
  • 2 nights fishing/hiking trip PCT Central Cases, approximately 7 miles
  • Fly fishing trip, couple of hours on the Yakima River in Central Washington state

The main use I have gotten out of this knife while on the trail is for fire building, and cutting cord/rope. During my car camping trip I spent my first night in a tent but then switched to my hammock, where I experimented with different rigging setups so had to cut some rope and the thin guy lines. As I had grown accustomed to, the knife was very easy to handle and sliced through the material with ease.
I have started to get back into fly fishing and so have been experimenting with different line configurations while practicing casting in my yard. Having the AS Helle Fabrikker Algonquin hanging from my neck was quite convenient when I need to cut the line and then replace. While fly fishing on the Yakima River I ended up wading through some deep water, and I appreciated having the knife around my neck and not down on my hip where it would be more difficult to reach and/or could have gotten immersed if I miss judged my footing.
During my hike/fish outing I encountered more wind/rain than I had anticipated. After the hike, setting up my hammock, and then exploring around the lake, I was rather wet as was everything else, but I had forgotten to pack my small sit pad (cut down closed cell foam sleeping pad) so could find no dry place to sit to eat my dinner and since the area is known to have bears, I was not about to eat in my hammock. So I used the knife to trim off some lower (semi dry) branches from the pine and cedar trees that I used to make a bit of a nest under a tree. Having a knife that is easy to handle while applying force as well as being very sharp, made this a far easier task than it otherwise might have been. In addition, the stainless steel blade made cleaning off the pine sap quite easy.

As a side note, while in Salt Lake I stopped by the Helle of Norway booth and chatted with the folks there. They were very interested to hear about how the testing was going as well as my opinion about the product. When I mentioned that I thought the lanyard should be attached lower on the sheath so it could be safely wrapped around the sheath they sounded quite interested and said they would consider it. I also got to see a small sample of their impressive line of knives.
In conclusion, aside for the above mentioned slight modification to the sheath (that I might make now that this test has concluded) I have no complaints about this product. It is an exceptional knife that immediately became my favorite. While the blade may be slightly shorter than I would like for accomplishing some survival type tasks, its ability to hold an edge while still being easy to sharpen, as well as being able to maintain excellent control while applying force as well as for delicate tasks makes it an outstanding all around knife. So this knife has a permanent place on my basic equipment list for outdoor activities, and is one of the first knifes I look for around the house as well as while working in the yard.

Likes: 
  • Fits my hand well
  • Small, light weight
  • Nice balance
  • Triple laminated steel blade
  • Arrived quite sharp
  • Fits well in its included sheath
  • Easy to sharpen
Opportunities:
  • None so far

This concludes my report. I would like to thank the folks at AS Helle Fabrikker and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product and invite you back in about 2 months when I will be posting my Long Term Report

 



Read more reviews of A/S Helle Fabrikker gear
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Reviews > Knives > Fixed Blade > Helle Algonquin Knife > Test Report by David Wilkes



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