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If you haven’t seen The 12th Man, fix that tonight. Aside from being beautifully shot, the Norwegian film tells the story of Jan Baalsrud, one of the most indomitable badasses in recorded history. When the Norwegian saboteur wasn’t plotting to overthrow the Nazi occupation of his homeland, he was freestyle swimming in the Arctic Ocean, sledding behind wild caribou, and chopping off any limbs that couldn’t keep up with a borrowed knife.
The movie made me want to do a few things. For one, I wanted to see the Norwegian fjords. I also aspired to be about one percent as tough as Baalsrud. Lastly (and most attainably), I really wanted to get my hands on a traditional Scandinavian knife like the one given to Baalsrud by a particularly hardcore local farmer. The trick would be finding someone who still makes knives like that in a world where supply chain management takes priority over building things with your hands.
Luckily for me, that’s exactly how a few Norwegians have been building knives since 1932. Helle began by building knives for the local farmers and fishermen who needed a tool that could perform well, survive harsh arctic winters, and look good doing it. Today, Helle builds specialized knives for hunting, fishing, bushcraft, carving, and all-around badassery.
The Helle Eggen is an all-purpose knife that epitomizes simplicity. At $119, it’s not exactly an impulse buy. Big-name brands like Gerber and Ka-Bar will sell you fixed-blade knives for less than $50 all day long. To justify spending this kind of money, you’d better have a genuine appreciation for the things that make the Eggen special. Helle is all about craftsmanship and owning something that’s not on most people’s radar. Fortunately for you, I bought one and I can tell you all about my ownership experience before you pull the trigger on expanding your knife collection.
First things first: Do the people at Helle think that packaging their knives like bottles of scotch will make me like them more? Because that’s exactly what happened. In my defense, I didn’t see the packaging until after I bought the Eggen.
Knife comparisons always prioritize blade material, and identifying the type of steel Helle uses is easier said than done. The manufacturer refers to its laminated stainless steel as H3LS and its laminated carbon steel as H3LC. You won’t find those designations on Knife Informer, though, because they’re proprietary and the composition is only known to the knife makers at Helle.
The non-laminated blades in Helle’s lineup use a mix of steel “mainly from Sandvik.” That’s about all the information the FAQ page offers. A little internet sleuthing suggests that the specific steel Sandvik provides Helle with is their 12C27 stainless steel––which is a good sign. You can find 12C27 Sandvik in everything from chef’s knives to hunting knives that prioritize sharpness and durability. If that’s any indication, we can be reasonably confident that Helle’s mystery laminate is a quality product.
The various knives in Helle’s lineup are all appealing in their own right, but what sold me on the Eggen was the handle. Curly birch is so gorgeous it’s almost a shame to cover it with my hand. Every Helle handle is hand-carved and sanded so they’re all one-of-a-kind. The attention to detail was immediately evident––I’ve never held any knife that fit me so well.
I should point out that pictures do not do this knife justice. Helle’s product photography is excellent (and I’m doing my best), but it’s hard to convey just how good the Eggen looks in real life. The handle somehow feels smooth, soft, and rugged at the same time. Keep the curly birch waxed and it can look this good forever.
How we tested the Helle Eggen
After spending entirely too much time admiring the Eggen’s mesmerizing good looks, I dove in by whittling since that seems like a very old-school thing to do with a knife. It turns out that my family’s history of skilled wood carving must not be an inherited trait, because the best I could muster was sharpening sticks, removing bark, and generally making a mess of my kindling pile. It sure was easy, though: The Eggen can slice off thin layers of wood or scoop out chunks with equal ease.
My particular whittling specialty, as it turns out, is cutting sticks to roast marshmallows. In the name of serving my loyal readers, I proceeded to sample a series of s’mores to make sure the Eggen’s handiwork could withstand the rigors of campfire cooking. On other occasions, it did a nice job of slicing both raw and cooked meat. The Scandi grind is as versatile as advertised and definitely helps overcome the blade’s thickness when delicate precision is required.
The blade held up extremely well, but it is showing a few scratches. I had to remind myself that it’s meant to be used and that I should embrace those wear marks as badges of honor. Helle recommends greasing the blade to maintain optimal protection, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet; the original film is holding strong. The handle is in like-new condition, but I expect it to need more frequent attention than the laminated steel blade. Natural beeswax requires regular reapplication to keep the curly birch protected as well as it would be by industrial-strength varnish or lacquer. In return, I’ll get to enjoy a handle that’s easy to grip and holds up better in the long run.
What we like about the Helle Eggen
The craftsmanship of this knife can’t be overstated. I recommend spending some time on Helle’s website, where you can see the Norwegian artisans at work. Seriously, look at those hands and tell me that’s not the exact person you want making your knife. The Eggen is built from start to finish in one workshop. There are no corporate memos blaming an anonymous supplier for material defects or marketing meetings where people strategize about how to trend on Twitter. There are just passionate knife-makers putting in an honest day’s work before going home to cook the catch of the day.
Most of the knives Helle makes are built for a specific purpose, like hunting, fishing, or wood carving. One of the reasons I bought the Eggen is because it’s designed to be an all-purpose knife. I can take it camping, slice up a roast for dinner, or cut rope and not feel like I’m using the wrong tool for the job. The Eggen’s three-millimeter blade thickness might seem more at home to the campsite than the kitchen, but the blade’s Scandi grind manages to make the blade surprisingly versatile and devastatingly sharp. Rather than using two bevels like most knives, traditional Scandinavian blades use a single bevel to create an edge that isn’t quite as durable but can be extremely sharp and simple to maintain.
Aesthetics are subjective, but I dig the Eggen’s style. It’s such a departure from the knives we usually see in the U.S. The whole schtick of this knife seems to be understated class, right down to the plain sheath that covers almost all of the handle. Yes, it’s beautiful, but it doesn’t rely on a gaudy hilt or elaborate tooling to grab attention. If you notice it, good for you. If you don’t, the folks at Helle won’t be bothered.
What we don’t like about the Helle Eggen
If there are any criticisms to be made about the Helle Eggen, they probably have more to do with what you expect from your knives than objective flaws.
Bushcraft has grown in popularity in recent years. For some (usually new) knife enthusiasts, full-tang knives are regarded as the only acceptable option. If you can’t bludgeon a knife through a log with a bat, it must be useless––or so says internet wisdom. The Eggen’s stick tang isn’t cut out for that kind of thing, and attempting it will probably leave you with a broken knife and a voided warranty. The type of steel used in the outer portions of the Eggen’s blade isn’t conducive to striking flint, either, so don’t plan on lighting a fire with this knife. There are plenty of hefty bushcraft and survival knives out there––this just isn’t one of them.
Since we typically focus on gear that has a tactical element to it, it’s worth pointing out that the Eggen is not something I’d ever take on a field exercise or deployment. Not only would I not want to deal with proper maintenance in those situations, but the Eggen is also way too damn shiny. The bright polish on the blade might as well be a signal mirror. Save this one for daily use or dressing game you’ve already landed.
Like I mentioned, maintenance is key to keeping the Eggen looking and performing its best. The blade needs to be oiled, the wood needs to be waxed, and the leather sheath needs to be conditioned. If you aren’t prepared to do those things, you can expect deterioration to set in and ruin your investment. If you do commit to putting in the work necessary to maintain the Eggen, you’ll be rewarded with a knife that you can bond with over the years and hand down to the next generation.
Using the Eggen feels a lot like driving an old carbureted car or listening to classic vinyl, meaning that it gives off a real “they don’t make ’em like they used to” vibe. Putting it alongside the tactical knives I’ve reviewed recently, I understand why. The blade isn’t much bigger than a lot of folding knives, the handle requires close attention, and the list of features can be summed up by a photo. And yet, it’s the knife I can’t get enough of.
Don’t get rid of your Spyderco, Benchmade, or whatever else you’re using, because those knives have their place. I still have other options for tactical use, EDC and cooking. But if you want a blade that’s part of the wild and feels like sitting down next to a mountain campfire, I found it for you.
The Eggen knife’s style is so hot right now. Whether it’s Scandinavian fashion or mid-century interior decorating, people can’t get enough. I credit the trend, in part at least, to the juxtaposition of simplicity with the frantic attention grabs happening all around us. While every other company seems to be bombarding us with apps, updates, cross-device compatibility, and features, Helle is more like a quiet Norwegian fisherman holding out a knife and saying, “I made this. Please enjoy it.” Takk skal du ha.
FAQs about the Helle Eggen
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the Helle Eggen cost?
A. This is an upscale, hand-crafted knife, so it isn’t cheap. The Eggen costs $124 on Amazon and it doesn’t seem to matter whether you search your local shops or have one sent to your door––that’s just what you have to pay to get one.
Q. Where are Helle knives made?
A. The Helle knife factory is located in the impossibly scenic fjords of Holmedal, Norway. Tours are available if you find yourself in that neck of the woods.
Helle has been making knives since 1932 and the people who work there are obsessed with creating simple, strong, beautiful knives that feel like they are part of nature, rather than working against it.
Q. What’s triple-laminated stainless steel and why should I care about it?
A. Each type of steel has different properties. A given type of steel might prioritize corrosion resistance, stiffness, a sharp edge, or low maintenance. Helle’s laminate approach uses two types of steel: a center layer that can hold an extremely sharp edge, and a layer on either side that holds up better against rust and corrosion. You can see both by examining the Eggen’s edge.
Helle doesn’t offer much information on the makeup of their proprietary steel, but I can attest to its sharpness.
Q. Does the Eggen use full-tang construction?
A. No, the Eggen is a stick-tang knife with a brass rivet to hold the blade in the handle securely. It’s not something you should be using to baton firewood or strike fire with. The Eggen is intended to be an all-purpose knife, not a survival tool.
Q. Is the Eggen worth the price?
A. Some people will look at the Eggen knife’s relentless simplicity and feel like they should get more for their money. Others, like me, will see a finely crafted tool that isn’t saddled with a bunch of features and gimmicks to draw attention. It’s just a high-quality steel blade and a beautiful wooden handle. You almost have to hold one to appreciate just how high the level of craftsmanship is. Good thing you have me to test it out for you.
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Scott Murdock is a Marine Corps veteran and contributor to Task & Purpose. He’s selflessly committed himself to experience the best gear, gadgets, stories, and alcoholic beverages in the service of you, the reader.