Two unemployed brothers in Sunnfjord, Norway started to make sheath knives and tools in their father’s foundry in 1932. Later they expanded the production to include industrial knives, sports knives, Sunnfjord cutlery as well as parts for the silversmith industry. Through the years, other knife producers has met sharp competition from the Norwegian Viking descendants.
The two skilled toolmakers, blacksmiths and metallurgists Steinar and Sigmund Helle started making their sheath knifes inspired by the mountains, fjords and open seas of Norway in 1932. Since then, the tradition of handcrafting Scandinavian knives made of natural materials has remained the same even if the types of knives have changed a bit.
Beautiful functional knives
Back then, the knives needed to be functional for use in the harsh Nordic conditions but also needed to look good. Therefore, the handles are the soul of a Helle knife. They are made from natural materials you might find on a farm; wood, leather and antler shed. They are made by skilled hands outside the factory since no machine or automated processes can replace skilled craftsmanship.
Since 1977 Helle of Norway has sold more than one million units of their knife Nyking. It was designed by the native Tor Indergaard and received an award for classical design from the Norwegian Design Council in 2000. Last year, the company launched their smallest knife ever made, the Kletten.
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The Viking knife
Did you know that the Vikings had a law that every man was required to own a weapon and to carry it with them at all times? The wealthiest carried a sword, an axe and helmet while the average farmer brought with him a large knife. The Norwegians hung onto this custom for several years to come, and the sheath was an important part of the tool since it secures and protects the knife it holds.
The sheath gives the Helle knife its character since each is matched to suit the knife. The exception is of course the new folding knife from Helle, the smallest folding knife to date, weighting less than 3 ounces and measuring only 3.1 inches long folded without compromising on capability.
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Sharp Competition From Norwegian Viking Descendants
In the 1970s, there were 140 workers at Helle. Today, they are hardly a tenth but the idea of making functional knives that’s also a showpiece is still the guiding principle. The company has become an icon in Norway and known around the world for its traditional take on knife craftsmanship.
Helle has developed its own triple-laminated steel that sandwiches a sharp but brittle layer between two softer, more pliable layers of steel and the Helle knives have stood the test of time. The hairloom quality gentleman’s knife, the Kletten for instance, has taken its name from a small but rugged hill near the Helle factory where locals go to enjoy nature.
A Canadian outdoorsman’s best knife ever
New knives are launched regularly at outdoor trade fairs in the United States. Rumors say that the Canadian musician, filmmaker and extreme outdoorsman Les Stroud as a teenager found a knife that over the years turned out to be the best he had ever had. By coincidence Helle came in contact with the famous TV star, and it turned out that it was a Helle knife Stroud had found. Not surprisingly, Lee Stroud was asked to design a knife for Helle.
Working with Les Stroud on design ideas the company has incorporated a few new models, but never abandons the traditional Nordic knife and its focus on handcrafted blades. It is the connection between the maker and the tool that distiguishes a Helle knife from the rest.
Sharp Competition From Norwegian Viking Descendants, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): The Kletten knife. All images, copyright Helle Norway.