Back when the custom knife boom began in the late 1960s, it was almost all fixed-blades. I can recall the names of maybe half a dozen smiths who made folders, and that’s it. Not so any more. If you scroll through the Arizona Custom Knives page it appears as though roughly half of what’s there, folds. Roman legionaries carried issue daggers called pugios, but when they were not stabbing Gauls or Britons they used folding knives.
So I was intrigued when I got a new folder called the Bleja from Helle, which is a Norwegian firm located in the town of Holmedal. Helle was founded in the 1930s by a pair of brothers of that name who started out making small sheath knives. The knives were very good ones, and acquired a reputation, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since its founding Helle has made one folder, which they call the Dokka, which is a large-ish lockback. Three years ago, Helle started work on a new and improved design called the Bleja, which is the name of a Norwegian mountain. The Bleja is also a big lockback folder, but is considerably sleeker. Its frame is considerably stronger than that of the Dokka, and is more complex.
From the description I got from Helle, the Bleja is pretty much a handmade knife. Helle’s design philosophy is to make something as well as it can be made and then worry about the price. The way the handles are made is illustrative. Helle starts with birch planks which are turned to the approximate dimensions of the finished handle on a lathe. Then, they’re sanded to shape by hand, split in half, and sanded and polished. The factory loses about 80 percent of the wood involved doing it this way, but what the Helle, the result is that no two handles are precisely alike, either in dimensions or in the wood figure itself.
Helle is also different in that it does not make hunting knives per se. They make all sorts of designs, but consider them tools for everyday use that can also be used to dump a load of moose guts on the forest floor should the need arise. The Bleja, with its 3 ½-inch drop-point blade, is ideal for gut dumping, but it’s intended for general use.
Despite what the website says, the Bleja blade is laminated stainless and tool steel, not all stainless. The core is high-carbon steel at Rc58, and the side slabs are 18/8 stainless at Rc20. The Bleja will peel the hair right off your arm, and sharpens with ridiculous ease.
Weight is 5.4 ounces, and length is 4.5 inches closed. The price is $229 because this is, after all, a handmade knife. The Bleja does not come with a sheath, which is a shame and a scandal. However, L.L. Bean carries one that works perfectly. It’s called the Vertical/Horizontal Knife sheath, which lacks poetry, but is accurate because that’s how you can wear it, and the Item # is TA266972. There are two sizes, and you want the Small size which fits perfectly. It’s only $19.50, and is very nicely made.
If you Google Helle Knives, you’ll come up with all sorts of websites that describe them.