Honed in Norwegian Beauty and Practicality
- Jun 17, 2015 |
When you think of Norway, blue fjords snaking among tall mountains, small fishing villages, and making first tracks in new fallen snow all come to mind. Out of this beauty, and the need to feed the family and make a living, came the tradition of Helle Knives.
Torodd Helle, the managing director of the company and the grandson of the founders, recently visited the Mast Store in Asheville to share the rich history and tradition of these knives.
Helle says, “Each knife has a soul. Our craftsmen work to make the best knives, but there is always something else there.” Not only are these knives attractive, they are well balanced and well-suited for their task. “Helle knives are made to be used.”
When Steinar and Sigmund Helle began making knives with an old forge on their farm in 1932, it was out of necessity. Their village was very poor and having a knife to use in their day-to-day tasks of preparing fish, hunting, or foraging for mushrooms or berries was essential.
They experienced great success in Holmedal, but soon needed to find others that would love their knives. So, Steinar packed up and pedaled his knives over the mountains – truly, he traveled on a bicycle. The knives were well-received in Oslo, and the brothers realized they were on to something.
After World War II, reliable electricity came to their village, and the brothers were able to move their operation to a larger and more suitable location. And, they were able to use some machinery, but that did not compromise their philosophy.
The company philosophy: Don’t compromise on quality; don’t take shortcuts; and don’t copy others. Quality craftsmanship is best preserved by skilled craftsmen.
Today, many of those machines are still used, but only under the supervision and at the will of a tradesman. “There are 20 people who work at Helle. It takes 45-60 steps to make each knife, depending upon the style,” says Helle.
"Each knife has a soul. Our craftsmen work to make the best knives, but there is always something else there."
Many of the handles are made from Curly Birch. This wood has a lot of character and grain. It is slow growing and very hard. “This wood is brought in from Finland and Belarus. We buy it wet and dry it slowly for seven months on the roof of our factory.” The Curly Birch is combined with walnut and leather inserts to create the beautiful handles.
The steel is of the brothers’ own discovery. It is made of three layers with the inner most being carbon steel, which holds a great edge, and the rest layered stainless steel, to provide longevity of the knife.
Helle Knives is also known for its cutlery, but that isn’t their focus. “We don’t make very much of it now,” says Helle. “It is mostly used for training new hands to make knives.”
These knives are now sold all over the world, but because they are still crafted by hand, they are sought after by people who fish, hunt, and enjoy the outdoors. They only make about 100,000 knives each year, which includes a special run of 200 of a knife design chosen from their archives made for Father’s Day.
A limited number of knives with cases signed by Torodd Helle are available in Asheville, Boone, and at the Annex in Valle Crucis.