How would you describe a bushcraft knife? Most would say a sturdy mid-sized fixed blade with Scandinavian grind. And they’d correct! However, there are couple of folding knives, which nicely fill the gap between a standard EDC folder and a bushcraft fixed blade – and Bleja is one of them.
It’s kind of a Scandinavian-style puukko in a folding form. But would a marriage of ‘puukko’ and ‘folder’ work decently enough in the forest? Let’s find out…
The Bleja is a mid-size folder with a roughly 3.5″ blade and 8” overall length. It’s made of Helle’s 3-layer laminate (high alloy carbon steel core between stainless softer sides) so it offers excellent edge holding and very good rust resistance at the same time.
It’s also stronger and more flexible due to the laminate material, which is always welcome. The blade finish is simply perfect in each and every respect – very even grinds, scary sharp, with straight and crisp separation line. Love it.
So is there any downside of a laminated blade? Actually yes, and it’s a bushcraft related one. Due to softer stainless side material it’s hardly possible to use the blade’s spine as a fire-starter. Even a perfectly 90-deg sharpened spine would only be a moderate spark striker on ferrocerium, and wouldn’t work on flintstone at all.
So why bother with laminated blade? Because it outruns a monolithic blade in cutting performance, plus stays sharp for considerably longer. And most of “us bushcrafter’s” carry a special striker anyway (the best being the spine of a saw blade on a Victorinox Farmer), or just use matches.
What separates Bleja from most of the EDC folders is the Scandinavian zero ground blade, something that almost defines a bushcraft knife. A Scandi grind is absolutely the best kind of grind for working with wood. And bushcrafting, by definition, requires working with all kinds of wood to produce tools, build shelter, process wood for fire etc. Woodworking is one of the most essential skills for any bushcrafter.
It’s also very good for improvised food preparation (cleaning fish or game, cutting vegetables or meat) and cutting through fibrous materials (rope, leather). And last but not least – it’s easy to sharpen on a flat stone. Sure, it’s not the best choice for heavy use like chopping, but bushcraft is not survival!
Bushcraft is a planned act, so if you plan to chop wood – bring an axe, or a small hatchet, plus a folding saw. And then you’ve got a golden trio of bushcraft tools: a scandi knife, axe and saw. So yeah, that grind is good.
The Bleja is a two-hand knife, and the blade has a classic (slightly oversized) fingernail nick. Some can say it’s not necessary for two hand opening. But I see that differently – it makes opening safer and easier, especially with wet or slippery hands (for example when fishing and hunting) or when wearing gloves. So I’m glad it’s there.
Mid-lock construction is easy and safe to use (as long as you’re not doing something obviously stupid with your knife). With a proper technique it’s fully safe for fingers when closing a knife, and in contrary to the classic back-lock it’s also one-hand-closing friendly. It’s a solid lock with almost no blade movement. Almost, because in this type of mid- or back-lock a very slight up/down play is normal and always present (as a technical consequence of the lock’s geometry).
OK, we got the blade details sorted, so let’s focus on the handle now. It’s easily one of the most comfortable folder handle I’ve ever grabbed – and I really mean that. It’s an all curved and contoured, 3D coke-bottle shaped with a clear (but not too big) front guard. The oiled, Scandinavian, curly birch wood scales are supported by a stainless frame, which ensures rigidity of the whole knife.
An all-screw construction, lanyard hole… yeah, it’s all there. The fit of wooden scales to liners is very good, especially considering that Helle uses a lot of manual operations when manufacturing and finishing knives. It’s not CNC-made so the wood finish is not flawless (it can’t be) but it’s absolutely fine and that individual hand finishing adds some old-school charm to the knife.
My only gripe is that screws are not perfectly inletted into wood to the same depth, which (I think) could be corrected with a dedicated inletting tool. Minor issue, but hey, you need to know everything.
Speaking of old-school… there is no pocket clip on this knife. Yes, the Bleja is a classic belt sheath carry folder, with a simple yet effective sheath supplied.
For any prolonged work (like wood carving) a smooth wooden handle without any hot spot (like a clip or protruding screws) is a godsend! And I mean GODSEND! I could use it on and on… and on. try that with a thin plastic EDC folder with a clip and an aggressive, no-slip handle pattern. Good luck to your palms after a 30 minutes carving project, which is nothing in bushcraft life. So again, it’s a purpose build knife with a purpose built handle on it.
OK, that was all theory… now for a bit of practise. I carried it on a couple of outings in January and February, in the mountains, to check how it works in the field, in low temperature and to mimic winter conditions of Scandinavia. The clip-less form and locking mechanism are tailor-made for this kind of use – opening and closing in gloves is not an issue.
The same could be said about sure grip and blade control. It feels very natural in hand; it’s a natural woodworking forest tool. Whittling, debarking, slicing and feather-sticking is easy with the Bleja. The edge is extremely keen (as most scandi-ground knives), so be careful. Thanks to the shape of the handle it’s also very safe to work with.
Fire-starting? Just put stormproof matches in your pocket instead of a ferrocerium rod and you’re covered. The awesome ITS Tactical waterproof matches cost just couple of dollars so it’s not an issue. By the way, I vastly prefer such matches verses a BIC-style lighter – even with moderate wind the BIC is useless, and storm matches will save your butt in any weather.
Carry comfort is very good, considerably better than any fixed blade, especially when sitting is involved (shelter, car, boat etc.). I especially like the generously sized belt-loop on the original sheath, which is big enough to put on a belt with a full-size Cobra buckle – a very popular belt style these days.
Generally speaking belt carry is good – there is a much lower chance you lose it when walking through fields and forests. Plus it’s ten times more discreet, as there is no scabbard protruding from under your shirt or jacket – a point to consider in some European countries, where society is not as knife-friendly as we would like it to be (of course make sure a locking folder is legal in your area). I also put a short lanyard on my Bleja to make unsheathing (especially in gloves) easier.
Time for a quick summary. The Helle Bleja is good. To me it’s almost like a folding variant of the Helle Utvær fixed blade (the one designed by Jesper Voxnaes from Denmark), a knife which I’ve been using for more than 3 years now and which is still one of my first picks for a forest knife. The Bleja is comfortable to carry and use, and the cutting performance of that Scandi blade can’t be denied.
Final note: when I was playing with the Bleja I realised that the concept reminds me exactly of my first quality US-made knife, which I bought about 20+ years ago on a trip to London (yes, there was a time when knives were quite legal in UK). That was the Buck Protege 450. It served me well on many outdoor trips, and I’ve still got it (of course). I really like the concept of a workhorse folder with a full-size ergonomically shaped handle and mid-sized blade. It just works… and the Bleja is a clear proof of that.
The product being tested and reviewed here was a gift to the reviewer.
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