Posts Tagged ‘Les Stroud’

The Helle Temagami ~ a Great Bushcraft Blade!

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

 

Bring up the subject of Bushcraft knives and you’ll find general agreement over the characteristics of the type.  But ask which brand or models are best and then the arguments begin.  Knowing full well that I’m dipping a toe into the waters of cutlery conflict, I’ll take the risk and proceed thereto.

While good bushcraft knives can be had with both convex and Scandinavian grinds, most folks agree that Scandinavian ground knives excel at shaping wood.  You don’t have to worry about maintaining your angle, just lay the wide, flat bevel against the wood and go to work.  You’ll quickly be making long, curly shavings without gouging the wood.  Scandinavian knives have a lot of great characteristics, one being that they are exceedingly light for fixed-blade knives.  This is primarily because they are made using traditional “stick-tang” construction, in which the blade, upon entering the handle, is reduced in size from the width of the blade to a narrow “stick” no more than 1/2 inch wide and tapering down to even less than that at the end of the tang.  Some stick-tangs are full-length and some are partial tangs that may only extend half to three quarters the length of the handle.  Now, stick-tangs are not something to be avoided.  They’ve worked for over 1100 years and have proven to be strong enough for the tasks encountered when using a knife, thank you.  However, some folks desire the greater strength of full-tang design, in which the blade width does not narrow at the handle. This method of construction is the strongest of all methods of handle attachment.

A bushcraft knife fitted with a full-tang, Scandinavian ground blade would provide the ideal combination of excellent wood shaping performance with great durability.  Today, Bark River Knives makes the Bushcrafter and the Liten Bror, two American style bushcraft knives with a combination convex/Scandinavian grind.  While these are expensive, wonderful knives, the model that set the bar for the type was the Ray Mears Woodlore knife.  The Woodlore spawned several mimics (most of which are hand-made) and quickly became the standard for what is now known as the “British bushcraft” style.  However, as nice as the Woodlore is, at a retail cost of around $730.00 USD, it is out of reach for most people.  I’ve been on a quest to find an affordable knife with the construction quality, features, and general appearance of the Woodlore for some time when I discovered the Helle Temagami (tim-AG-im-ee), a knife designed with input from another survival series celebrity, Les Stroud.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the current crop of survival reality shows turn me off.  I could only manage to sit through half of a single episode of one of these shows before turn off the TV.  So, while I’ve heard of Les Stroud, I’ve never actually seen one of his TV shows.  I’m also put off by celebrity endorsements.  If some television personality attaches their name to any item, it immediately goes on my “do-not-buy” list.  That said, it might surprise you that I would even buy this knife much less recommend it.   But I did and I am.  It is refreshing to see that Stroud teamed up with Helle to offer a real bushcraft knife.  At an average cost of around $100.00, Helle knives are sold to an entirely different demographic than the Asian-made, mass-produced shelf fodder you’ll find in “big box” stores.  Helle knives are hand-made (albeit by a small production crew using machinery).  Although beautiful to the eye, they are working knives, intended to be used.

The Temagami immediately looked as if it would be a knife that met my criteria – 1) full-tang, 2) Scandinavian ground blade, 3) blade length around 4 inches, and 4) fitted with a wood handle.  The knife was originally offered only in Helle’s exceptional triple-laminated carbon steel, a manufacturing technique that the company has perfected and used for many years in making both carbon and stainless steel blades.  Laminated steels sandwich a thin, hard tempered, high-carbon steel layer between to outer layers of relatively soft steel.  Were the knife to be made only from the steel used in the center, it would be brittle and very difficult to sharpen.  However, that layer is thin, making sharpening easy as very little of the hard steel is removed when honing.  This construction gives Helle blades great durability as the flexible construction is highly resistant to chipping or breakage; yet, they hold an edge as well as the hardest tempered knives and are easy to sharpen to boot.  Note however, that the soft outer steel can be marred by working hard seasoned wood.  It is that soft.

For 2012, Helle added a laminated stainless steel version. Their stainless blades are comprised of a high carbon alloy center layer sandwiched between two outer layers of mild 18/8 stainless steel.  Now, I love carbon steel knives and own several.  The benefits of ordinary carbon steel are that it will produce a spark for firestarting and is easier to sharpen than stainless.  However, these benefits are negated with Helle’s laminated carbon steel.  The outer layer is too soft to create a spark and of course, the material is no different with regard to ease of sharpening.   With no real benefit to choosing carbon, I went with stainless steel to preclude the chance of rust.

Now to the knife –

Like all Helle knives, the Temagami is delivered in an attractive cardboard tube that contains the knife, sheath, a coarse woven cloth that I’d love to know the purpose of,  and the attendant Helle literature.

 

 

Here are the specs:

  • Blade length:            4 inches
  • Blade thickness:      1/8 inch
  • Handle length:         4 5/16 inches
  • Overall length:         9 inches
  • Weight:                     5.5 ounces

 

First look –

The first thing that struck me is the size of the Temagami.  It is noticeably larger than most Scandinavian knives.  The blade is a drop point and lacks the distinctive spear point shape of British bushcraft knives such as the Woodlore.  Nor does it have the handle shape of that type. Except for the blade grind and tang construction* (see below) it shares little else with the Woodlore.  I call the look of this knife “contemporary Scandinavian”, which is common across the entire Helle line.  One notable quality is the absence of Les Stroud’s name anywhere on the knife.  This is so much classier than typical celebrity endorsed products.  In fact, had Stroud’s name been displayed anywhere but on the package, I would not have bought the knife at all (or polished it out if it were an etching).

The Temagami (right) is significantly larger than most Scandinavian knives.
From right: Frost’s Mora #2, Karesuando Raven, Helle Kvernstein and the Temagami

 

Though the Temagami may look similar to other Helle products, the semi-full tang (Helle’s description) that sets it apart from its brethren is easily seen.  In this construction, the tang tapers from nearly full width at the finger guard to half that at the butt.  I’ve seen photos of the knife before the handle has been riveted in place and the tang falls below the rivet holes approximately 1/4 inch until it reaches the last hole where it rapidly tapers upward.  There is no question that the tang of the Temagami makes it stronger than any other model in Helle’s line.

 

The semi-full tang of the Temagami makes this the strongest blade in the Helle line.

 

Another benefit to the semi-full tang is balance.  I do not own another Scandinavian knife of this size but the larger Helle models I’ve handled in the store are a bit blade heavy due to the difference in the amount of metal forward and aft of the finger guard.  The point of balance on the Temagami is about three quarters of an inch behind the finger guard.  This is excellent for a large bladed Scandinavian knife.

The Blade:

My single complaint of the knife is the look of the blade.  You see, most Helle blades are polished to a mirror finish, giving their knives a very refined look.  But who wants to mar that beautiful finish in a knife that will surely be put to rough use?  I would have preferred for Helle to have put a satin finish on the blade.  But who could complain about beauty?  The Helle trademark and model name are the only markings on the blade (etched) and this adds to the Temagami’s subtle beauty.

Helle made a small revision to the blade for 2012.  Three small notches in the spine at mid-blade were eliminated.  These were described as both a firesteel striker and a finger placement for added blade control for skinning and the like.  It was quickly determined that the striker would not work as the laminated steel construction (both carbon and stainless) used by Helle is too soft to make a spark.  Helle also made a slight update to the handle, which they claim allowed for improved control, making the finger notches unnecessary.  Like all Helle knives, and in fact, like all Scandinavian knives, the Temagami was delivered shaving sharp.

The Handle:

I believe Helle handles are some of the most beautiful among Scandinavian makers.  Like nearly all knives in their line, the Temagami handle is turned from Masur (Curly) birch, which I like very much.  The grain on this example was stunning but I’ve seen some examples that were not as nicely grained so if that’s important to you, you should endeavor to pick your knife out in person.  After shaping, the Helle handles are soaked in a tub of raw linseed (flaxseed) oil, then wiped dry and placed in a tumbler filled with beeswax to be polished to a beautiful matte sheen.  Perfect.  On this knife, the tang is inserted into a groove in the handle and fastened with three brass rivets, the last one of which, is hollow, to allow the owner to insert a lanyard.  I have small hands and prefer smaller knives as I’ve found that large knives do not provide a comfortable grip.  To my surprise, the handle on the Temagami fits my hand well and has proven to be very comfortable to use over extended periods.   The handle features a nub of a finger guard that works as it should but does not interfere with using the knife.   I’ve not had a chance to compare this knife to a first generation model so I don’t know exactly how it differs. 

The sheath:

Helle sheaths vary among models from centuries old traditional Scandinavian styles to modern sculpted shapes.  The Temagami’s sheath is very traditional indeed.  Like so many Scandinavian sheaths, it is a pouch, stitched at the back with a center seam.  This is a very old method of construction and was used to protect early Viking knives.  It results in the sheath having a uniform spear point shape that allows the owner to carry the knife on either the right or left side.  The knife sits deep in the sheath, being held very firmly.  Once there, it isn’t coming out until you want it out.  Compared to other traditional Helle sheaths in my collection, this one is made from thicker leather and includes a plastic insert to protect the sheath.  This is the best sheath that has been offered on any of the several Scandinavian knives that I own and far better than the sheath that Helle provided with my Kvernstein.

Considerations:

As it turns out, the Temagami is not a knife in the image of the Woodlore at all.  It blade does not have a spear point like the Woodlore.  The tang is not a full tang like the Woodlore.  It looks nothing like the Woodlore.  Was this purchase in vain then?  Absolutely not!  The Temagami does provide the fundamental benefits of the Woodlore at about 1/4th the cost.  That’s something to think about.  Other Scandinavian knives I own might be better at detail carving.  Several would be more appropriate neck knives.  Nearly all others would be a better choice for beginners requiring the best, sharpest knife for the lowest cost possible.  But none I own are close to being as good a bushcraft knife – on to depend on for working in all conditions without fail.  None.   And none are as beautiful.  Period.  I love this knife.

One caveat should be noted.  The cost.  As much as I love the Temagami, I’m puzzled by the fact that it retails for nearly twice the price of other Helle models made to the same standards and of the same size.  Yes, the semi-full tang makes this knife stronger and the sheath is made from thicker leather and features the additional plastic insert, which does cost more to produce – but twice the cost at retail?  The price must reflect the cut that goes to Les Stroud.  In my opinion, the Temagami is an honest $150.00 knife.  But I can’t really complain too much about the cost for what is certainly the strongest knife in the Helle catalog and one that has become my favorite Scandinavian knife for bushcraft chores.  The added cost, amortized over the life of the tool which will certainly outlast me, is small indeed.  Of course, the knife, like all Helle products, is guaranteed for life against defects in materials or workmanship.  If anything goes wrong, Helle will repair or replace the knife – you can’t do much better than that.  I’ll evaluate this knife in the field and let you know how it holds up over time.