Review: The big Norwegians
I like big blades and I cannot lie. I also like Scandi grinds. It is a shame that these two rarely come together.
In my native Norway, the Scandi grind is still the standard grind for general purpose outdoor fixed blades – for good reasons. However, classic Norwegian knives rarely feature blades much more than 4” in length. In this review, I take a look at two of the few that do; Helle Sylvsteinen and Brusletto Storbukken.
Total length: 27 cm
Blade steel: Sandvik 12C27
Blade shape: Clip point
Blade length: 15,1 cm (6”)
Blade thickness: 4 mm
Handle length: 11,9 cm
Handle materials: Olive wood, aluminium (bolster)
Sheath materials: Leather (cowhide), nickel silver, plastic
Pros: Incredibly comfortable handle, thick, sturdy blade, great chopper
Cons: Uneven grind, a bit too thick for food preparation
Total length: 24,5 cm
Blade steel: Helle triple laminated stainless
Blade shape: Drop point
Blade length: 13,5 cm (5,3”)
Blade thickness: 3,2 mm
Handle length: 11 cm
Handle materials: Curly birch, reindeer antler, brass
Sheath materials: Leather (cowhide)
Pros: Great blade steel, beautiful design, good size and shape for an all round outdoor knife
Cons: The sheath is a bit too loose, and the handle finish rougher than expected
Warning: These knives are long and solid. So is this review. If you’re only here for the cold, hard facts, please skip to the conclusion.
The Scandinavian edge
I love Scandinavian knives. After all, classic Scandinavian knives were made for the beautiful Scandinavian nature, which is where I happen to use my knives most of the time.
A typical Norwegian knife has a lot of features that makes it a great all round outdoor knife: A useful, versatile blade shape, good blade steel (typically either carbon steel, Sandvik stainless or some sort of laminated steel) and the mighty Scandi grind. This grind is not only very easy to sharpen, especially in the field, it is also just about ideal for any sort of woodworking, from whittling to firewood processing.
Sadly, in my eyes, most Norwegian knives have one major drawback that make them less than ideal for heavy outdoor duty: they are usually just a bit on the small side. Most traditional Norwegian knives have 3” to 4” blades. Longer blades are not unheard of, but they are certainly not very common either.
I do not know why this is. My best guess is that traditionally, anyone who spent a significant amount of time in the woods was either a farmer, a lumberjack, a hunter – or most likely a combination of all three. That meant he probably carried an axe and/or a saw with him.
These days, most people who take to the woods do so first and foremost to enjoy our wonderful nature. Lugging around an overly heavy backpack is not the best way to do so, at least not for yours truly. Unless I know there is a good chance I will actually need it, I don’t want to carry an axe or wood saw. On the other hand, I still want to be able to process firewood, chop down a sapling and build a shelter. That makes a large knife a pretty useful all round edge tool.
The search for the holy grail
For years, I’ve been searching for my own version of the holy grail; The Perfect Outdoor Knife. In my not so humble opinion, a perfect camp knife/heavy duty outdoor/survival knife has a sturdy (but not too thick), pointy, razor-sharp, Scandi ground 5”-7” blade in a tough steel that is still able to hold an edge. It should also have a good belt sheath, a handle that is comfortable in a variety of grips, and a good, solid belt sheath. Is that too much to ask?
For many years, I thought it was. For about a decade, I made do with a smaller knife. Then, I tried a big American hollow ground hunter (Buck 119), before – Eureka – I discovered the Brusletto Storbukken. Another year later, I received its major competitor, the Helle Sylvsteinen, as a birthday gift from family members.
I have now owned and used the Storbukken for about two years and the Sylvsteinen for one, and I have finally made up my mind about these two big Norwegians.
Big and brawny
Storbukken («The Big buck») is indeed a pretty large knife, with a very thick 6” blade and a generous handle. The blade is made from Sandvik 12C27, a great all round stainless knife steel. It has a slim clip point shape, without the swedge or false edge often found on American clip point blades. The blade came absolutely screaming sharp out of the box.
An excellent chopper
The balance lies a bit forward of the finger guard, and the butt end of the handle has a sort of hook shape, a bit like an axe handle. This makes the Storbukken an excellent chopper. It is also quite good at other tasks, like whittling, and the sharp clip point is well suited to gutting fish. On the other hand, the blade is a bit on the thick side for most food preparation tasks, such as chopping vegetables or slicing bread.
The handle is made from olive wood rather than the traditional birch. Apart from looking good, it is quite frankly the most comfortable knife handle I have ever tried. It has a slim oval profile that fits my small hands pretty well, but it is still long enough for bigger hands. The aforementioned hook and gentle finger guard keep the hand from slipping and sliding, and offer great control in a multitude of grips.
The sheath is good, with a plastic insert that grips the blade firmly and protects the leather. According to Brusletto’s web page, the knife is now sold with a different sheath. It seems to have a snap closure, and looks a bit more like that of the Buck 119.
Overall, fit and finish are great, with one major exception: The grind is quite uneven, and I am not sure if the blade is perfectly straight. It is not bad enough to have any practical consequences, but I certainly expect more from Brusletto.
Sylvsteinen («The Silverstone») is quite a bit smaller than the Storbukken, with a 5,3” blade. The blade is also noticeably thinner, although it is actually a bit wider. Helle’s triple laminated steel means a razor-sharp blade that holds an edge pretty well, while it is still tough and flexible enough to take a beating.
Cold, hard steel
I do not know exactly which steel makes up the core of Helle’s laminate, but it is noticeably harder than the straight Sandvik of the Brusletto. Unfortunately, this means it is also a bit more brittle. Brittle enough, in fact, that after I used it to scrape ice from the window sill in a log cabin, I noticed what can only be described as «micro chips» in the edge. They where nowhere near large enough to affect cutting performance, and a quick touch up on an Arkansas stone took care of the problem, but it is still worth noting.
The handle is also a bit shorter than that of the Storbukken, and the shape is very different. It has no bolster, and the finger guard is an integral part of the handle itself. There is not much to stop the hand at the butt end, but the handle features a pronounced palm swell. While it is not quite as comfortable as the Brusletto handle, it is still a good handle.
The shorter, lighter blade and different handle design means the Sylvsteinen is not quite such an efficient chopper as the Storbukken. On the other hand, the handle works just as well for lighter, more controlled tasks, and the thinner blade makes it better for food preparation such as gutting fish, slicing bread or chopping vegetables. The Sylvsteinen is based on a model called the Jegermester («Master hunter»), and is marketed as a hunting knife, so it comes as no great surprise that it excels at tasks like these.
A rough diamond
Sylvsteinen is one of the most beautiful knives I’ve ever seen. The lines of the blade and handle go very well together, and the combination of brass, reindeer antler and curly birch in the handle is just stunning. That said, this knife is not without its flaws. The handle finish is a bit rough, and could use a quick touch of a superfine sand paper and a bit of oil.
While this is purely cosmetic, the problem with the sheath is not. It is just a tiny bit too loose. Not enough that the knife falls out during normal use, but if you turn it upside down and give it a light shake, out comes the knife. This is my biggest complaint about this knife, and a potential safety hazard, so I took care of the problem with a bit of boiling water. Now the sheath fits perfectly.
Both the Storbukken and the Sylvsteinen are great outdoor knives, but neither is perfect. For all round outdoor use, I would recommend the Sylvsteinen, as it is slightly more versatile than its larger competitors. If you want a heavy-duty survival knife, Storbukken is probably a better option, as it is even larger and tougher.
Finally, I have to say that I am just a little bit disappointed in the quality control at both Brusletto and Helle. Of course, I could be unlucky enough to have gotten a pair of lemons, and the flaws I found in both knives were rather small. Also, those of the Helle knife could easily be corrected with a bit of elbow grease.
Still, I have come to expect more from Norway’s major knife brands, and, considering their prices, I think that is quite reasonable.
This review was first published at the EDCF in a slightly different version.