Reviewing the Helle Mandra offers insight into my (honest) bias. In a lot of ways, I have to compare my feelings for this little “neck knife” to the conclusion I reached in my review of the Buck 110. It’s a non-optimal knife that I can’t help but love.
It’s surprising to me after reviewing the Helle Temagami to handle this little tyke. The Temagami is such a serious bushcraft tool with a clear bias towards performance, and then you have the Mandra, which is a relatively small “in-between” blade. It’s too big to be a true neck knife (though it’s somewhat advertised as being a neck knife), but it’s too small to be the sole blade on you for your outdoor adventures.
It’s a weird paradox to review so please bare with me.
As you can see by looking at the picture below, this is a proper knife that has been left in the dryer for a bit too long. It’s not a small knife – it’s just a shrunken knife, if you catch my drift. Everything about the Mandra is full sized, from its ruggedness to overall design. Only thing is that its got a grand total of 3.15 inches of handle.
Which is a pretty weird experience. I have no issues with neck knives like the CRKT Minimalist, but the Mandra doesn’t feel like a neck knife when you hold it. It feels like a proper knife that is just a touch too small for my hands. If you have a kid and are getting him or her out into the bush – this is probably the perfect knife for him or her.
I have no idea why Helle didn’t market it as such, because its design with the natural guard, contoured handles, and friendly aesthetic makes it the perfect “junior” bushcraft knife. When I have kids, I know what knife they will carry when going hiking.
This marketing oversight is even weirder because Les Stroud actually has two kids and if the brochure mentioned introducing his kids to the outdoors, but not being able to find a high quality fixed blade, I would have been nodding my head along to that entire marketing glib in full agreement. Kids knives are a complete joke for the most part. They are either badly produced garbage with rounded off tips or toy-like gimmicks. The only kid knife I have ever found to be a solid option is the Opinel “My First Opinel,” because it’s just a basic Opinel with a rounded tip: the rest is identical to the regular version, including the Opinel quality.
I mention the bushcraft/outdoor bias because, to be perfectly frank, despite being advertised as somewhat of a neck knife, it’s too hardcore in my opinion to be suitable for dangling around your neck. It weighs more than a Mora would, and with a significantly smaller footprint. Check out that stock thickness below. We are talking about 2.6 mm of wide, laminated/San-Mai steel here folks! This ain’t just for lookin’ at or to be used as a last ditch cutting tool.
If that wasn’t proof enough, the contoured handles are basically screaming to be used for bushlore. This is a solid knife for hard work, in every single way except for its handle size.
The photograph below illustrates the issue at hand – full 3 finger grip which is decently comfortable but doesn’t feel natural because ultimately, you are wielding a “proper” knife – not a discreet box opener.
See what I mean? Its just too big to be a proper neck knife but too small for me to recommend it as an outdoor blade for general use. I am forced to view it as a backup blade and sadly that does it a great disservice as the performance is excellent.
The blade is perfectly made as expected from Helle with 18/8 soft stainless steel for the outside with a 12C27 high carbon steel core (correct me if I am wrong, all information points to that being the steel used, but I cannot find a definitive source).
The general shape of the blade is a very soft drop point with a nicely ground scandi edge. Out of the box, the sharpness was solid, and like all Helle blades I have ever owned, it was mirror polished. As for fit and finish, mine is literally perfect, but then again, the hand made element of Helle knives means some natural variation will occur. I can only speak for the knife I own.
Not that it matters for an outdoor blade, but if you want a knife that will stay super pretty after hard use, the soft outer steel will not play ball. It is a scratch magnet and batoning it through a small log left some visible scratches. Sadly, the girl is too good of a photographer and all her photographs come out looking like they are from a marketing brochure.
Scandi grinds and wood go together like cigars & whiskey. Absolute joy to use much like the Temagami despite the discomfort when choking up due to the small handles.
I did some full power downward cuts and the back of the blade tried to cut into my flesh. It’s a really weird situation to be in because if you hold it in a 3 finger grip, it doesn’t feel right, but when I choke up and actually put some oomph behind it, it tries to kill me.
In terms of options, I can see only 2. I will either round off the spine so it’s comfy(ier) or I will keep it for my future organic tax deductibles™.
Interestingly, pull cutting provided a much more comfortable grip. The blade itself seems to almost beg to be used and I imagine it would make a fantastic skinner based on sheer amount of belly you get on the blade.
Absolutely lovely to use. I only wish it had a 4.5 inch handle. Please please please Helle, make this exact knife with an oversized handle and we will all love you forever.
Right, so the sheath is a standard leather option with a push button strap to keep the blade in (important for a neck knife) and a plastic liner inside so that it doesn’t cut its way to freedom. It works nicely and the belt loop is generous. No issues regardless of how wide your belt is.
This is how I chose to carry mine. Securely attached to my belt with the meat of the sheath inside my pocket so it doesn’t move around and hugs my body. Those curly birch scales are quite something aye?
And here we have the obligatory photo of it as a neck knife. The Mandra comes with a leather throng, but honestly, for me it’s just too bulky and heavy (2.4 ounces) to be comfortable carried that way. It does look awesome though, next to Mjolnir.
Look at the photograph below and tell me I am wrong when I said Helle should market this as a high quality kids knife. It literally screams Survivorboy/girl. I can visualize a bunch of mini-humans hacking away at trees and making fires with a Mandra in their tiny-human hands.
Alright, so this review is a mixed bag. The Helle Mandra is quite possibly one of the nicest knives I own in terms of blade performance and aesthetic finish, but the 3.15 inch long handles just don’t work for my mitts.
If they were 1.5 inches longer I would label this the perfect side knife for a blade/axe combo, but as it stands with its ergonomics – it’s a tough sell.
If you or whomever you happen to be buying a bushcraft knife for have tiny hands, this will be perfect. I think it’s probably the best “proper” bushcraft knife ever made for small-hands, and frankly believe Helle should market it as a child’s knife, not as a neck knife for full-sized humans.