I am a fan of Les Stroud. His Survivorman show is infinitely more watchable in my opinion than Bear Grylls’. One reason I prefer Les is that I can’t escape is just how sub-optimal the line of Gerbers bearing the Bear Grylls name has turned out to be. Gerber still can make some pretty good knives, but the Chinese-made Bear Grylls line has been plagued by recalls and other quality issues.
When I discovered that Les Stroud was releasing a new knife in partnership with Helle Knives of Norway, I was both curious and hopeful that the Mandra would not negatively color my favorable impressions of both Les and Helle. For the most part, I was not disappointed.
The Mândra is the smaller companion to the Temegami – a full-sized bushcraft knife that Les and Helle released back in 2011. Somehow the Temegami flew under my radar, likely because I was not yet involved with TTAK and my full immersion in the knife-industry was still several years off. However, when I was contacted by a representative of the firm that markets Helle Knives stateside this year, I jumped at the offer to test a Mândra myself.
Like all Helle Knives, the Mândra is made from 3-layer laminated steel. Essentially, they are making “san-mai” steel from a harder core steel sandwiched between two layers of 18/8 stainless. Just don’t tell Lynn Thompson.
The Mândra has a 2.71″ (69mm) blade which is just over .1″ thick (2.6mm). It has a Scandi grind and is quite tall at almost 1.25″ from edge to spine at its thickest point. I am not sure what to call the shape, almost a spear point, though the rise/curve of the blade is considerably more pronounced than the drop of the spine. The shape would lend itself well to skinning tasks, though I did not have the occasion to test that application.
Also characteristic of Helle knives is the attention to handle detail. The scales are curly birch, with spacers of “vulcan fiber”. While not as pronounced as the green G10 spacers under the scales of my LT Wright Belt Knife, it is enough to lend a nice 3-tone contrast to the knife and handle. The wood itself is certainly woodworking grade, and has a natural warmth to the finish.
The handle is 3.15″ (80mm) long giving the knife an overall length of a fraction under 6″ (measured).
The sheath is saddle-leather, and fits the knife loosely. A retaining snap-strap is required to keep the knife in the sheath. Care must be taken to not slice the strap when returning the knife to the sheath.
While the Mândra comes with a leather thong to allow it to be worn as a neck knife, I found this unwieldy, thus I vastly preferred wearing the knife on my belt. More on this in the “carry” section.
Ergonomics are probably the weakest facet of the Mândra. The handle is meant for a 3-finger grip, with the pinkie wrapping around the pommel. The thumb rests on the spine, which is sharply angled. This is good for a ferro-rod, but not so great for comfort in extended hard-use.
There is no jimping, though I did not particularly miss it. My grip problems were not so much with the knife slipping out of my hand, rather a result of the small handle twisting slightly in my hand. A thicker handle or one with a more ergonomic swell would eliminate this.
There is a very pronounced corner edge where the handle ends and the blade begins. This digs into the index finger in an uncomfortable manner, which makes one want to slide the knife forward in the grip to remove the pressure.
The Mândra comes with a leather thong to allow it to be carried as a neck knife. I hated it in this configuration. Combined with the sheath the knife is not a small package. It is ungainly swinging free when worn outside the shirt, and the size and an upward draw is awkward from inside a shirt. It also prints like a medical-device.
However, wearing the Mândra on the belt is great. Its small size doesn’t hang way down your leg despite the loop being a “full-hanging” design. Getting in and out of the driver seat of my Subaru was no problem.
I carried this knife in my primary rotation for probably 45 days or since receiving it this Spring. It is comfortable and largely unobtrusive.
TTAK Testing Protocol:
Newsprint was not a problem for the laminated blade. What surprised me was how well it did on the rope test. I didn’t try to chop the 3/4″ rope, the 3-finger grip and light weight made this pointless. However, it took barely more than 3 swipes to cut the rope cleanly. I was expecting almost twice that.
The Mândra did better than I expected on the cardboard test. Even with its short blade and scandi grind, it still made it cleanly through 100 linear feat of cross-grained corrugated. I could have kept going, but my hand was tired from holding the small handle. The cut was not perfect at this point, but as you can see from the photograph, it was still fairly cleanly sliced instead of torn.
Make no mistake, this is not a kitchen knife. My extremely upswept tip means you have to rock the knife in the course of the slice. Scandi-ground knives typically have trouble in produce, but the wandering effect was less pronounced than I have experienced with many.
Even despite a scandi knife’s tendency to wedge open cuts, the Mândra did not do this much. I was able to peel and slice an apple easily, and while I couldn’t remove the skin in a single piece, the slices were clean and “un-wedged”.
Same holds true for the onion. While the motion is not the same as a proper kitchen knife, the Mândra’s end result was indistinguishable from one done with said tool.
Garlic and cherry tomatoes were also sliced cleanly.
While the Mândra is not meant to be a primary bush-knife, I still wanted to see how it would do if pressed into emergency fire-starting duty. One is never going to split logs with such a short blade but it proved adequate for splitting a 1.5″ branch into pieces suitable for starting a fire, and fuzz sticks were easy to carve.
While the spine is ground to a clean edge, it doesn’t excel at sparking a ferro-rod. It takes a little tweaking of the angle to both make adequate and properly aimed sparks.
I also roughed-out a spoon, just for the heck of it. Scandi-ground blades typically do well at carving, and the Mândra is no exception. While the wood was not exceptionally hard, I had a rough knife carved out in under 40 minutes. The blade could still slice newsprint when finished.
The Mandra sharpened easily with both the Spyderco Sharpmaker and the Worksharp Guided Sharpening System. Even after the cardboard test, the Sharpmaker’s ceramic rods alone were enough to return the Mândra to newsprint-slicing sharpness.
Ratings: (out of 5 stars)
I like traditional looking knives, and the Mândra fits the bill. Like all Helle knives, the wood scales have a warmth which makes it less intimidating if seen by more hoplophobic types.
The triple laminated blade is well constructed and hold an edge quite well. It slices better than many scandi blades I have tried. Not as nicely as a full-flat grind, but comfortably enough through a wide range of test materials.
This knife would benefit from either a thicker handle or one with more ergonomic contour. I never felt like I was going to lose the knife, but the handle doesn’t naturally index in my medium-sized hand.
The compact size of this knife gives it a “stocky” quality. I just cannot imagine a task that you would consider putting a knife of these dimensions through that it wouldn’t stand up to. Sure, you could come up with a form of abuse that may break the Mândra, but it is likely you had no business putting the knife through said task in the first place.
I like the Mândra. It is attractive, well-made, and enjoyable to carry as a fixed-blade EDC option. Not everyone is going to want to carry a visible knife on their belt, but if you do, the Mândra’s traditional design and smaller size make it a very non-threatening option.
The Mândra is not going to be your primary camping and bushcraft knife, but I can heartily recommend it for anyone looking for a small EDC fixed blade. It would also make an excellent choice for day-hiking, a role I have put it through countless times now on trips with my family in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park throughout the past summer. I intend to continue doing so even now that I have finished this review.