Guide To Understanding Helle Blades Steel Types
We get a lot of questions regarding Helle’s steels: what are they, what “triple laminate” means, and how they perform. The purpose of this post is to clarify these questions and provide insight into Helle’s steels and their applications. Helle currently uses 5 different steels in their Helle knife production: H3LS, H3LC, 14C28N, 12C27, and Uddeholm Sleipner. H3LS, 14C28N and 12C27 are stainless steels, while H3LC and Sleipner are carbon steels.
A word about carbon vs stainless steels: Steel has been around since the late 17th century, when it was discovered that adding carbon (charcoal) to iron made for a material that was much more workable than the pig and wrought irons that preceded it, allowing it to be rolled or pressed. Improvements in chemistry and iron making processes in the late 19th century paved the way for steel to fully come into it’s own in the 20th century, when combining steel with other carbide-forming metals (molybdenum, vanadium, tungsten, and chromium), provided the means to produce alloys that were vastly superior to the steels that came before it, and with it, steels that could be used for tooling (tool steels) were born.
Oxidation (rusting) of steel occurs when oxygen (in the air and in moisture) makes contact with the steel. As a result, carbon steel knives need to be oiled or greased: which means more care and maintenance with a carbon steel knife. If you are a very fastidious person, and will clean and oil/grease your blade after use (especially meal prep), you may be well suited to a carbon steel blade.
Stainless steel was developed in the late 19th and early 20th century, when it was discovered that adding chromium to iron produced alloys that were highly resistant to rust. Notice the “highly resistant”: stainless steels are not rust proof, and can and do rust as well, but much more slowly than carbon steels. Initially much inferior to existing tool steels, stainless steels have come a long way since World War II, and now perform as well as their carbon steel counterparts. Stainless steel outdoor knives provide peace of mind that even if you neglected to wipe and oil your knife after use, or have left it out in the rain, you need not worry about your knife’s edge or blade suffering due to rust
H3LS (Helle Triple Laminate Stainless Steel)
Helle’s original laminate steel that was developed by the company in conjunction with a Norwegian steel mill in the 1960’s. Lamination (as the name implies) involves layering differing steels to hybridize and combine their qualities in order to produce a blade that is greater than the sum of it’s parts, and thereby offer a superior experience for the user.
Helle’s H3LS uses two kinds of steel that are sandwiched together: the outer layers are a highly stainless austenitic (soft) 304 steel, while the inner core is a high-carbon, stainless razorsteel developed from Helle's family recipe patented in 1967. The softer outer steel is highly resistant to corrosion, takes a mirror polish, and allows for flexing of the much harder, tougher and rigid core steel (which would be much more susceptible to lateral forces without the softer outer layers). The core is capable of taking and retaining a very keen edge, while providing high toughness without chipping, and as such is hardened to 58-60 HRC. Laminating the two steels produces a blade that is highly corrosion resistant, flexible, with an exceptionally sharp edge and excellent edge retention. If a razor edge is your main concern with your knife, Helle’s H3LS is hard to beat.
H3LC (Helle Triple Laminate Carbon Steel)
Similar to Helle’s stainless laminate, but using 2 different carbon steels, H3LC steel sandwiches a high carbon core made from 100cr6 (also known as 52100) steel, between layers of S235 carbon steel. Heat treated to 58-59 HRC, the core 100CR6 takes a very keen edge and has excellent edge retention that can be touched up simply by stropping. H3LC needs a coating of grease or oil to help with rust mitigation.
Sandvik 12C27 Steel
Developed as a knife steel by Swedish company Alleima (formerly Sandvik), 12C27 is a single layer, fine-grained, tough and robust stainless steel that works especially well for knife applications where corrosion resistance, wear resistance, and material strength are required (i.e. batoning with full tang knives). Helle’s 12C27 blades are hardened to 59-60 HRC, and can be used in conjunction with a firesteel when a 90° spine is present.
Sandvik 14C28N Steel
Also developed by Sandvik (now Alleima) as a refinement of 12C27 steel, 14C28N has optimized chemistry which provides a unique combination of excellent edge performance, very good corrosion resistance, and can be hardened to high levels without a loss in toughness - making it well suited to bushcraft and hunting knife applications where toughness, robustness, and edge retention are key factors. Helle hardens their 14C28N blades to 60-62 HRC, and can also be used in conjunction with a firesteel with ground with a 90° spine.
Uddeholm Sleipner Steel
A high alloy carbon tool steel with a relatively high chromium content, Uddeholm Sleipner provides good wear, toughness and chipping resistance plus the ability to be tempered to very high hardness for a sharp and durable knife edge (Helle hardens their Sleipner steel blades to > 63HRC) - making it an excellent choice for carbon steel blades for bushcraft and hard outdoor use applications.