The Cangshan Helena Starter Knife Set Review

I enjoyed using two-thirds of this set. 

There are some nice ergonomic details in the design language of the series that make smaller knives pleasant to hold and easy to manipulate, but I just couldn’t get myself to enjoy the chef’s knife.

Leave some room for my increasing bias toward lighter knives, but for me, the balance always felt a little off, and the spine was downright lethal.

Specifications

Blade Steel:X50CrMoV15
Steel Hardness:58 +/- 2 HRC
Edge Angle:16° each side
Handle:Full tang, riveted
Bolster:Partial, sloped

In This Set

8” chef’s knife
5” serrated utility knife
3.5” paring knife
What I LikedWhat I Didn’t Like
Nice handle shapingChef’s knife is heavy
Blades are toughSpines aren’t chamfered or rounded
Aggressive serrations on utility knife make it great for a broad range of tasksEdge retention is mediocre
Paring knife is comfortable and actually decent for paring fruit

The Knives

The Cangshan Helena eight inch chef knife with a white handle on a dark wood cutting board.
The 8 inch chef knife is not the hero of this set.

I tested the 8-inch chef’s, the serrated utility, and the paring knife in this series.

I tend to gravitate toward the chef when reviewing whole sets, but I gotta say, it was not the star of this show. The serrated utility knife actually surprised me the most, and the paring knife was just a trooper the whole time.

The Chef’s Knife

A close-up of the Cangshan Helena 8 inch chef knife dicing a red onion.

I’ve already said I don’t like this, so I’ll keep to the facts:

  • It has a handle-heavy balance.
  • This is a thick knife, and it feels thick on the cut.
  • I did not enjoy cutting softer foods or herbs with this.
  • I struggled to start cuts on tomatoes and finish cuts on bunches of cilantro.
  • Onions didn’t feel all that great either, thanks to the thickness.
  • It felt best on broccoli and potatoes. Food that has some of its own rigidity, but not so much that I needed to press hard into the spine to start the cut.

The Paring Knife

The Cangshan Helena white paring knife on a dark wood cutting board.

It’s not often these days that paring knives actually feel good for paring fruit, but this one does.

  • It has a nice, tall heel to grip onto,
  • the belly of the blade has proved to be ideal for peeling off rinds and skins,
  • The tip is fine enough to dig into peppers and fruit to devein and deseed as needed.

The Serrated Knife

The Cangshan Helena serrated utility knife on a dark wood cutting board.

This thing glides through weird plastic packaging. I mean, I used it on food too. If you’re having trouble with a tomato or a thin loaf of bread, this thing will have your back, but honestly it saw the most use tearing open stupidly packaged food items.

  • The serrations are aggressive on this blade,
  • It’s great for cutting hard, tough, and soft foods (bread, cartilage in meat, tomatoes, etc)
  • It’s not gentle, though, so I wouldn’t like it for cutting finer cuts of meat or more delicate pastries (and obviously you won’t get anywhere with herbs),

Quick Thoughts on Ergonomics

A close-up of an apple being peeled with the Cangshan Helena paring knife.

A couple of good things to start:

  • The sloped bolsters are nice,
  • The width and inward curve of the handles help with grip comfort and security,
  • The bowed-out nature of the handle scales fit nicely in the palm, and are easy to navigate the fingers around in a pinch grip.

But the chef’s knife just doesn’t feel like it manages its own weight. It always pulls back too much like it wants to slip down out of my hand, and that feeling gets worse if the handle gets wet.

The spine is also harsh. It started biting into my finger pretty much right away, and I dreaded having to cut into anything tough.

Maintenance

The three knives of the Cangshan Helena Starter Set with stained blades from corrosion.
The Cangshan Helena knives did experience a bit of blade staining after a little neglect. Make sure to dry them immediately after washing to avoid this.

X50CrMoV15 steel is a common steel in modern kitchen knives, but the Helena series seemed to experience blade staining with minimal neglect. I didn’t run any head to head corrosion tests versus other X50CrMoV15 steel kitchen knives I have reviewed, but the Helena series seemed to show spotting faster with minimal neglect in maintenance.

I had a rough time with the edge of the chef’s knife. It got two pretty big rolls after making guacamole. I didn’t see or feel when they happened, but I suspect it was from a few stray jalapeno seeds, which, by all right, the edge shouldn’t have rolled on, so I’m hoping that’s not it.

But it was an odd challenge to straighten the blade back out. I spent a good fifteen minutes working it over a steel honing rod, and when that didn’t seem to be doing anything switched to my ceramic rod. Even that took a while to get the dents to move at all, but I did get there eventually. Then I stropped the blade for good measure, and I’ll be damned if I couldn’t get a satisfying cut out of this thing.

It cut, don’t get me wrong there. But I couldn’t really achieve the kind of smoothness I’ve come to expect from kitchen knives in this category.

I haven’t had to do much besides strop the paring knife a little. The slimmer blade width keeps it cutting well for a while, and I guess I also have to admit that I just didn’t use it on anything as harsh as I did with the other two knives.

Why the Cangshan Helena Series is Like Late-Season X-Files

The Cangshan Helena serrated utility being use to slice a loaf of bread.

This is a late-stage chef’s knife design. Cangshan has already come out with some solid batches of really good knives, and then they started playing around”

“What if we made a handle shaped like a banana? What if we gave it a white handle? What if it was the heaviest knife we’ve ever made?”

I’m guessing their conversations were more purposeful than that, but speaking as an end user who has enjoyed their other work, this feels a bit like watching the last season of X-Files. There’s some good stuff in there, but I mostly like it for the memories.

So I would only really recommend it for the same reason I would recommend someone watch the X-Files all the way through: if you’re into that kind of thing, it can still be cool.

The Helena is still a cool looking series with a good handle concept, but I’m left with the thought I always have after rewatching the first five seasons of X-Files: why would I keep watching the new model when I could just go back to the good, older stuff?

Alternatives and Comparison

The Cangshan TC 8 inch chef knife on a bamboo cutting board.
The Cangshan TC knives are quite a bit more expensive than the Helana series, but the improved quality and performance is worth the steeper price.

It’s all about price, handle shape, and color options, and the Helena series is not alone looking good in the kitchen, or having heavy, rounded handles.

  • The Wusthof’s Classic Ikon series is the obvious alternative here. It has a similar handle-heavy balance, a strong western-style shape, the same steel (and about the same edge retention) and even the handle has a similar inward curve. While the Wusthof feels a little more comfortable to me, though, it is a lot more expensive.
  • If you want to stay on the budget side, the Cutluxe Artisan follows similar design lines, but with wider, boxier handles that suit hands well.
  • But honestly, the knife I’d rather have (and do) is from Cangshan’s older seasons: the Cangshan TC series. The styling is very different, but to me, it’s a more ergonomically sound Western-style design with a comfortable price tag.
  • Victorinox knives are also worth a look. They make several small sets in this price range.

Conclusion: Go Small with the Helena Series

We liked this set enough to include it in our article on the Best Knife Sets Under 200. That may be worth reading if you are looking for a good set in the Cangshan Helena price range.

I personally wouldn’t want to get the block set of this series. I just can’t get behind the chef’s knife. But I would happily keep the smaller knives in my collection.

The serrated utility knife has come in handy for a dozen different things around the kitchen, and the paring knife is great for deseeding things and actually paring fruit and peeling vegetables.

Fortunately, Cangshan sells everything individually and even sells the paring knife in a 4-piece set. That honestly seems like the best way to go. Keep it small, and everything will be alright.


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Avatar of Andrew North

Andrew has been a commercial writer for about a decade. He escaped from a life of writing mundane product descriptions by running away to the woods and teaching himself how to bake and chop stuff up in the kitchen. He has a background in landscaping, Filipino martial arts, and drinking whiskey.

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