The best knife steel does not exist. Different knife steels serve different purposes is the simple reason. Instead of trying to cover all the various steel knives let’s take a look at some of the popular steels that various manufactures use in their working knives. Why steel, what was wrong with iron? |
Iron is soft, not when you run your head into a piece of it, but compared to other metals. The life of a knife blade steel is tough so simple iron was made into steel. This is the process of adding carbon to the iron making it harder and more wear resistant. Perfect what more could one want out of a knife?
This thinking, that the more carbon in the steel the better the knife is logical. As with most things though, where one gains one quality another suffers so it becomes a series of compromises. With a knife blade that’s too hard and one can’t put an edge on the knife, a too soft the edge goes on easily but the knife looses its edge quickly.
If adding carbon to iron makes steel what happens if we add other stuff? Well, that’s what is happening today. Materials and processes improve and change and different types of steel are made today.
At the one end we have carbon steel knife blades. At the other we have high tech ceramic blades. Carbon steel is a good steel that can get corroded. There are some advantages to carbon steel compared to stainless steel. The carbon steel has less stuff (different elements) in it making it a tougher steel. It can be honed to a sharper edge and is tougher, meaning it is less likely to fold at the edge when hitting a hard substance. It does lose its edge due to abrasion. Many good knives are made with carbon steel but require that they be cleaned up a little when done. This is good for kitchen knives a quick hone and a wipe on a rag and your go to go.
Can’t clean your knife after ever use, use Stainless Steel. Making of steel stainless is where different elements are added changing the nature of the steel to suit various needs. This is where the compromises come in. Let’s see how different manufactures use different steels for their knives.
440 stainless is the most commonly used stainless steel for knives. Even within the 440 group there are different grades, A, B and C. Each on having greater carbon content respectively. As more elements are added to the iron the qualities change. The things that change are toughness, the ability to take a hit and not fold at the edge, hardness, different from toughness in that the harder the metal the longer the edge stays sharp and abrasion. As more of the desirable qualities are built into a knife the higher the quality of the knife.
440 stainless is popular because it is easy to sharpen and resists corrosion. The 12c27 stainless is a higher quality steel, used for razors, because it has a fine grain alloy, has good wear and resists corrosion.
A S35-VN a stainless steel made for toughness; a knife made for a difficult environment, such as bushwhacking, similar to carbon steel in its ability to take a hit and not break and be able to sharpen easily.
N690-BO steel is used in knives used in corrosive environments such as salt water.
AUS 8 blades are a Japanese stainless steel that is higher in Vanadium, an element added to improve wear resistance, corrosion resistance and ease sharpening.
There is a hawkbill knife made out of 6Cr12MoV. This is a stainless steel that has Molybdenum and Vanadium, two elements, to improve its resistance to wear and corrosion. This steel is similar to steel used in razor blades and surgical instruments.
VG 10 is a steel made by Takefu that has good wear resistance and their blades are not as susceptible to rust. Many knives for underwater work are made with H-1, a Japanese steel that is very corrosion resistant. This steel was made for aggressive, corrosive environment such as salt water or humid jungles.
8CR13MoV is a Chinese stainless steel that is used in lower end knives. This steel is often compared to AUS 8 as it is not similar to 440C stainless steel. Sometimes 8CR13MoV is referred to as the high-end of budget steel. One can get a good serviceable knife at a reasonable cost.
A final note on ceramic knives, one word “sharp”, these knives are not made of steel but ceramics. Ceramic is very hard. They hold their edge for a long time. Ceramic cannot be sharpened on hard stones as they chip and are usually sharpened on silicone carbide or diamond sandpaper. Most manufactures offer sharpening services, as they rarely need sharpening. They are known to be brittle.
There cannot be an end all and be all of knife steel as it is an ever-changing arena. What is written here is just to help one gets one’s wits around some of the different qualities of the steel in knives. I hope this helps.
Author info If you want to find out more about knife steels go to http://www.hawkbillcurvedknifes.com. Here are several knives with different purposes made with different steels.
Over the years I have worked on ships, boats, construction, furniture building, rigging on stages both live and in film and as a chef. During this time I have had to use many steel tools as a result my experience is not so much as making knives but using and sharpening them. Besides a rock as a hammer a knife is probably one of the oldest tools we as men have used. So I wish to share some of the knowledge I have gained. Always open to more information.
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