Knife Blade Steel
Knife blade steels come in lots of varieties and it would be great if there was some standardized way of naming them, but there’s not. I’m not going to go into every type of steel from around the world but i will talk about the most common ones that knife manufactures tend to use.
Properties of Knife Blade Steel
Some sites will list as many as 10 properties but i will just touch on the ones that matter to us. Things like hardenability really only matter to the manufacturer.
Hardness or strength is the ability to absorb energy without flexing. This is achieved by increasing the carbon content. These blades will hold an edge great but are also more difficult to sharpen. They will also be more brittle and prone to chipping. Measured on the Rockwell C scale (Rc or HRC), anything above 58 will hold an edge well but be difficult to sharpen.
Not to be confused with hardness, this will often be a trade-off from hardness. Also often called elasticity or ductility, it is the blades ability to flex without breaking. Obviously this is important for blades that will see regular use. Easier to sharpen but less edge retention.
Obviously these will be the stainless steels. Although most steel will have some degree of corrosion resistance the stainless steels have higher amounts of chromium and molybdenum. Often but not always this also sacrifices some of the edge retention abilities.
Mentioned several times already, this fairly self explanatory. Probably the most important factor to many people, it is also a result of a combination of the above factors.
Common Knife Blade Steels
The Best of the Best
Currently the top dog this steel contains huge amounts of carbon and vanadium. Very hard with great edge retention. Don’t expect to even be able to sharpen this at home. These blades are quite expensive but i will try to find some examples to include.
Made using a combination of chromium, vanadium, molybdenum and even tungsten, this is another very hard blade with great edge retention. Measuring Rc 60-62 this will also be tough to sharpen but easier than the s90v. It also has superior corrosion resistance than the s90v. This steel can apparently be polished to an incredible finish.
S35VN and S30V
The s35vn is slightly better than the s30v but most of us would find the difference unnoticeable. Both have a great balance of edge retention, hardness and corrosion resistance. This steel is what most companies such as Buck and Gerber will use as their high end steel. Still more expensive than most knives, now we are getting into a more mainstream price range.
This is used by Buck and others as a mid range steel. Similar to the 440c which you will find below, but with more molybdenum and less chromium while still being corrosion resistant. Still a fairly hard steel with great edge retention, you’re gonna still need some patience to sharpen it.
Japanese made, similar to 154cm but slightly less corrosion resistance
Harder than 154CM and ATS 34 and therefore harder to sharpen. This is also not considered a stainless steel so more care is required.
Actually quite a good steel, similar to ATS34 and 154CM, but with more chromium. It also contains vanadium which makes it harder and tougher to sharpen. Takes a keen edge.
Mid-Range and More Common
These steels are what you will find on most store shelves. Not as hard but tougher steels, they can take abuse and resist chipping and breaking. They take a good edge and can be sharpened quite easily. For a knife that will see use and abuse these should be considered first. Ideal for survival knives and hunting and camping.
Almost my favorite and i own several and can vouch for them. This is the standard metal for Buck and other companies. Better than regular 420 but higher carbon, thus the HC. A very good all around metal and one of the most corrosion resistant on the market. Companies like Buck have a special treatment that really brings out the best in this steel.
440A, B, C
This series all has more carbon than 420HC with 440C being the highest carbon content. 440C is the hardest of the series while 440A is the toughest. Harder metals with better edge retention at the expense of corrosion resistance. I own a 440A blade and have always been happy with the edge but yes it will rust if left wet.
AUS6, 8, 10
Made in Japan. Similar to the 440 series for carbon content but with some vanadium content. AUS6 is a softer steel and not really suitable.
Non-Stainless Knife Blade Steels
Actually the 10 series from 1050-1095 is quite underestimated. 1095 has the most carbon and therefore harder and better edge retention while 1050 is the toughest. 1050 and 60 are used for larger blades like swords while 1095 is best for smaller blades. Compared to most stainless steels, these blades are easier to sharpen, take a better edge and even hold it longer. However they are susceptible to discoloring and rust so care must be taken and oiled when not in use. Many 10 series blades will be coated to resist corrosion. Actually in doing this research, i have decided that i need to get one of these.
Read more Here.
San Mai Blades
San Mai steel is a layered steel blade, not to be confused with Damascus Steel. Made in Japan, It generally consists of a harder high carbon core with a stainless layer on each side. Sold in North America bu several companies, Cold Steel is one that promotes it more heavily.
Some companies such as SOG combine San Mai and layered Damascus Steel.
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