STEEL And KNIVES (A Comparison and Explanation)

Discussion in 'Blades' started by Brokor, Jun 11, 2014.

  1. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    Every knife will serve you well if you (1) understand its limitations, (2) use the blade according to its primary strengths, and (3) do not abuse the steel by expecting it to perform exceptional tasks outside its general use. I can explain some of the more common blade profiles and steel types, but not in great detail and only based on my limited knowledge.

    These are just BASIC guidelines, and there are exceptions which can be applied to any of them. I only list some of the more common grinds and steel types, so this is by no means an absolute list.

    Favored for woodcraft, light to medium duty to include carving and intricate tasks and game preparation, especially fish. A traditional Scandinavian grind is perhaps the sharpest and keenest edge for a knife. The edge is traditionally ground flat from about 1/4" to zero edge, but many knives of this type also come with a secondary micro-bevel to increase durability. See below on micro-bevels for more information. With feathersticking wood, this blade type is generally the best (without micro-bevel).

    CONVEX EDGE (full, feathered, partial):
    The first picture below is a partial convex edge to zero point. Below is a picture of a full convex edge, and a feathered convex edge would be a combination of the two. Typically, a convex edge excels in the depth or bite of the blade, and offers very low resistance and can slice very well. It is often a favorite among hunters for quartering game and even in bushcraft as an alternative to a Scandinavian grind edge.
    convex1. convex-edge-blade.

    Some micro-bevels cannot be easily seen with the naked eye and require a microscope or some kind of magnification to see. Some knife manufacturers will place a micro-bevel on their blades to increase durability or to lower production costs. The inherent problem with a micro-bevel, is that it does not promote or assist the actual blade geometry, and upon regular use and resharpening, can cause performance issues over time. This is because the blade thickness typically increases higher up the blade, and sharpening a micro-bevel at the same angle will only increase the sharpened blade thickness, requiring more force to cut and altering the edge angle. Some knife users just re-profile their edges to a more natural geometry of about 30 degrees (if Scandi, re-profile to flat Scandi and so on) to escape having to use this micro-bevel. Just to clarify, that's 15 degrees in each direction, equalling 30 degrees.
    convex edge with micro bevel.

    Many utility blades have a simple edge, and the main portion of the blade can have full flat grind, hollow grind, a variety of convex or chisel grinds. The typical bevel edge could also have a micro-bevel, but it is not very common.

    STEEL TYPES: (Heat treat/hardening/tempering variables must be kept in mind)

    1075 (carbon steel): Light duty steel, softer than most types. Will tend to roll easily with slim profiles like Scandi and with heavy use on hard woods. This steel will tend to bend and roll long before chipping. Highly prone to rust.

    1095 (carbon steel): Similar to 1075, but typically can be hardened to higher rockwell and is very common. This steel is favored among some bushcrafters due to its ability to be used with flint, ferrocium rods and its low cost value. It is regarded as an average to lower average steel in toughness, with very few exceptions. One nice feature of this steel is that it can be easily sharpened in the field. Prone to rust quite easily, often has a coating or surface treatment.

    Stainless (440C): Can be heat treated to good rockwell hardness (59HRC) and holds an edge decently. Since it has the potential to border on tool steel wear resistance, it is often viewed as a good budget steel. It does lack in toughness compared to even D2 tool steel, however. 440C has more rust protection than high carbon steels, and is common among most average utility blades and food cutlery. It can be prone to rolling and minor to severe chipping at higher hardnesses.

    5160: A carbon-chromium steel alloy, often referred to as "Spring Steel" and it is also used in car springs. It is a common sword steel, especially for European style swords but is also common among survival knives due to its toughness. The composition of 5160 includes: Carbon - Chromium - Manganese - Phosphorus - Silicon - and a very small amount of Sulfur.

    CPM154 variant: Another steel type which is in the stainless steel category, and there are several variations. It has excellent edge retention and is not too difficult to sharpen. Generally, 154 steel is a great hunting, general purpose blade metal. The CPM154 is an improvement over 154CM steel, which was popular with knifemakers in the 1980's. It is widely used and sits on the higher end of the knife steel category. It can take a polish very nicely, which makes for very lovely show pieces, but can be used hard practically as well. It has more toughness and better edge retention than 440C steel. I personally find this steel to be my favorite when considering cost, value, performance and overall wide range of use.

    3V (and CPM 3V): A "super steel" as some may call it, it is very tough and difficult to sharpen. You will also find it to be quite expensive. It has a good resilience to rust, and better performance over most tool steels, however in some cases A2 steel will compete very well. It can stain and corrode, which is why S30V was a response to it as some believe.

    S30V: Some say it is a step above 3V steel, having exceptionally improved characteristics across the board. Another "super steel" variant, and practically identical to S35VN. It has improved machining and grind characteristics over S30V and 3V steels. These steels are exceedingly expensive, however.

    Laminated: A method to increase resilience to environment factors such as rusting and is applied to some high carbon steels.


    Foreign Steel:

    8CR13MOV - Typical hardness 57-59HRC, low molybdenum content, so this "stainless" variety Chinese steel can rust. It is a similar steel to 440C, but not so much with resistance to rust. Many times you will see a coating for knives made with this steel.

    AUS8 - Hardness typically 57-59HRC, and uses nickel and vanadium content and a little molybdenum, so it does have some decent corrosion and rust resistance. It is a somewhat tough steel, along the stainless variety of Japanese origin. Takes a very fine edge, reasonable to sharpen, economically priced.

    13C26 - A Scandinavian steel, some chromium content making it corrosion resistant and similar to 440C stainless. Typical HRC 58-60.

    12C27 - Called a Norwegian steel, it is similar to 13C26 and 440C in some ways, slightly less tough but economical.

    TOOL STEEL: See chart below for comparison. These are generally tougher steels.

    Tool steels have chromium content to a varying extent and other metals sometimes including molybdenum, silicon, tungsten and manganese. All tool steels can be quench hardened to well above 60 rockwell. Can your tool steel be used to baton wood and come out unscathed? With some softer woods, yes. However, every tool steel can receive minor and even moderate rolling or chipping with heavy and rough baton use on hard woods. There is no perfect tool steel, just correct tool steels for the perfect application.

    O1 Tool steel - It's a good tool steel, on the lower end with higher carbon content, but tougher than average, high carbon steels. Highly prone to rust.

    A2 Tool steel - Tougher than O1 steel, and is harder to sharpen. Holds edge longer than O1 steel on average. Regarded generally as an exceptional all purpose steel and solid, upper middle ground tool steel. Can be tempered to 60+ rockwell. A2 steel has a higher toughness than D2 steel, but slightly less wear resistance. Also prone to rust, but not highly.

    D2 Tool steel - Regarded as the 'typical' tool steel. Has a higher chromium content, and is used typically for high wear steel tools. It is similar to A2 in most regards, but more closely resembling stainless steels in its characteristics and can be relatively difficult, but not terrible at sharpening. It will also hold and edge well, but at higher rockwell (60+) it can chip if used hard. This steel is prone to rust.


    TO SUMMARIZE - There is no "best steel" for knives, as far as I know. With harder steels also comes the increased possibility of them being brittle in nature. Some steel treatments can extend the rust-proof nature of a steel, like stone washing, bead blasting, adding a natural forced patina, and sprayed treatments like powder coating. To find an acceptable balance for a blade, you MUST factor in the traits of the steel and consider the job you wish to use it for. Do not expect one steel and one blade to do everything exceptionally. At best, some knives will do many tasks well, some extremely well, and others not well at all. You just have to understand the limitations of your steel. Now that you have a general knowledge, with a little practice you can hold a knife, know the steel type and its limitations, understand the grind and make alterations if necessary in order to maximize its potential.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2014
  2. Bear

    Bear Monkey+++ Founding Member Iron Monkey

    @Brokor Nice write up... thanks for sharing...

    Every single steel listed has it's composition and origin it the purpose for which it was formulated in industry...
    If you are a "Iron" nut like me... you might be interested in the following for more detailed info...

    Every steel has a composition like S30V listed above... would include

    Al Aluminum

    When added to molten steel, mixes very quickly with any undissolved oxygen and is therefore considered one of the most common deoxidizers in making steel. Aluminum also is used to produce a fine grain structure and to control grain growth.

    B Boron

    Boron is added to steel in amounts of 0.0005 to 0.003% to improve hardenability. In combination with other alloying elements, boron acts as an "intensifier", increasing the depth of hardening during quenching.

    C Carbon

    Produces the properties in steel that give it strength. As carbon content increases, there is a corresponding increase in tensile strength and hardness. Additionally, as carbon content increases, steel becomes increasingly responsive to heat treatment.

    Cb Columbium

    Columbium in 18-8 stainless steel has a similar effect to titanium in making the steel immune to harmful carbide precipitation and resultant inter-granular corrosion. Columbium bearing welding electrodes are used in welding both titanium and columbium bearing stainless steels since titanium would be lost in the weld arc, whereas columbium is carried over into the weld deposit.

    Co Cobalt

    Is used to increase the red hardness of a steel. It adds much life to a tool by its ability to maintain hardness and cutting ability when it's heated to a dull red during a machining operation.

    Cr Chromium

    Like carbon, chromium helps the response to heat treatment. An increase in depth of hardness is also noticed with its use. When used in large quantities, it possesses a remarkable resistance to oxidation and corrosion. Used in conjunction with other alloys, chromium is one of the popular alloying elements.

    Cu Copper

    Is usually added in amounts of .20 to .30% and helps steel resist corrosion. It also helps in some degree to increase tensile and yield strengths with only a t loss in ductility.

    Fe Iron

    Although it lacks strength, iron is very soft and ductile, and does not respond to heat treatment to any degree. Iron is the primary element in steel. With the addition of other alloying elements, required mechanical properties can be achieved.

    Mn Manganese

    Is next to carbon in its importance in steel making. This is due primarily because of its ability to resist hot shortness or the tendency to tear while being forged or rolled. Manganese is used in almost every steel made, increasing responsiveness to heat treatment and acting as a deoxidizer.

    Mo Molybdenum

    Raises hot strength, has good creep resistance and helps steel resist softening at elevated temperatures. It is used to a large extent in tools and dies intended for hot working of metal.

    Ni Nickel

    Increases strength and toughness and has good fatigue resistance. Steels with nickel usually have more impact resistance than steels where nickel is absent. This is true especially at lower temperatures.

    P Phosphorus

    Is seldom deliberately added to steel but is carried as a residual or incidental element. When it is added it is usually for the purpose of machinability. Phosphorous is present in all steels and tends to increase resistance to corrosion while increasing yield strength.

    Pb Lead

    Is used in steel to improve machinability. In small amounts of .15 to .35% and finely divided and distributed, it has no known effect on the mechanical properties of steel.

    S Sulfur

    Is usually found in all steels and like phosphorus is considered a residual element. When added purposely it substantially increases machinability.The amount for this purpose is usually from .06 to .30%. Sulfur is considered the basic element for free machining steels It is,however, detrimental to the hot forming properties.

    Is Silicon

    Is the most common deoxidizing agent. In amounts up to 1% it has a marked strengthening and toughening effect. In higher amounts it produces electrical resistance and gives high magnetic permeability.

    Te Tellurium

    The addition to approximately .05% tellurium to leaded steel improves machinability over the leaded-only steels.

    Ti Titanium

    Titanium is added to 18-8 stainless steels to make them immune to harmful carbide precipitation. It is sometimes added to low carbon sheets to make them more suitable for porcelain enameling.

    W Tungsten

    Promoted red hardness and hot strength in addition to producing dense grain and a keen cutting edge. These properties make tungsten steels very useful for hot working applications such as cutting tools when the steel is hot enough to be low red in color.

    V Vanadium

    Is a strong deoxidizer and promotes fine grain structure. It helps steel resist softening at elevated temperatures and seems to resist shock better than steels without it.

    There is also a pretty good write up on steels as it relates to cutlery here...

    Knife Steel FAQ

    Also remember the overall execution of and the design and geometry of all the parts of the tool is important as well... a perfectly executed edge mated to the perfect steel for the the intended purpose will fail hopelessly if the say the tang is not also executed and heat treated for that same purpose... and either cracks or fails in some other way.... the same goes for all the other parts of the tool... IMHO...

    And just one more thought... the best design, of the best steel, executed by the best maker... will mean absolutely nothing... in the hands of someone who either does not understand it's purpose, limitations, potential and who has not spent the time to actually use the tool... you know... the old saying... "All show and no Go".... practice, practice, practice... and then practice some more... repeat and start again ;)

    It's amazing what some "natives" and "Monkeys" can do with very basic tools of basic steel and design out there in the "Jungle"...

    Hope that adds to the "science" and "fun" of the sharp pointy thingys ;)


    Last edited: Jun 12, 2014
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  3. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    The knowledge pool of the monkey tree, is deep indeed.
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  4. vonslob

    vonslob Monkey++

    That is a great post, thank you, explains much.
    Ganado likes this.
  5. Bear

    Bear Monkey+++ Founding Member Iron Monkey

    Good High Carbon Steel knives... Most folks won't agree with me on this but I think a good first knife is always a good quality high carbon steel knife... it will "speak" when it needs attention... most often in the way of rust ... that also probably means it could use a nice touch up on the edge... over time you'll check it before it "speaks" to you... this is good conditioning and practice to get that mental and muscle memory in place for taking care of your tools.... so when you need them.... they will take care of you ;)

    Save the stainless and other "unobtanium" stuff for later or special applications... but everyone should have one good high carbon steel knife that will "speak" to them ;) JMHO....

    Now that I got that out of the way ;)

    @Tobit ... what kind of condition are they in?... light rust can be taken care of quickly and easily with just some oil and steel wool or even a scotchbrite pad.... medium might need a good wire brushing or some sanding with some wet dry sand paper and some oil.... heavy pitting stuff forget the wire brush... unless it's a angle grinder with a wire cup or scotchbrite pad or a flap disc....
    Depending on the condition... a good soak in vinegar over night or other acidic fluid will speed things along quite nicely... just depends...

    Got a picture? what kind of finish? Mirror... Matte... any coatings? what kind of guard and handle? sheaths?... what kind?

    Let us know and I'm sure a bunch of Monkeys will chime in along with me about our best techniques to revive, restore and refresh our beloved (but sometimes neglected) tools.

    Hope that helps a bit....

    Have a great weekend!

    Take Care and God Bless,

  6. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    @Bear I've had a hard time explaining a flap wheel to folks. Do you have a handy pic of one? If it ain't handy, I'll dig one up.
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  7. Bear

    Bear Monkey+++ Founding Member Iron Monkey

    LOL @ghrit .... have had the same problem... so ran out to my shop and snapped a few pictures so we have it now in the record for all time ;)

    There are "Flap Wheels" (on the left with one chucked up in the drill) and "Flap Discs" (on the right with the angle grinder)....

    Both operate on the same principle of exposing new fresh ghrit (get it? ... I said "ghrit" instead of grit... get it?... never mind... wow... tough crowd tonight ;) ) as sanding wears the abrasive paper away....

    Differences... a "Flap Wheel" obviously will turn at a much slower rpm in a drill but a can go up to 20,000 or more rpm in like a die grinder... (let me know if you want a pic of what that is) and will follow contours ....

    a "Flap Disc"... or at least these will go up to 13,000 rpm... and are used for "flatter" surfaces....

    (by the way... for you angle grinder owners... if you have not discovered the 3M Quick Loading disc system... you really need to check it out... works like a charm... change discs with your hand... no tools... get's the "Bear Seal of Approval" )

    There's much more to it... but I'll leave that up to folks to google or ask... always happy to help....

    Hope the pics are what you were looking for @ghrit ...

    Have a great weekend all!

    Take Care and God Bless,






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  8. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    A quick question.... what is the proper use for the Flap wheels and discs...... just so as we better understand the usage. :)
  9. AxesAreBetter

    AxesAreBetter Monkey+++

    High tech deviltry!!!

    Haha. Anybody have any thoughts on sword steel? This seems to be the place to ask.
  10. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    In effect, they are powered sandpaper. WAY faster than hand sanding, way smoother than filing, WAY too aggressive for wood working. Used (for the most part) in metal finishing. The most common use that I have personally been involved is in cleaning up welds for nondestructive inspections.
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  11. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey

    They come in grits from 40 to some very fine 1200 grit.
    Unlike the standard bench grinder or hand grinder they are easy to control and can be "feathered" onto the point you want remove and with care they can be used to remove the metal without removing the temper of the metal.
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  12. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    Good information to know....thanks for the lesson. I mostly work with wood so I only have a couple of these Flap wheels, but never used them for anything. Now I will have to pull something out in the shop and experiment with them.
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  13. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey

    An excellent observation for the new knife owner to pay attention to.
    The standard knife carbon steels will be easier to sharpen and allows a learning curve to be readily seen as the edge is changed.

    Recently I have turned to the Diamond Steel hand sharpening rods as a aid in teaching a novice on the art of proper edge control when sharpening a knife.

    The Diamond Rod can be seen changing the edge right before your eyes and is much easier to train with. Then "the touch" of 25 degree can be seen as well as felt and it is then easier for the novice to learn the angle and feel needed when using a stone to sharpen a knife.
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  14. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey

    As well as the flap wheels there is another type of "view able" as well as quick change disk setup.

    Seen below in the complete package, as well as a few disk out of the package and the base wheel for the quick change kit.

    As seen these in the picture are about 15 years old and the packaging may have changed.

    Grinding and Sanding see Thru Disk Set.JPG
  15. Bear

    Bear Monkey+++ Founding Member Iron Monkey

    That's great @Tobit .... that will help us make some recommendations.... and will the wealth of knowledge here... you should end up with a variety of different approaches....

    Have a great Saturday!

    Take Care and God Bless,

  16. Bear

    Bear Monkey+++ Founding Member Iron Monkey

    Wow @HK_User those look mighty handy... I'm always grinding and lifting to check... grinding and lifting to check... do they work well?.... how do the disks attach? PSA?

    I recognize that island in the background ;)

    Thanks for sharing... have a great Saturday!

    Take Care and God Bless,

  17. Bear

    Bear Monkey+++ Founding Member Iron Monkey

    Thought I would also post this for you @Yard Dart

    3 different tools... die grinder top left... dremel tool middle... paddle type orbital sander... many different brands... mine just happens to be a Fein....

    I've used flap wheels in everything from the die grinder... single high speed... mostly for metal, welds etc... some very aggressive wood shaping....

    The little dremel is just to show that those flap wheels also come in smaller sizes for your smaller projects... you can adjust the speed so it's nice for delicate work or even wood.... that little green finger thing is great for getting into contours....

    And then the paddle sander... nice for everything from aggressive sanding to delicate... good speed control and a variety of different heads for contours... everything from sanding to polishing with the white hard felt pad...

    Depending on @Tobit knives... condition size etc.... I'd might use any of these.... most likely not the die grinder... but just depends....

    Hope this helps with options on cleaning, shaping and or re-profiling your steel and or wood projects.... at least in the Bear shop ;)

    Have a great Saturday all!

    Take Care and God Bless,






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  18. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey

    Yes Bear they work well and always let you see what you are doing.

    Note the cuts in the center of the disk, they fit under the aluminum nut of the black mother disk and a simple rotation with your hands usually lock in and you're ready to go to the next grit. Just line up the holes in the disk with the Black Mother Disk and all will work like a charm.

    Island? What Island?
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  19. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

  20. Bear

    Bear Monkey+++ Founding Member Iron Monkey

    Wow @AxesAreBetter that's a great question... and while this thread is about knives... I suppose a sword is just a "long" knife... or for that matter a knife is just a "short" sword ... LOL....

    I'll give it a go....

    Bear thoughts on sword or long knife steel...

    Many manufacturers make their swords out of a variety of steels depending on their uses and it's always a wise thing to check into that first...

    Uses range from ....

    Wall hanging decoration... so the steel really doesn't matter...

    Practice for martial art form... only cutting air so the steel really doesn't matter....

    Practice for martial art cutting form... depends on what you are practicing on.... tatami mats, green bamboo, ballistic gel or other materials, hanging carcasses, bone etc.... Steel does matter here and varies greatly on what you are cutting...

    Practice and Actual use.... again it depends on what you are practicing on and the actual use or application.... the later is the most important consideration... example... actual use in reenactment events or in a real contact battle.... Steel absolutely matters here... practice maybe through air all the way through bone... sometimes it's steel... reenactment swords actually contact metal to metal... and most certainly in actual use... blade to blade contact has to be considered... hardened or harder steel cuts unhardened or softer steel...

    I haven't gone into the design chosen, geometry of the blade, thickness, length, maker, budget etc.... those will also be critical to the decision on which sword steel to consider .... but in my humble opinion... anyone would benefit from thinking about the above before getting into these....

    Others here have great experience and thoughts on this subject as well... I am sure they will also chime in and help with some thoughts and opinions....

    Hope that helps.... think about which one applies and then happy to answer or elaborate on any other questions you may have....

    Have a great Saturday!

    Take Care and God Bless,

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