There is no tool as good as a reliable and durable knife. Knives are our first choice when it comes to Everyday Care (EDC) tools. All of us use knives to perform our tasks of daily life but very few of us are well aware of the difference between a good knife and a bad knife. A good knife should function properly without wearing out or breaking too soon. It is quite difficult to make such a knife and its blade is honed to perfect sharpness by keeping a fine edge which cannot be dulled or worn out easily. Using only the best manufacturing materials is needed to attain this purpose and among these construction materials, the one which holds the most importance is the blade’s steel which must be chosen with great care as it determines the overall efficiency of the knife. Selecting low construction materials will result in premature failure of the knife. Now let us have a look at the characteristics which good steel for blade construction must have.
Things to Look for in a Blade Steel
When it comes to the hardness of steel, you would not want steel that is way too hard or that is way too soft. Hard steel will be very brittle and it will start chipping in no time. Whereas, soft steel will be more prone to breakage and will bend easily which is not a good characteristic when it comes to knives. Therefore, a mixture of both types is needed for a steel to be good enough for a knife’s blade.
This is one of the most basic characteristics of blade steel. A sharp blade facilitates the smooth and easy execution of the tasks whereas a blade which is not sharp and is dull only proves to be a hassle and does not perform the tasks efficiently. Blade steel does not only need to be sharp but it should retain its edge as well. This prevents the blade from wearing out and losing its edge easily. Generally, the component of carbon in steel provides this benefit. A knife made from such steel proves to be efficient and provide better results as well.
This is another factor which must be addressed while choosing the steel for the blade of a knife. This factor is known as corrosion and a blade which corrodes does not remain useful at all. Stainless steel blades have the specialty that they do not corrode and rust easily, however, if you do not take care of them and misuse, then even they start to corrode. Non-stainless steel blades are more prone to rusting and corrosion and they require more maintenance and it is better to apply oil on them from time to time.
4- Wear Resistance
The ability of steel to bear the damage from adhesive or abrasive wear is known as wear resistance. When debris is chipped off from one place and attaches itself to some other place, then this type of wear is known as adhesive wear. However, when harder particles of steel move over to its comparatively softer surface, then this type of wear is known as abrasive wear. Chemical composition of the steel and the hardness of steel are the factors which majorly determine the wear resistance of the blade steel. It is a known fact that steel which has larger carbides is more wear resistance as it has more wear resistant, small and hard particles.
There is one other characteristic of good blade steel and that is toughness. Tough steel resists damage and does not chip off or wear out too easily. It is correlated with the hardness of steel as the less tough a steel will be, the harder it will be. Why? Because harder steel is brittle and chip off very easily.
Best Metals for the Blades of Knives
The following are the four most common types of metals that are used for making the blades of a knife. Let us have a look at them one by one.
1- Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is by far the most common type of steel that is used to make fixed blade knives. The benefit of using stainless steel for manufacturing blades is that it does not corrode easily. This is because of the presence of chromium metal in it that it has such properties. Martensitic Stainless steel or Ferritic stainless steel are the most common types of stainless steel which are used in manufacturing stainless steel knives. Grade 420 and 440 of stainless steel are the most popular ones which are used in blade steel. Austenitic Grades are also used in stainless steel i.e. grade 316, however, they are not capable of retaining their edges which messes up with the edge retention property of the knives. Then there is another grade in austenitic stainless steel which is 304L. This one is also not a very good option especially if your main focus is on edge retention rather than on corrosion resistance. There is another type known as precipitation hardening steel which is hard and is able to resist against corrosion as well. Therefore, this steel is used specifically to produce knives where the main concern is to prevent their corrosion. The most common precipitation hardening stainless steel is 17-7 PH. It is an alloy and is produced by hardening the metal through precipitation.
2- Carbon Steel
The next one is carbon steel which has a high concentration of carbon in it. The best thing about carbon steel blades is that they retain their edges, however, when it comes to corrosion resistance, they are not that good and rust very easily. They are also hard and sturdy and therefore, makes a knife string and provides it the ability to bear harsh and tough use. Carbon steel is usually subjected to a high temperature which makes it brittle and strong. However, as we all know that too much brittleness is not considered good in a blade, therefore, it must be taken into account to not overheat the carbon steel. This may also result in the breakage of the blade when it will be allowed to cool after high heating. The blade must not be too soft too so that it does not retain its edge, therefore, a medium must be chosen. Carbon steel does not contain too many alloys and this is the reason that they rust easily and fastly. Therefore, special care of these blades must be taken in order to ensure their safety and long use. The most common grades of carbon steel are C1075, C1045, and C1090.
3- Tool Steel
Tool steel is also a very famous steel from which the blades of knives are manufactured. It is basically carbon steel but with the addition of certain alloys in it. These alloys increase its features, benefits and atone for its drawbacks as well. Tool steel retains its edge but it also has resistance against corrosion, unlike carbon steel. The most common grade of tool steel is A2 which is tough though not as tough as other grades of tool steel. This grade of tool steel also rusts easily if proper care is not given to it. There is another grade known by the name of D2. This one is resistant to rust and corrosion and retains its edge as well, however, it is not as tough as Grade A2.
4- Damascus Steel
This one is slightly different from other blade types and is famous all over the world for its mysterious appearance. It is not plain steel which we normally see, rather, it is patterned steel and has patterns known as bands etched all over it. This steel is known as “Damascus steel” because of the region it was originated in which is Damascus, the capital and one of the largest cities of Syria. However, some people also say that this is not true and Damascus steel is known by this name after the name of the man who forged it for the first time. Another opinion is that it is named after the Damask Fabric which has patterns similar to that of a Damascus steel.
Originally, this steel was imported from India and Sri Lanka and was smithed from Wootz steel in the East region. However, nowadays, people also forge Damascus style steel from various other steels. The process is to fuse together various types of steels according to one’s own preference and choice and heat them at a high temperature in a furnace. Then different layers of steel known as bands are assembled and a smooth finish is given to them at the end. This fusion of different steels give this steel the look of the real Damascus steel which has patterns of flowing water or jigsaw puzzles etched over it.
These are the four most common types of steel types that are used to manufacture knives and are used extensively for this purpose.