Steel info

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Author: Joe Talmadge
Last Updated: October 2005

Table of Contents:

I. What makes a steel perform?

  • Introduction
  • Sharpen for performance
  • Design for performance
  • Properties of performance steels
  • What’s the “best steel”?

II. Elements of Steel

III. Steels

  • Non-stainless Steels
  • Stainless Steels
  • Damascus Steel
  • Non-steel used for cutlery

IV. Selected URLs for steel information

V. Bibliography

I. What Makes A Steel Perform?

A. Introduction

Steel is the heart of the blade. The search for higher-performance
steels has to a number of wonderful materials in recent years. Steel by
itself isn’t the sole determiner of
knife performance, of course. Heat treatment, blade geometry, handle
geometry and materials all effect how a knife performs for a particular
job. However, those other qualities can
be difficult to measure. You can’t tell by looking at it how well a
blade has been heat-treated, and you can only make educated guesses on
how well the blade and handle geometry
will work. With steel, however, you can get a full listing of its
alloying elements, something measureable and somehow satisfying.

As a result, it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting too much
emphasis on the steel itself. A knife is more than steel, and it’s
important not to forget that. In addition,
many modern steels perform so well, that knife decisions can often be
made based on other factors than marginal increases in steel
performance.

The question of “what’s the best steel” or “rank the following steels
in order from best to worst” often comes up. The resulting replies can
never be totally accurate, because
depending on the jobs the knife will be used for, the blade geometry,
and the quality of the heat treat, what is “best” and what is “worst”
can be very fluid. If you want to make
an educated decision about steels, try to learn the basics of steel
properties, and go from there.

B. Sharpening for performance

That doesn’t mean that significant performance advantages can’t be
had by choosing the right steel for the job. In fact, choosing a steel
can significantly impact the
performance of a knife. But, to really bring out the performance of a
particular steel, you need to take advantage of the better steel in your
sharpening plan. If a weak, brittle
steel can perform the job when sharpened at 25-degrees-per-side, a
strong, tough steel might give you some marginal performance
improvements if it, too, is sharpened at
25-degrees-per-side. However, to really bring out the performance of the
better steel, trying bringing it down to 20-degrees per side, or less.
The advantage of the better steel is
that it is strong and tough enough to hold up with a small edge angle —
and smaller edge angles radically out-perform bigger edge angles. It’s
easy to get a 10-to-1 perform
advantage for certain cutting jobs by cutting 5 degrees off your
sharpening angle.

This leads to the general rule:
To really see the advantages of a better steel, exploit that steel in
your sharpening program. If you’re going to sharpen all your knives at
the
same angle regardless of steel, you might de-emphasize steel choice
somewhat.

On the internet, I’ll often see someone posting about wanting to
upgrade from their ATS-34 folder to one that has S30V, and then in a
different post, declare that they sharpen
all their knives at 20° per-side. Why spend all that extra money for
S30V, just to get some marginal wear resistance advantages but no other
performance advantages? If that
same user would take advantage of S30V’s superior toughness and drop the
edge angle to 15° per-side, they would see a large leap in cutting
performance, along with the extra
wear resistance. Because of choosing the right sharpening angle, the
more expensive S30V knife now gives an impressive return on investment.
*Now* you can see what all the fuss is
about!

C. Design for performance

In the section above, we highlighted what the user can do to bring
out the best performance in a high-performance steel. But the user is
only half the equation; now we will look
at what the knifemaker might do with a higher-performance steel. As the
knifemaker moves from one steel to another, it is often possible to
modify the design of a particular knife
to take advantage of the newer steel, and raise performance.

For example, it is possible to make a hard-use “tactical/utility” knife from ATS-34.
To make sure the ATS-34 will take the
kind of stresses it might see in this environment, the edge might be
left a bit thick (sacrificing cutting performance), or the hardness
brought down a touch (sacrificing strength
and wear resistance), or both. If the same maker moves to much-tougher
S30V, he might be able to thin out the edge, thin out the entire knife,
and raise the hardness, bringing up
performance as a whole. Moving to differentially-tempered 5160 might allow the maker to re-profile even more for performance. If we’re
talking about a fighter, moving from 1095 to 3V might allow the maker to make the
knife much thinner, lighter, and faster, while significantly increasing cutting performance and maintaining edge integrity.

So to really take advantage of the higher-performance steel, we want
the knifemaker to adjust the knife design to the steel, wherever he
thinks it’s appropriate. If a knifemaker
offers the same knife in multiple steels, ask about what the
characteristics are in each steel, and the how’s and why’s of where the
design has changed to accomodate each steel
offered.

Note that there can be good reasons that a knifemaker might not
change the blade profile even though the steel has changed. Maybe he’s
particularly good at heat-treating one
steel or another, so that the differences between disparate steels are
minimized. Maybe the higher-performance steel is not available in the
next stock thickness down. Maybe
instead of higher cutting performance, the maker would rather offer the
same cutting performance but in a knife that can take more abuse. Maybe
his customers tend to only buy
thicker knives regardless of performance.

So work with the maker to understand the choices being made with the
different steels being offered. If you understand the kind of
performance you need, you’ll be able to make a
wise choice.

D. Properties of performance steels

What is it we’re looking for in a steel, anyway? Well, what we are
looking for is strength, toughness, wear resistance, and edge holding.
Sometimes, we’re also looking for stain
resistance.

Wear resistance

  : Just like it sounds, wear
resistance is the ability to withstand abrasion. Generally speaking, the
amount, type, and distribution of carbides within
the steel is what determines wear resistance.

Strength

: The ability to take a load without permanently
deforming. For many types of jobs, strength is extremely important. Any
time something hard is being cut, or
there’s lateral stress put on the edge, strength becomes a critical
factor. In steels, strength is directly correlated with hardness — the
harder the steel, the stronger it is.
Note that with the Rockwell test used to measure hardness in a steel, it
is the hardness of the steel matrix being measured, not the carbides.
This, it’s possible for a softer,
weaker steel (measuring low on the Rockwell scale) to have more wear
resistance than a harder steel. S60V, even at 56 Rc, still has more and
harder carbides than ATS-34 at 60 Rc,
and thus the S60V is more wear resistant, while the ATS-34 would be
stronger.

Toughness

  : The ability to take an impact without
damage, by which we mean, chipping, cracking, etc. Toughness is
obviously important in jobs such as chopping,
but it’s also important any time the blade hits harder impurities in a
material being cut (e.g., cardboard, which often has embedded
impurities).

The knifemaker will be making a tradeoff of strength versus
toughness. Generally speaking, within the hardness range that the steel
performs well at, as hardness increases,
strength also increases, but toughness decreases. This is not always
strictly true, but as a rule of thumb is generally accurate. In
addition, it is possible for different heat
treat formulas to leave the steel at the same hardness, but with
properties such as toughness, wear resistance, and stain resistance
significantly differing.

Stain resistance

(rust resistance) : The ability to
withstand rust (oxidation). Obviously, this property can be helpful in
corrosive environments, such as salt water.
In addition, some types of materials are acidic (e.g., some types of
foods), and micro-oxidation can lead to edge loss at the very tip of the
edge, over a small amount of time. In
“stainless” cutlery steels, stain resistance is most affected by free
chromium — that is, chromium that is not tied up in carbides. So, the
more chromium tied up in carbides, the
less free chromium there is, which means more wear resistance but less
stain resistance.

Edge holding

: The ability of a blade to hold an edge.
Many people make the mistake of thinking wear resistance and edge
holding are the same thing. Most assuredly, it
is not; or rather, it usually is not. Edge holding is job-specific. That
is, edge holding is a function of wear resistance, strength, and
toughness. But different jobs require
different properties for edge holding. For example, cutting through
cardboard (which often has hard embedded impurities), toughness becomes
extremely important, because
micro-chipping is often the reason for edge degradation. Whittling very
hard wood, strength becomes very important for edge-holding, because the
primary reason for edge degradation
is edge rolling and impaction. Wear resistance becomes more important
for edge holding when very abrasive materials, such as carpet, are being
cut. And for many jobs, where
corrosion- inducing materials are contacted (such as food prep),
corrosion can affect the edge quickly, so corrosion resistance has a
role to play as well.

There are other properties that significantly effect how a steel performs:

Ability to take an edge

: Some steels just seem to take a
much sharper edge than other steels, even if sharpened the exact same
way. Finer-grained steels just seem to
get scary sharp much more easily than coarse-grained steels, and this
can definitely effect performance. Adding a bit of vanadium is an easy
way to get a fine-grained steels. In
addition, an objective of the forging process is to end up with a
finer-grained steel. So both steel choice,and the way that steel is
handled, can effect cutting performance.

Manufacturing process

: Cleaner, purer steels perform
better than dirtier, impure steels. The cleaner steel will often be
stronger and tougher, having less inclusions. High quality
processes used to manufacture performance steel include the
Argon/Oxygen/Decarburization (AOD) process, and for even purer steel,
the Vacuum Induction Melting/Vacuum Arc Remelting
(VIM/VAR) process, often referred to as double vacuum melting or vacuum re-melting.

Edge toothiness

: Some steels seem to cut aggressively
even when razor polished. For these steels, even when they’re polished
for push-cutting, their carbides form a kind of “micro
serrations” and slice aggressively.

E. What’s the “best steel”.

Understanding these properties will get you started to fundamentally
understanding steels and how choice of steel can effect performance. I
often see people asking, what’s the
best steel
? Well, the answer depends so much on what the steel is
being used for, and how it’s heat-treated, that the questioner can
never possibly get an accurate answer. For a
knife lover, it’s worth spending a little time understanding steel
properties — only by doing so well he really understand what the “best
steel” might be for his application.

Putting it all together, you can see how these properties might
determine your steel choice. To pick on S60V and ATS-34 again, there
seems to be a feeling that S60V is “better” in
some absolute sense than ATS-34. But S60V is often left very soft,
around 55-56 Rc, to make up for a lack of toughness. Even left that
soft, an abundance of well-distributed
vanadium carbides gives S60V superior wear resistance to ATS-34, at
acceptable toughness levels. However, does that mean S60V is “better”
than ATS-34? Well, many users will find
edge rolling and impaction the primary causes of edge degradation for
everyday use. For those users, even though S60V is more wear-resistant,
S60V is also so soft and weak that
they will actually see better edge retention with ATS-34! The S60V user
can leave the edge more obtuse (raise the sharpening angle) to put more
metal behind the edge to make it
more robust, but now the S60V will suffer serious cutting performance
disadvantages versus the thinner ATS-34 edge.

So, the next general rule:

    Knowing the uses you’ll put your knife to, and exactly how
    those uses cause edge degradation, will allow you to make a
    much better choice of steel, if you generally understand steel
    properties.

The properties of different steels will be laid out below. But in
your search for the knife with the “best steel” for your uses, I always
suggest you ask the makers of the knives
you’re considering which steels they would use. The knifemaker will
usually know which steels he can make perform the best. And as pointed
out above, heat treat is absolutely
critical to bringing out the best in a steel. A maker who has really
mastered one particular steel (e.g., Dozier and D2) might be able to
make that steel work well for many
different uses. So never go just by charts and properties; make sure you
also consider what the knifemaker can do with the steel.

III. ELEMENTS OF STEEL

At its most simple, steel is iron with carbon in it. Other alloys are
added to make the steel perform differently. Here are the important
steel alloys in alphabetical order, and
some sample steels that contain those alloys:

Carbon

: Present in all steels, it is the most
important hardening element. Also increases the strength of the steel
but, added in isolation, decreases toughness. We
usually want knife-grade steel to have >.5% carbon, which makes it
“high-carbon” steel.

Chromium

: Added for wear resistance, hardenability, and
(most importantly) for corrosion resistance. A steel with at least 13%
chromium is typically deemed “stainless”
steel, though another definition says the steel must have at least 11.5%
*free* chromium (as opposed to being tied up in carbides) to be
considered “stainless”. Despite the name,
all steel can rust if not maintained properly. Adding chromium in high
amounts decreases toughness. Chromium is a carbide-former, which is why
it increases wear resistance.

Manganese

: An important element, manganese aids the
grain structure, and contributes to hardenability. Also strength &
wear resistance. Improves the steel (e.g.,
deoxidizes) during the steel’s manufacturing (hot working and rolling).
Present in most cutlery steel except for A2, L-6, and CPM 420V.

Molybdenum

: A carbide former, prevents brittleness &
maintains the steel’s strength at high temperatures. Present in many
steels, and air-hardening steels (e.g., A2,
ATS-34) always have 1% or more molybdenum — molybdenum is what gives
those steels the ability to harden in air.

Nickel

: Adds toughness. Present in L-6 and AUS-6 and
AUS-8. Nickel is widely believed to play a role in corrosion resistance
as well, but this is probably incorrect.

Phosphorus

: Present in small amounts in most steels, phosphorus is a essentially a contaminant which reduces toughness.

Silicon

: Contributes to strength. Like manganese, it makes the steel more sound while it’s being manufactured.

Sulfur

: Typically not desirable in cutlery steel, sulfur increases machinability but decreases toughness.

Tungsten

: A carbide former, it increases wear
resistance. When combined properly with chromium or molybdenum, tungsten
will make the steel to be a high-speed steel. The
high-speed steel M2 has a high amount of tungsten. The strongest carbide
former behind vanadium.

Vanadium

: Contributes to wear resistance and
hardenability, and as a carbide former (in fact, vanadium carbides are
the hardest carbides) it contribute to wear resistance.
It also refines the grain of the steel, which contributes to toughness
and allows the blade to take a very sharp edge. A number of steels have
vanadium, but M2, Vascowear, and CPM
T440V and 420V (in order of increasing amounts) have high amounts of
vanadium. BG-42’s biggest difference with ATS-34 is the addition of
vanadium.

IV. STEELS

A. Non-stainless Steels (carbon, alloy, and tool steels):

These steels are the steels most often forged. Stainless steels can
be forged (guys like Sean McWilliams do forge stainless), but it is very
difficult. In addition, carbon steels
can be differentially tempered, to give a hard edge-holding edge and a
tough springy back. Stainless steels are not differentially tempered. Of
course, carbon steels will rust
faster than stainless steels, to varying degrees. Carbon steels are also
often a little bit less of a crap shoot than stainless steels — I
believe all the steels named below are
fine performers when heat treated properly.

In the AISI steel designation system, 10xx is carbon steel, any other
steels are alloy steels. For example, the 50xx series are chromium
steels.

In the SAE designation system, steels with letter designations (e.g., W-2, A2) are tool steels.

There is an ASM classification system as well, but it isn’t seen
often in the discussion of cutlery steels, so I’ll ignore it for now.
Often, the last numbers in the name of a
steel are fairly close to the steel’s carbon content. So 1095 is ~.95%
carbon. 52100 is ~1.0% carbon. 5160 is ~.60% carbon.

D2

D2 is sometimes called a “semi-stainless”. It has a fairly high chrome
content (12%), but not high enough to classify it as stainless. It is
more stain resistant than the carbon
steels mentioned above, however. It has excellent wear resistance. D2 is
much tougher than the premium stainless steels like ATS-34, but not as
tough as many of the other
non-stainless steels mentioned here. The combination of great wear
resistance, almost-stainlessness, and good toughness make it a great
choice for a number of knife styles. Bob
Dozier is one maker who uses D2. Benchmade has begun using D2 in its
Axis AFCK. Ref – D2 Steel Composition.

M2

A “high-speed steel”, it can hold its temper even at very high
temperatures, and as such is used in industry for high-heat cutting
jobs. It is slightly tougher, and is slightly
more wear resistant, than D2. However, M2 rusts easily. Benchmade has
started using M2 in one of their AFCK 710 variations. Ref – M2 Steel Composition.

Update[Gator]

– M2 steel knives are discontinued by Benchmade.

A2

An excellent air-hardening tool steel, it is tougher than D2 and M2,
with less wear resistance . As an air-hardening steel, don’t expect it
to be differentially tempered. Its good
toughness makes it a frequent choice for combat knives. Chris Reeve and
Phil Hartsfield both use A2. Ref – A2 Steel
Composition
.

O1

This is a steel very popular with forgers, as it has the reputation for
being “forgiving”. It is an excellent steel, that takes and holds an
edge superbly, and is tough (although
not as tough as, say, 5160). It rusts easily, however. Randall Knives
uses O1, so does Mad Dog Knives. Ref – O1
Steel Composition
.

W-2

Reasonably tough and holds an edge well, due to its .2% vanadium
content. Most files are made from W-1, which is the same as W-2 except
for the vanadium content (W-1 has no
vanadium). Ref – W2 Steel Composition.

The 10-series

1095 (and 1084, 1070, 1060, 1050, etc.) Many of the 10-series steels for
cutlery, though 1095 is the most popular for knives. When you go in
order from 1095-1050, you generally go
from more carbon to less, from more wear resistance to less wear
resistance, and tough to tougher to toughest. As such, you’ll see 1060
and 1050, used often for swords. For knives,
1095 is sort of the “standard” carbon steel, not too expensive and
performs well. It is reasonably tough and holds an edge well, and is
easy to sharpen. It rusts easily. This is a
simple steel, which contains only two alloying elements: .95% carbon and
.4% manganese. The various Kabars are usually 1095 with a black
coating. Ref – 1095 vs. 1084 vs. 1070 vs. 1060 vs. 1050 Steel Composition Comparison.

Carbon V

Carbon V is a trademarked term by Cold Steel, and as such is not
necessarily one particular kind of steel; rather, it describes whatever
steel Cold Steel happens to be using, and
there is an indication they do change steels from time to time. Carbon V
performs roughly between 1095-ish and O1-ish, in my opinion, and rusts
like O1 as well. I’ve heard rumors
that Carbon V is O1 (which I think is unlikely) or 1095. Numerous
industry insiders insist it is 0170-6. Some spark tests done by a
rec.knives reader seem to point the finger at
50100-B. Since 50100-B and 0170-6 are the same steel (see below), this
is likely the current Carbon V.

0170-6 – 50100-B

These are different designations for the same steel: 0170-6 is the steel
makers classification, 50100-B is the AISI designation. A good
chrome-vanadium steel that is somewhat
similar to O1, but much less expensive. The now-defunct Blackjack made
several knives from O170-6, and Carbon V may be 0170-6. 50100 is
basically 52100 with about 1/3 the chromium
of 52100, and the B in 50100-B indicates that the steel has been
modified with vanadium, making this a chrome-vanadium steel. Ref – 0170-6 – 50100-B Steel Composition.

L-6

A band saw steel that is very tough and holds an edge well, but rusts
easily. It is, like O1, a forgiving steel for the forger. If you’re
willing to put up with the maintenance,
this may be one of the very best steels available for cutlery,
especially where toughness is desired. In a poll on the knifemakers
email list back in the 1990s, when asked what the
makers would use for their personal knife, L-6 emerged as the top
choice. Ref – L6 Steel Composition.

5160

A steel popular with
forgers, it is popular now for a variety of knife styles, but usually
bigger blades that need more toughness. It is
essentially a simple spring steel with chromium added for hardenability.
It has good wear resistance, but is known especially for its
outstanding toughness. This steel performs
well over a wide range of hardnesses, showing great toughness when
hardened in the low 50s Rc for swords, and hardened up near the 60s for
knives needing more edge holding. Ref –
5160 Steel Composition.

52100

Formerly a ball-bearing steel, and as such previously only used by
forgers, it’s available in bar stock now. It is similar to 5160 (though
it has around 1% carbon vs. 5160 ~.60%),
but holds an edge better. It is less tough than 5160. It is used often
for hunting knives and other knives where the user is willing to trade
off a little of 5160’s toughness for
better wear resistance. However, with the continued improvement of 52100
heat treat, this steel is starting to show up in larger knives and
showing excellent toughness. A modified
52100 is being used by Jerry Busse in his lower-cost production line,
and such high-performance knife luminaries as Ed Fowler strongly favor
52100. Ref – 52100 Steel Composition.

CPM 10V

Crucible’s somewhat-stain-resistant 10V provides incredible wear
resistance with D2-class toughness. It is an outstanding choice when
maximum wear resistance is desired, but not
super toughness. Ref – CPM 10V Steel Composition.

CPM 3V

CPM’s incredibly tough 3V gives excellent wear resistance and good stain
resistance as well, although when it does stain, it is said to pit
rather than surface rust. When maximum
toughness is desired, with very good wear resistance, 3V is a great
choice. Ref – CPM 3V Steel Composition.

INFI

INFI is currently only used by Jerry Busse. In place of some of the
carbon (INFI contains 0.50% carbon), INFI has nitrogen. The result is a
non-stainless steel that is nevertheless
extremely stain resistant (informally reported at close to D2, or even
better), incredibly tough for a high-alloy ingot steel, and with
extremely good wear resistance.
Ref – INFI Steel Composition.

Vascowear

A very hard-to-find steel, with a high vanadium content. It is extremely
difficult to work and very wear-resistant. It is out of production. Ref
Vascowear Steel Composition.

B. Stainless Steels

Remember that all steels can rust. But the following steels, by
virtue of their > 13% chromium, have much more rust resistance than
the above steels. I should point out that there
doesn’t appear to be consensus on what percent of chromium is needed for
a steel to be considered stainless. In the cutlery industry, the
de-facto standard is 13%, but the ASM
Metals Handbooks says “greater than 10%”, and other books cite other
numbers. It probably makes more sense to measure stainlessness by the
amount of free chromium (chromium not
tied up in carbides), because free chromium is what forms the chromium
oxide on the blade surface that offers stain resistance. The alloying
elements have a strong influence on the
amount of chromium needed; lower chromium with the right alloying
elements can still have “stainless” performance.

Because any particular stainless steel is often heat treated to
around the same hardness (i.e., 440C is usually around 57 Rc, ATS-34 is
59-61 Rc, S60V is getting consensus at
around 56 Rc, etc.) even by different manufacturers, it’s a bit easier
to give a general feeling of the performance you’ll get from different
classes of stainless steels, without
introducing too many inaccuracies. Please note, though, that the act of
grouping differing steels in classes definitely does oversimplify, and
some of these steels might more
properly fit between the class it’s in, and the following (or previous)
one. In addition, better heat treat can move a steel up in performance
significantly. Last disclaimer: not
everyone will agree with the groupings I have here. Whew, all that said,
here is a general categorization of stainless steels:

420

and

420J

represent the
low end of stainless steels. They are very stain resistant, and are
tough due to being very soft. However, they
are also very weak, and not very wear resistant. Generally speaking,
expect these steels to lose their edge quickly through abrasion and
impaction. They are used in less-expensive
knives due to their ease of machining. Ref – 420 vs. 420J2 Steel Composition Comparison.

440A

and its relative peers,

425M

,

420HC

,

12C27

, and

6A

are the next group. They can be hardened more than the
previous group, for better strength, and they are more wear resistant,
though wear resistance is just getting to the point of acceptability.
440A and 12C27 are the leaders of this
group, with solid heat treat both perform okay. 12C27 is said to be
particularly pure and can perform very well when heat treated properly.
6A trails those two steels, though with
its vanadium content, can take a razor edge. 425M and 420HC trail the
rest. Ref – 440A vs. 425M vs. 420HC vs. 12C27 vs. AUS-6A Steel Composition Comparison.

Gin-1

,

ATS-55

,

8A

, and

440C

comprise the next group. These steels will usually be stronger than the
previous group, and
more wear-resistant. Generally speaking, they retain excellent stain
resistance properties, though ATS-55 sticks out here as not particularly
stain resistant. 8A is also worth a
mention, with some vanadium content, it can take an extremely sharp edge
very easily, but is also the weakest and least wear-resistant of this
group.
Ref – Gin-1 vs. ATS-55 vs. AUS-8 vs. 440C Steel Composition Comparison.

ATS-34/154CM

,

VG-10

, and

S60V

are the next group up. It’s difficult to make generalizations about
ATS-34 and 154-CM — they are
in such widespread use that heat treat varies widely. These steels
provide a high-end performance benchmark for stainless steels, and hold
an edge well, and are tough enough for
many uses (though not on par with good non-stainlesses). They aren’t
very stain resistant, however. VG-10 can be thought of as being like
ATS-34 and 154-CM, but doing just about
everything a hair better. It’s a little more stain resistant, tougher,
holds an edge a little better. And VG-10 has vanadium in it, it’s
fine-grained and takes the best edge of
this group. S60V has by far the best wear resistance of the group,
though consensus is becoming that it should be left around the same
hardness as 440C (56ish Rc), which means it
will be relatively weak compared to ATS-34, 154-CM, and VG-10, and so it
will indent and lose its edge quickly when strength is required. S60V
is the winner here when pure abrasion
resistance is much more important than edge strength. Ref – ATS-34 vs. 154CM vs.
VG-10 vs. CPM S60V Steel Composition Comparison
.

BG-42

,

S90V

, and

S30V

constitute the next group. BG-42 has better wear resistance than
all the previous steels except for S60V. It is tougher than ATS-34, and more stain resistant. It is wear resistant to
the point where it can be difficult to sharpen. S90V represents the ultimate in wear resistance in the steels discussed so far. Also
tougher than ATS-34,
and more stain resistant. It can be very difficult to put an edge on.
It is difficult enough to machine than it is
used almost exclusively in custom knives, not production knives. In your
buying decisions, you might want to take into account the difficulty of
sharpening these steels. S30V backs
off on the wear resistance of S90V, but is significantly tougher and
easier to sharpen. It is more wear resistant than BG-42. The jury is
still out, but it may end up this week’s
ultimate high-end all-around stainless steel, due to high performance
coupled with easier machinability and sharpenability than the other
steels in this class. Ref – CPM S90V vs. BG-42 vs. CPM S30V Steel Composition Comparison.

Okay, on to the steels in more detail:

420

Lower carbon content (<.5%) than the 440 series makes this steel
extremely soft, and it doesn’t hold an edge well. It is used often for
diving knives, as it is extremely stain
resistant. Also used often for very inexpensive knives. Outside salt
water use, it is too soft to be a good choice for a utility knife. Ref –
420 Steel Composition.

420HC

420 modified with more carbon, to be roughly comparable to 440A. Ref – 420HC Steel Composition.

440 A – 440 B – 440C

The carbon content (and hardenability) of this stainless steel goes up
in order from A (.75%) to B (.9%) to C (1.2%). 440C is an excellent,
high-end stainless steel, usually
hardened to around 56-58 Rc, very tough and with good edge-holding at
that hardness. 440C was the king of stainless cutlery steels in the
1980s, before ATS-34 took the title in the
1990s. All three resist rust well, with 440A being the most rust
resistant, and 440C the least. The SOG Seal 2000 is 440A, and Randall
uses 440B for their stainless knives. 440C is
fairly ubiquitous, and is generally considered a very good general-use
stainless, tougher and more stain resistant than ATS-34 but with less
edge-holding and weaker. If your knife
is marked with just “440”, it is probably the less expensive 440A; if a
manufacturer had used the more expensive 440C, he’d want to advertise
that. The general feeling is that 440A
(and similar steels, see below) is just good enough for everyday use,
especially with a good heat treat (we’ve heard good reports on the heat
treat of SOG’s 440A blades, don’t know
who does the work for them). 440-B is a very solid performer and 440-C
is excellent. Ref – 440A vs. 440B vs. 440C Steel Composition Comparison.

425M

12C27

Both are very similar to 440A. 425M (.5% carbon) is used by Buck knives.
12C27 (.6% carbon) is a Scandanavian steel used often in Finish puukkos
and Norwegian knives. 12C27 is said
to perform very well when carefully heat treated, due to its high
purity. When done right, it may be a slighter better choice than 440A
and its ilk. Ref – 425M vs. 12C27 Steel Composition Comparison.

AUS-6

AUS-8

AUS-10

(aka 6A 8A 10A)
Japanese stainless steels, roughly comparable in carbon content to 440A (AUS-6, .65%
carbon) and 440B (AUS-8, .75% carbon) and 440C (AUS-10, 1.1% carbon). AUS-6 is used by Al Mar, and is a competitor to low-end steels like 420J2.
Cold Steel’s use of AUS-8 has made it pretty popular, as heat treated
by CS it won’t hold an edge like ATS-34, but is a bit softer (and
therefore weaker) and tougher. 8A is a competitor of middle-tier steels
like ATS-55 and Gin-1. AUS-10 has roughly the same carbon content as
440C but with slightly less chromium,
so it should be a bit less rust resistant but perhaps a bit tougher than
440C. It competes with higher-end steels, like ATS-34 and above. All 3
steels have some vanadium added
(which the 440 series lacks), which will improve wear resistance and
refines the grain for both good toughness, and the ability to sharpen to
a very keen edge. Many people have
reported that they are able to get knives using steels that include
vanadium, like 8A, sharper than they can get non-vanadium steels like
ATS-34. Ref – AUS-6A vs. AUS-8A vs. AUS-10 Steel Composition Comparison.

GIN-1

aka G-2
A steel with slightly less carbon, slightly more chromium, and much less
moly than ATS-34, it used to be used often by Spyderco in their
less-expensive knives. Spyderco has since
switched to ATS-55 and 8A, but Benchmade is now using Gin-1 in their
less-expensive knives. A very good stainless steel, with a bit less wear
resistance and strength than ATS-34.
Ref – Gin-1 Steel Composition.

ATS-34

154-CM

ATS-34 was the hottest high-end
stainless in the 1990s. 154-CM is the original American version, but
for a long time was not manufactured to
the high quality standards knifemakers expect, so knifemakers switched
over to ATS-34. CPM is again making high-quality 154-CM, and some
companies seeking to stick with
American-made products (like Microtech) are using it. ATS-34 is a
Hitachi product that is very, very similar to 154-CM. Normally hardened
to around 60 Rc, it holds an edge very
well and is tough enough even at that high hardness. Not as rust
resistant as the 400 series above. Many custom makers use ATS-34, and
Spyderco (in their high-end knives) and
Benchmade are among the production companies that use it. Contrary to
popular belief, both steels are manufactured through the
Argon/Oxygen/Decarburization process (AOD), not
vacuum remelted. Ref – ATS-34 vs. 154CM Steel Composition Comparison.

ATS-55

Similar to ATS-34, but with the moly removed and some other elements
added. This steel is a good cutlery steel but a tier behind ATS-34 and
its closest competitors (other steels in
ATS-55’s class might be Gin-1 and AUS-8).
With the molybdenum removed, ATS-55 does not seem to hold
an edge quite like ATS-34, and reports are that it’s less
rust-resistant. My guess is that with the moly gone, more chromium is
tied up in carbides — which means less free
chromium for rust resistance, and softer chromium carbides replacing
moly carbides for less wear resistance. Ref – ATS-55
Steel Composition
.

VG-10

Another vanadium-containing high-end stainless steel. Due to the
vanadium content, VG-10 takes a killer edge, just like other vanadium
steels like BG-42 and AUS-8. VG-10 is also
tougher and more rust-resistant than ATS-34, and seems to hold an edge
better. Ref – VG-10 Steel
Composition
.

Update[Gator]

:Vanadium in VG-10 is rather trace amounts,
influencing grain refinement, not so much wear resistance. Still, Cobalt
and Molybdenum are strong carbide formers,
Chromium is also a carbide former. Overall, very good steel, but if you
are looking sppecifically for high wear resistance look elsewhere, with
alloys having few % V or Nb, etc.

BG-42

Bob Loveless announced a while back that he’s switching from ATS-34 to
this steel. Keep an eye out for it, it’s bound to catch on, although the
higher cost, limited stock-size
availability, and added difficulty of manufacturing are holding BG-42’s
popularity back. BG-42 is somewhat similar to ATS-34, with two major
differences: It has twice as much
manganese as ATS-34, and has 1.2% vanadium (ATS-34 has no vanadium), so
look for significantly better edge-holding than ATS-34. The addition of
vanadium and the clean manufacturing
process (VIM/VAR) also gives BG-42 better toughness than ATS-34. Chris
Reeve has switched from ATS-34 to BG-42 in his Sebenzas. Ref – BG-42 Steel Composition.

S60V

(CPM T440V) –

S90V

(CPM T420V)
Two
steels that hold an edge superbly, world class type edge holding, but it
can be difficult to get the edge there in
the first place. These steels are made with Crucible’s particle
metallurgy process, and that process allows these steels to be packed
with more alloying elements than traditional
steel manufacturing methods would allow. Both steels are very high in
vanadium, which accounts for their incredible wear resistance. Spyderco
offers at least one model in CPM S60V.
Spyderco, one major user of S60V, has cut back hardness down to 55-56Rc,
in order to keep toughness acceptable, but that sacrifices strength so
there is a tradeoff. S90V is CPM’s
follow-on to 440V, and with less chromium and almost double the
vanadium, is more wear-resistant and tougher than S60V — and, in fact,
is probably more wear-resistant than any
other stainless steel used in the cutlery industry. As such, S90V is in
the running with steels like BG-42 as among the best general-purpose
stainless steels; however, S90V is even
more expensive and difficult to work than BG-42, so it’s strictly in the
realm of custom makers currently. Ref – CPM S60V vs. CPM S90V Steel Composition Comparison.

CPM S30V

:
The newest stainless steel from Crucible, purpose-designed as a cutlery
steel. This steel gives A2-class toughness and almost-S90V class wear
resistance, at reasonable hardness
(~59-60 Rc). This mix of attributes is making S30V one of the hottest
stainless steels going, with makes such as Chris Reeve switching from
BG-42 to S30V. Will this be the new king
of general-purpose stainless cutlery steels? We’ll know over the next
couple of years.

Update[Gator]

: The section about S30V was written when it was
just appearing on the market. By now it is not new, was well tested and
is used in knives of all varieties.
Toughness is nowhere near of A2 steel, and wear resistance, while being
quite high, still not on S90V levels either. Very decent steel never the
less, just didn’t live pup to all
they hype surrounding its development.
Ref – CPM S30V Steel Composition.

400 Series Stainless

Before Cold Steel switched to AUS-8, many of their stainless products
were marketed as being of “400 Series Stainless”. Other knife companies
are beginning to use the same term.
What exactly *is* 400 Series Stainless? I always imagined it was 440-A,
but there’s nothing to keep a company from using any 4xx steel, like 420
or 425M, and calling it 400 Series
Stainless.

Damascus steels are made by forge-welding two or more different
metals (usually steels). The billets are heated and welded; to get an
idea of the process, see Don Fogg’s URL listed
in the bibliography. The Damascus is then acid-etched. The different
metals etch at different rates, and depth and color contrast are
revealed.

Damascus can be made with performance and/or aesthetic objectives in
mind. Aesthetically, the choice of materials is important. One shiny
steel and one darker steel etch out to
show the most striking pattern. If the maker is going more for beauty
than performance, he might even go with nickel, which is bright but does
not perform as well as steel for
cutlery applications. The other factor affecting beauty is of course the
welding pattern. Many patterns of Damascus are available today, from
random to star to ladder, and a whole
lot more.

The following steels will provide bright lines:

  • L-6 and 15N20 (the Swedish version of L-6) — nickel content
  • O1 — chromium content
  • ASTM 203 E — nickel content
  • Nickel

The following steels will provide dark lines:

  • 1095
  • 1084
  • 5160
  • 52100
  • W-2

D. Non-steels used for cutlery

Talonite

Stellite 6K

Boye Dendritic Cobalt

(BDC)
These cobalt alloys have incredible wear resistance, and are practically
corrosion resistant. Stellite 6K has been around for years, but was
expensive and very difficult to work,
and so is only rarely seen. Talonite is easier to work, and as a result
has been gaining in popularity, especially among web-based knife buyers.
David Boye uses his casting process
to manufacture Boye Dendritic Cobalt. This material is tough and has
great wear resistance, but is relatively weak.

Titanium

Newer titanium alloys can be hardened near 50 Rc, and at that hardness
seem to take something approaching a useful edge. It is extremely
rust-resistant, and is non-magnetic.
Popular as expensive dive knives these days, because the SEALs use it as
their knife when working around magnetic-detonated mines. Mission
knives uses titanium. Tygrys makes a
knife with a steel edge sandwiched by titanium.

Ceramics

Numerous knives have been offered with ceramic blades. Usually, those
blades are very very brittle, and cannot be sharpened by the user;
however, they hold an edge well. Boker and
Kyocera make knives from this type of ceramic. Kevin McClungcame out
with a ceramic composite knife blade that much tougher than the previous
ceramics, tough enough to actually be
useful as a knife blade for most jobs. It is also user-sharpenable, and
holds an edge incredibly well.

IV: Selected Urls For Steel Information

In no particular order:
# An extensive list of steel links
http://www.metalwork.0catch.com/list.htm
# Principal Metals vast database of steel properties & terms
http://www.principalmetals.com
# Matweb's steel database
http://www.matweb.com/
# Crucible's Steel Pages, loaded with info on composition/selection/etc.
http://www.crucibleservice.com/cscd/crumain2.htm
# Suppliers Online huge database of steel info
http://www.suppliersonline.com
#A.G. Russell's FAQ Pages
http://agrussell.com/faq/index.html
#Spyderco's Steel Page
http://www.spyderco.com/education/steelchart.asp
# Knives.com entire site is interesting, but hit "Tech", then "Steel"
http://www.knives.com
# Metal Mart's dictionary of metallurgical terms
http://www.metal-mart.com/dictlist.htm
# A list of metallurgical sites, schools, organizations, and journals
http://www.mlc.lib.mi.us/~stewarca/metallurgy.html
# Titanium Info
http://www.halperntitanium.com/
# Don Fogg's excellent info pages
www.dfoggknives.com
# A good steel chart
http://www.pizzini.at/steellist.htm
V. BIBLIOGRAPHY
I got the information for this FAQ
from my own experience as a collector and amateur knifemaker, and from
conversations with custom makers. There are too many people on
the internet who have taught me about steels for me to name them all,
but I've particularly sought out the posts of people like Jerry Hossom and
Cliff Stamp. I've also read plenty of
articles on steels, but here are the ones that I actually had in front
of me:
Bob Engnath's Blades and Stuff Catalog. Bob's catalog is a
must-see for everyone, even for just collectors, as it contains
a wealth of information on all kinds of great knife subjects.
There is a section on knife steels. Bob passed away in 1998,
but if you can find an old copy of his catalog, grab it.
"The Secrets of Steel," by Butch Winter, _Tactical
Knives_, Spring 1995.
"What Alloys Do For Blade Steel," by Wayne Goddard, _Blade_,
June 1994.
Email conversation with Wayne Goddard, February 1998.
Don Fogg's article on Damascus steels from his website
www.dfoggknives.com (information used by permission)
"Inside Steel: What the Alloying Elements Do For Your
Blade", by Ed Severson with Steve Shackleford, _Blade, August 1999.

go to topAuthor: Joe Talmadge
Last Updated: October 2005

Table of Contents:

I. What makes a steel perform?

  • Introduction
  • Sharpen for performance
  • Design for performance
  • Properties of performance steels
  • What’s the “best steel”?

II. Elements of Steel

III. Steels

  • Non-stainless Steels
  • Stainless Steels
  • Damascus Steel
  • Non-steel used for cutlery

IV. Selected URLs for steel information

V. Bibliography

I. What Makes A Steel Perform?

A. Introduction

Steel is the heart of the blade. The search for higher-performance
steels has to a number of wonderful materials in recent years. Steel by
itself isn’t the sole determiner of
knife performance, of course. Heat treatment, blade geometry, handle
geometry and materials all effect how a knife performs for a particular
job. However, those other qualities can
be difficult to measure. You can’t tell by looking at it how well a
blade has been heat-treated, and you can only make educated guesses on
how well the blade and handle geometry
will work. With steel, however, you can get a full listing of its
alloying elements, something measureable and somehow satisfying.

As a result, it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting too much
emphasis on the steel itself. A knife is more than steel, and it’s
important not to forget that. In addition,
many modern steels perform so well, that knife decisions can often be
made based on other factors than marginal increases in steel
performance.

The question of “what’s the best steel” or “rank the following steels
in order from best to worst” often comes up. The resulting replies can
never be totally accurate, because
depending on the jobs the knife will be used for, the blade geometry,
and the quality of the heat treat, what is “best” and what is “worst”
can be very fluid. If you want to make
an educated decision about steels, try to learn the basics of steel
properties, and go from there.

B. Sharpening for performance

That doesn’t mean that significant performance advantages can’t be
had by choosing the right steel for the job. In fact, choosing a steel
can significantly impact the
performance of a knife. But, to really bring out the performance of a
particular steel, you need to take advantage of the better steel in your
sharpening plan. If a weak, brittle
steel can perform the job when sharpened at 25-degrees-per-side, a
strong, tough steel might give you some marginal performance
improvements if it, too, is sharpened at
25-degrees-per-side. However, to really bring out the performance of the
better steel, trying bringing it down to 20-degrees per side, or less.
The advantage of the better steel is
that it is strong and tough enough to hold up with a small edge angle —
and smaller edge angles radically out-perform bigger edge angles. It’s
easy to get a 10-to-1 perform
advantage for certain cutting jobs by cutting 5 degrees off your
sharpening angle.

This leads to the general rule:
To really see the advantages of a better steel, exploit that steel in
your sharpening program. If you’re going to sharpen all your knives at
the
same angle regardless of steel, you might de-emphasize steel choice
somewhat.

On the internet, I’ll often see someone posting about wanting to
upgrade from their ATS-34 folder to one that has S30V, and then in a
different post, declare that they sharpen
all their knives at 20° per-side. Why spend all that extra money for
S30V, just to get some marginal wear resistance advantages but no other
performance advantages? If that
same user would take advantage of S30V’s superior toughness and drop the
edge angle to 15° per-side, they would see a large leap in cutting
performance, along with the extra
wear resistance. Because of choosing the right sharpening angle, the
more expensive S30V knife now gives an impressive return on investment.
*Now* you can see what all the fuss is
about!

C. Design for performance

In the section above, we highlighted what the user can do to bring
out the best performance in a high-performance steel. But the user is
only half the equation; now we will look
at what the knifemaker might do with a higher-performance steel. As the
knifemaker moves from one steel to another, it is often possible to
modify the design of a particular knife
to take advantage of the newer steel, and raise performance.

For example, it is possible to make a hard-use “tactical/utility” knife from ATS-34.
To make sure the ATS-34 will take the
kind of stresses it might see in this environment, the edge might be
left a bit thick (sacrificing cutting performance), or the hardness
brought down a touch (sacrificing strength
and wear resistance), or both. If the same maker moves to much-tougher
S30V, he might be able to thin out the edge, thin out the entire knife,
and raise the hardness, bringing up
performance as a whole. Moving to differentially-tempered 5160 might allow the maker to re-profile even more for performance. If we’re
talking about a fighter, moving from 1095 to 3V might allow the maker to make the
knife much thinner, lighter, and faster, while significantly increasing cutting performance and maintaining edge integrity.

So to really take advantage of the higher-performance steel, we want
the knifemaker to adjust the knife design to the steel, wherever he
thinks it’s appropriate. If a knifemaker
offers the same knife in multiple steels, ask about what the
characteristics are in each steel, and the how’s and why’s of where the
design has changed to accomodate each steel
offered.

Note that there can be good reasons that a knifemaker might not
change the blade profile even though the steel has changed. Maybe he’s
particularly good at heat-treating one
steel or another, so that the differences between disparate steels are
minimized. Maybe the higher-performance steel is not available in the
next stock thickness down. Maybe
instead of higher cutting performance, the maker would rather offer the
same cutting performance but in a knife that can take more abuse. Maybe
his customers tend to only buy
thicker knives regardless of performance.

So work with the maker to understand the choices being made with the
different steels being offered. If you understand the kind of
performance you need, you’ll be able to make a
wise choice.

D. Properties of performance steels

What is it we’re looking for in a steel, anyway? Well, what we are
looking for is strength, toughness, wear resistance, and edge holding.
Sometimes, we’re also looking for stain
resistance.

Wear resistance

  : Just like it sounds, wear
resistance is the ability to withstand abrasion. Generally speaking, the
amount, type, and distribution of carbides within
the steel is what determines wear resistance.

Strength

: The ability to take a load without permanently
deforming. For many types of jobs, strength is extremely important. Any
time something hard is being cut, or
there’s lateral stress put on the edge, strength becomes a critical
factor. In steels, strength is directly correlated with hardness — the
harder the steel, the stronger it is.
Note that with the Rockwell test used to measure hardness in a steel, it
is the hardness of the steel matrix being measured, not the carbides.
This, it’s possible for a softer,
weaker steel (measuring low on the Rockwell scale) to have more wear
resistance than a harder steel. S60V, even at 56 Rc, still has more and
harder carbides than ATS-34 at 60 Rc,
and thus the S60V is more wear resistant, while the ATS-34 would be
stronger.

Toughness

  : The ability to take an impact without
damage, by which we mean, chipping, cracking, etc. Toughness is
obviously important in jobs such as chopping,
but it’s also important any time the blade hits harder impurities in a
material being cut (e.g., cardboard, which often has embedded
impurities).

The knifemaker will be making a tradeoff of strength versus
toughness. Generally speaking, within the hardness range that the steel
performs well at, as hardness increases,
strength also increases, but toughness decreases. This is not always
strictly true, but as a rule of thumb is generally accurate. In
addition, it is possible for different heat
treat formulas to leave the steel at the same hardness, but with
properties such as toughness, wear resistance, and stain resistance
significantly differing.

Stain resistance

(rust resistance) : The ability to
withstand rust (oxidation). Obviously, this property can be helpful in
corrosive environments, such as salt water.
In addition, some types of materials are acidic (e.g., some types of
foods), and micro-oxidation can lead to edge loss at the very tip of the
edge, over a small amount of time. In
“stainless” cutlery steels, stain resistance is most affected by free
chromium — that is, chromium that is not tied up in carbides. So, the
more chromium tied up in carbides, the
less free chromium there is, which means more wear resistance but less
stain resistance.

Edge holding

: The ability of a blade to hold an edge.
Many people make the mistake of thinking wear resistance and edge
holding are the same thing. Most assuredly, it
is not; or rather, it usually is not. Edge holding is job-specific. That
is, edge holding is a function of wear resistance, strength, and
toughness. But different jobs require
different properties for edge holding. For example, cutting through
cardboard (which often has hard embedded impurities), toughness becomes
extremely important, because
micro-chipping is often the reason for edge degradation. Whittling very
hard wood, strength becomes very important for edge-holding, because the
primary reason for edge degradation
is edge rolling and impaction. Wear resistance becomes more important
for edge holding when very abrasive materials, such as carpet, are being
cut. And for many jobs, where
corrosion- inducing materials are contacted (such as food prep),
corrosion can affect the edge quickly, so corrosion resistance has a
role to play as well.

There are other properties that significantly effect how a steel performs:

Ability to take an edge

: Some steels just seem to take a
much sharper edge than other steels, even if sharpened the exact same
way. Finer-grained steels just seem to
get scary sharp much more easily than coarse-grained steels, and this
can definitely effect performance. Adding a bit of vanadium is an easy
way to get a fine-grained steels. In
addition, an objective of the forging process is to end up with a
finer-grained steel. So both steel choice,and the way that steel is
handled, can effect cutting performance.

Manufacturing process

: Cleaner, purer steels perform
better than dirtier, impure steels. The cleaner steel will often be
stronger and tougher, having less inclusions. High quality
processes used to manufacture performance steel include the
Argon/Oxygen/Decarburization (AOD) process, and for even purer steel,
the Vacuum Induction Melting/Vacuum Arc Remelting
(VIM/VAR) process, often referred to as double vacuum melting or vacuum re-melting.

Edge toothiness

: Some steels seem to cut aggressively
even when razor polished. For these steels, even when they’re polished
for push-cutting, their carbides form a kind of “micro
serrations” and slice aggressively.

E. What’s the “best steel”.

Understanding these properties will get you started to fundamentally
understanding steels and how choice of steel can effect performance. I
often see people asking, what’s the
best steel
? Well, the answer depends so much on what the steel is
being used for, and how it’s heat-treated, that the questioner can
never possibly get an accurate answer. For a
knife lover, it’s worth spending a little time understanding steel
properties — only by doing so well he really understand what the “best
steel” might be for his application.

Putting it all together, you can see how these properties might
determine your steel choice. To pick on S60V and ATS-34 again, there
seems to be a feeling that S60V is “better” in
some absolute sense than ATS-34. But S60V is often left very soft,
around 55-56 Rc, to make up for a lack of toughness. Even left that
soft, an abundance of well-distributed
vanadium carbides gives S60V superior wear resistance to ATS-34, at
acceptable toughness levels. However, does that mean S60V is “better”
than ATS-34? Well, many users will find
edge rolling and impaction the primary causes of edge degradation for
everyday use. For those users, even though S60V is more wear-resistant,
S60V is also so soft and weak that
they will actually see better edge retention with ATS-34! The S60V user
can leave the edge more obtuse (raise the sharpening angle) to put more
metal behind the edge to make it
more robust, but now the S60V will suffer serious cutting performance
disadvantages versus the thinner ATS-34 edge.

So, the next general rule:

    Knowing the uses you’ll put your knife to, and exactly how
    those uses cause edge degradation, will allow you to make a
    much better choice of steel, if you generally understand steel
    properties.

The properties of different steels will be laid out below. But in
your search for the knife with the “best steel” for your uses, I always
suggest you ask the makers of the knives
you’re considering which steels they would use. The knifemaker will
usually know which steels he can make perform the best. And as pointed
out above, heat treat is absolutely
critical to bringing out the best in a steel. A maker who has really
mastered one particular steel (e.g., Dozier and D2) might be able to
make that steel work well for many
different uses. So never go just by charts and properties; make sure you
also consider what the knifemaker can do with the steel.

III. ELEMENTS OF STEEL

At its most simple, steel is iron with carbon in it. Other alloys are
added to make the steel perform differently. Here are the important
steel alloys in alphabetical order, and
some sample steels that contain those alloys:

Carbon

: Present in all steels, it is the most
important hardening element. Also increases the strength of the steel
but, added in isolation, decreases toughness. We
usually want knife-grade steel to have >.5% carbon, which makes it
“high-carbon” steel.

Chromium

: Added for wear resistance, hardenability, and
(most importantly) for corrosion resistance. A steel with at least 13%
chromium is typically deemed “stainless”
steel, though another definition says the steel must have at least 11.5%
*free* chromium (as opposed to being tied up in carbides) to be
considered “stainless”. Despite the name,
all steel can rust if not maintained properly. Adding chromium in high
amounts decreases toughness. Chromium is a carbide-former, which is why
it increases wear resistance.

Manganese

: An important element, manganese aids the
grain structure, and contributes to hardenability. Also strength &
wear resistance. Improves the steel (e.g.,
deoxidizes) during the steel’s manufacturing (hot working and rolling).
Present in most cutlery steel except for A2, L-6, and CPM 420V.

Molybdenum

: A carbide former, prevents brittleness &
maintains the steel’s strength at high temperatures. Present in many
steels, and air-hardening steels (e.g., A2,
ATS-34) always have 1% or more molybdenum — molybdenum is what gives
those steels the ability to harden in air.

Nickel

: Adds toughness. Present in L-6 and AUS-6 and
AUS-8. Nickel is widely believed to play a role in corrosion resistance
as well, but this is probably incorrect.

Phosphorus

: Present in small amounts in most steels, phosphorus is a essentially a contaminant which reduces toughness.

Silicon

: Contributes to strength. Like manganese, it makes the steel more sound while it’s being manufactured.

Sulfur

: Typically not desirable in cutlery steel, sulfur increases machinability but decreases toughness.

Tungsten

: A carbide former, it increases wear
resistance. When combined properly with chromium or molybdenum, tungsten
will make the steel to be a high-speed steel. The
high-speed steel M2 has a high amount of tungsten. The strongest carbide
former behind vanadium.

Vanadium

: Contributes to wear resistance and
hardenability, and as a carbide former (in fact, vanadium carbides are
the hardest carbides) it contribute to wear resistance.
It also refines the grain of the steel, which contributes to toughness
and allows the blade to take a very sharp edge. A number of steels have
vanadium, but M2, Vascowear, and CPM
T440V and 420V (in order of increasing amounts) have high amounts of
vanadium. BG-42’s biggest difference with ATS-34 is the addition of
vanadium.

IV. STEELS

A. Non-stainless Steels (carbon, alloy, and tool steels):

These steels are the steels most often forged. Stainless steels can
be forged (guys like Sean McWilliams do forge stainless), but it is very
difficult. In addition, carbon steels
can be differentially tempered, to give a hard edge-holding edge and a
tough springy back. Stainless steels are not differentially tempered. Of
course, carbon steels will rust
faster than stainless steels, to varying degrees. Carbon steels are also
often a little bit less of a crap shoot than stainless steels — I
believe all the steels named below are
fine performers when heat treated properly.

In the AISI steel designation system, 10xx is carbon steel, any other
steels are alloy steels. For example, the 50xx series are chromium
steels.

In the SAE designation system, steels with letter designations (e.g., W-2, A2) are tool steels.

There is an ASM classification system as well, but it isn’t seen
often in the discussion of cutlery steels, so I’ll ignore it for now.
Often, the last numbers in the name of a
steel are fairly close to the steel’s carbon content. So 1095 is ~.95%
carbon. 52100 is ~1.0% carbon. 5160 is ~.60% carbon.

D2

D2 is sometimes called a “semi-stainless”. It has a fairly high chrome
content (12%), but not high enough to classify it as stainless. It is
more stain resistant than the carbon
steels mentioned above, however. It has excellent wear resistance. D2 is
much tougher than the premium stainless steels like ATS-34, but not as
tough as many of the other
non-stainless steels mentioned here. The combination of great wear
resistance, almost-stainlessness, and good toughness make it a great
choice for a number of knife styles. Bob
Dozier is one maker who uses D2. Benchmade has begun using D2 in its
Axis AFCK. Ref – D2 Steel Composition.

M2

A “high-speed steel”, it can hold its temper even at very high
temperatures, and as such is used in industry for high-heat cutting
jobs. It is slightly tougher, and is slightly
more wear resistant, than D2. However, M2 rusts easily. Benchmade has
started using M2 in one of their AFCK 710 variations. Ref – M2 Steel Composition.

Update[Gator]

– M2 steel knives are discontinued by Benchmade.

A2

An excellent air-hardening tool steel, it is tougher than D2 and M2,
with less wear resistance . As an air-hardening steel, don’t expect it
to be differentially tempered. Its good
toughness makes it a frequent choice for combat knives. Chris Reeve and
Phil Hartsfield both use A2. Ref – A2 Steel
Composition
.

O1

This is a steel very popular with forgers, as it has the reputation for
being “forgiving”. It is an excellent steel, that takes and holds an
edge superbly, and is tough (although
not as tough as, say, 5160). It rusts easily, however. Randall Knives
uses O1, so does Mad Dog Knives. Ref – O1
Steel Composition
.

W-2

Reasonably tough and holds an edge well, due to its .2% vanadium
content. Most files are made from W-1, which is the same as W-2 except
for the vanadium content (W-1 has no
vanadium). Ref – W2 Steel Composition.

The 10-series

1095 (and 1084, 1070, 1060, 1050, etc.) Many of the 10-series steels for
cutlery, though 1095 is the most popular for knives. When you go in
order from 1095-1050, you generally go
from more carbon to less, from more wear resistance to less wear
resistance, and tough to tougher to toughest. As such, you’ll see 1060
and 1050, used often for swords. For knives,
1095 is sort of the “standard” carbon steel, not too expensive and
performs well. It is reasonably tough and holds an edge well, and is
easy to sharpen. It rusts easily. This is a
simple steel, which contains only two alloying elements: .95% carbon and
.4% manganese. The various Kabars are usually 1095 with a black
coating. Ref – 1095 vs. 1084 vs. 1070 vs. 1060 vs. 1050 Steel Composition Comparison.

Carbon V

Carbon V is a trademarked term by Cold Steel, and as such is not
necessarily one particular kind of steel; rather, it describes whatever
steel Cold Steel happens to be using, and
there is an indication they do change steels from time to time. Carbon V
performs roughly between 1095-ish and O1-ish, in my opinion, and rusts
like O1 as well. I’ve heard rumors
that Carbon V is O1 (which I think is unlikely) or 1095. Numerous
industry insiders insist it is 0170-6. Some spark tests done by a
rec.knives reader seem to point the finger at
50100-B. Since 50100-B and 0170-6 are the same steel (see below), this
is likely the current Carbon V.

0170-6 – 50100-B

These are different designations for the same steel: 0170-6 is the steel
makers classification, 50100-B is the AISI designation. A good
chrome-vanadium steel that is somewhat
similar to O1, but much less expensive. The now-defunct Blackjack made
several knives from O170-6, and Carbon V may be 0170-6. 50100 is
basically 52100 with about 1/3 the chromium
of 52100, and the B in 50100-B indicates that the steel has been
modified with vanadium, making this a chrome-vanadium steel. Ref – 0170-6 – 50100-B Steel Composition.

L-6

A band saw steel that is very tough and holds an edge well, but rusts
easily. It is, like O1, a forgiving steel for the forger. If you’re
willing to put up with the maintenance,
this may be one of the very best steels available for cutlery,
especially where toughness is desired. In a poll on the knifemakers
email list back in the 1990s, when asked what the
makers would use for their personal knife, L-6 emerged as the top
choice. Ref – L6 Steel Composition.

5160

A steel popular with
forgers, it is popular now for a variety of knife styles, but usually
bigger blades that need more toughness. It is
essentially a simple spring steel with chromium added for hardenability.
It has good wear resistance, but is known especially for its
outstanding toughness. This steel performs
well over a wide range of hardnesses, showing great toughness when
hardened in the low 50s Rc for swords, and hardened up near the 60s for
knives needing more edge holding. Ref –
5160 Steel Composition.

52100

Formerly a ball-bearing steel, and as such previously only used by
forgers, it’s available in bar stock now. It is similar to 5160 (though
it has around 1% carbon vs. 5160 ~.60%),
but holds an edge better. It is less tough than 5160. It is used often
for hunting knives and other knives where the user is willing to trade
off a little of 5160’s toughness for
better wear resistance. However, with the continued improvement of 52100
heat treat, this steel is starting to show up in larger knives and
showing excellent toughness. A modified
52100 is being used by Jerry Busse in his lower-cost production line,
and such high-performance knife luminaries as Ed Fowler strongly favor
52100. Ref – 52100 Steel Composition.

CPM 10V

Crucible’s somewhat-stain-resistant 10V provides incredible wear
resistance with D2-class toughness. It is an outstanding choice when
maximum wear resistance is desired, but not
super toughness. Ref – CPM 10V Steel Composition.

CPM 3V

CPM’s incredibly tough 3V gives excellent wear resistance and good stain
resistance as well, although when it does stain, it is said to pit
rather than surface rust. When maximum
toughness is desired, with very good wear resistance, 3V is a great
choice. Ref – CPM 3V Steel Composition.

INFI

INFI is currently only used by Jerry Busse. In place of some of the
carbon (INFI contains 0.50% carbon), INFI has nitrogen. The result is a
non-stainless steel that is nevertheless
extremely stain resistant (informally reported at close to D2, or even
better), incredibly tough for a high-alloy ingot steel, and with
extremely good wear resistance.
Ref – INFI Steel Composition.

Vascowear

A very hard-to-find steel, with a high vanadium content. It is extremely
difficult to work and very wear-resistant. It is out of production. Ref
Vascowear Steel Composition.

B. Stainless Steels

Remember that all steels can rust. But the following steels, by
virtue of their > 13% chromium, have much more rust resistance than
the above steels. I should point out that there
doesn’t appear to be consensus on what percent of chromium is needed for
a steel to be considered stainless. In the cutlery industry, the
de-facto standard is 13%, but the ASM
Metals Handbooks says “greater than 10%”, and other books cite other
numbers. It probably makes more sense to measure stainlessness by the
amount of free chromium (chromium not
tied up in carbides), because free chromium is what forms the chromium
oxide on the blade surface that offers stain resistance. The alloying
elements have a strong influence on the
amount of chromium needed; lower chromium with the right alloying
elements can still have “stainless” performance.

Because any particular stainless steel is often heat treated to
around the same hardness (i.e., 440C is usually around 57 Rc, ATS-34 is
59-61 Rc, S60V is getting consensus at
around 56 Rc, etc.) even by different manufacturers, it’s a bit easier
to give a general feeling of the performance you’ll get from different
classes of stainless steels, without
introducing too many inaccuracies. Please note, though, that the act of
grouping differing steels in classes definitely does oversimplify, and
some of these steels might more
properly fit between the class it’s in, and the following (or previous)
one. In addition, better heat treat can move a steel up in performance
significantly. Last disclaimer: not
everyone will agree with the groupings I have here. Whew, all that said,
here is a general categorization of stainless steels:

420

and

420J

represent the
low end of stainless steels. They are very stain resistant, and are
tough due to being very soft. However, they
are also very weak, and not very wear resistant. Generally speaking,
expect these steels to lose their edge quickly through abrasion and
impaction. They are used in less-expensive
knives due to their ease of machining. Ref – 420 vs. 420J2 Steel Composition Comparison.

440A

and its relative peers,

425M

,

420HC

,

12C27

, and

6A

are the next group. They can be hardened more than the
previous group, for better strength, and they are more wear resistant,
though wear resistance is just getting to the point of acceptability.
440A and 12C27 are the leaders of this
group, with solid heat treat both perform okay. 12C27 is said to be
particularly pure and can perform very well when heat treated properly.
6A trails those two steels, though with
its vanadium content, can take a razor edge. 425M and 420HC trail the
rest. Ref – 440A vs. 425M vs. 420HC vs. 12C27 vs. AUS-6A Steel Composition Comparison.

Gin-1

,

ATS-55

,

8A

, and

440C

comprise the next group. These steels will usually be stronger than the
previous group, and
more wear-resistant. Generally speaking, they retain excellent stain
resistance properties, though ATS-55 sticks out here as not particularly
stain resistant. 8A is also worth a
mention, with some vanadium content, it can take an extremely sharp edge
very easily, but is also the weakest and least wear-resistant of this
group.
Ref – Gin-1 vs. ATS-55 vs. AUS-8 vs. 440C Steel Composition Comparison.

ATS-34/154CM

,

VG-10

, and

S60V

are the next group up. It’s difficult to make generalizations about
ATS-34 and 154-CM — they are
in such widespread use that heat treat varies widely. These steels
provide a high-end performance benchmark for stainless steels, and hold
an edge well, and are tough enough for
many uses (though not on par with good non-stainlesses). They aren’t
very stain resistant, however. VG-10 can be thought of as being like
ATS-34 and 154-CM, but doing just about
everything a hair better. It’s a little more stain resistant, tougher,
holds an edge a little better. And VG-10 has vanadium in it, it’s
fine-grained and takes the best edge of
this group. S60V has by far the best wear resistance of the group,
though consensus is becoming that it should be left around the same
hardness as 440C (56ish Rc), which means it
will be relatively weak compared to ATS-34, 154-CM, and VG-10, and so it
will indent and lose its edge quickly when strength is required. S60V
is the winner here when pure abrasion
resistance is much more important than edge strength. Ref – ATS-34 vs. 154CM vs.
VG-10 vs. CPM S60V Steel Composition Comparison
.

BG-42

,

S90V

, and

S30V

constitute the next group. BG-42 has better wear resistance than
all the previous steels except for S60V. It is tougher than ATS-34, and more stain resistant. It is wear resistant to
the point where it can be difficult to sharpen. S90V represents the ultimate in wear resistance in the steels discussed so far. Also
tougher than ATS-34,
and more stain resistant. It can be very difficult to put an edge on.
It is difficult enough to machine than it is
used almost exclusively in custom knives, not production knives. In your
buying decisions, you might want to take into account the difficulty of
sharpening these steels. S30V backs
off on the wear resistance of S90V, but is significantly tougher and
easier to sharpen. It is more wear resistant than BG-42. The jury is
still out, but it may end up this week’s
ultimate high-end all-around stainless steel, due to high performance
coupled with easier machinability and sharpenability than the other
steels in this class. Ref – CPM S90V vs. BG-42 vs. CPM S30V Steel Composition Comparison.

Okay, on to the steels in more detail:

420

Lower carbon content (<.5%) than the 440 series makes this steel
extremely soft, and it doesn’t hold an edge well. It is used often for
diving knives, as it is extremely stain
resistant. Also used often for very inexpensive knives. Outside salt
water use, it is too soft to be a good choice for a utility knife. Ref –
420 Steel Composition.

420HC

420 modified with more carbon, to be roughly comparable to 440A. Ref – 420HC Steel Composition.

440 A – 440 B – 440C

The carbon content (and hardenability) of this stainless steel goes up
in order from A (.75%) to B (.9%) to C (1.2%). 440C is an excellent,
high-end stainless steel, usually
hardened to around 56-58 Rc, very tough and with good edge-holding at
that hardness. 440C was the king of stainless cutlery steels in the
1980s, before ATS-34 took the title in the
1990s. All three resist rust well, with 440A being the most rust
resistant, and 440C the least. The SOG Seal 2000 is 440A, and Randall
uses 440B for their stainless knives. 440C is
fairly ubiquitous, and is generally considered a very good general-use
stainless, tougher and more stain resistant than ATS-34 but with less
edge-holding and weaker. If your knife
is marked with just “440”, it is probably the less expensive 440A; if a
manufacturer had used the more expensive 440C, he’d want to advertise
that. The general feeling is that 440A
(and similar steels, see below) is just good enough for everyday use,
especially with a good heat treat (we’ve heard good reports on the heat
treat of SOG’s 440A blades, don’t know
who does the work for them). 440-B is a very solid performer and 440-C
is excellent. Ref – 440A vs. 440B vs. 440C Steel Composition Comparison.

425M

12C27

Both are very similar to 440A. 425M (.5% carbon) is used by Buck knives.
12C27 (.6% carbon) is a Scandanavian steel used often in Finish puukkos
and Norwegian knives. 12C27 is said
to perform very well when carefully heat treated, due to its high
purity. When done right, it may be a slighter better choice than 440A
and its ilk. Ref – 425M vs. 12C27 Steel Composition Comparison.

AUS-6

AUS-8

AUS-10

(aka 6A 8A 10A)
Japanese stainless steels, roughly comparable in carbon content to 440A (AUS-6, .65%
carbon) and 440B (AUS-8, .75% carbon) and 440C (AUS-10, 1.1% carbon). AUS-6 is used by Al Mar, and is a competitor to low-end steels like 420J2.
Cold Steel’s use of AUS-8 has made it pretty popular, as heat treated
by CS it won’t hold an edge like ATS-34, but is a bit softer (and
therefore weaker) and tougher. 8A is a competitor of middle-tier steels
like ATS-55 and Gin-1. AUS-10 has roughly the same carbon content as
440C but with slightly less chromium,
so it should be a bit less rust resistant but perhaps a bit tougher than
440C. It competes with higher-end steels, like ATS-34 and above. All 3
steels have some vanadium added
(which the 440 series lacks), which will improve wear resistance and
refines the grain for both good toughness, and the ability to sharpen to
a very keen edge. Many people have
reported that they are able to get knives using steels that include
vanadium, like 8A, sharper than they can get non-vanadium steels like
ATS-34. Ref – AUS-6A vs. AUS-8A vs. AUS-10 Steel Composition Comparison.

GIN-1

aka G-2
A steel with slightly less carbon, slightly more chromium, and much less
moly than ATS-34, it used to be used often by Spyderco in their
less-expensive knives. Spyderco has since
switched to ATS-55 and 8A, but Benchmade is now using Gin-1 in their
less-expensive knives. A very good stainless steel, with a bit less wear
resistance and strength than ATS-34.
Ref – Gin-1 Steel Composition.

ATS-34

154-CM

ATS-34 was the hottest high-end
stainless in the 1990s. 154-CM is the original American version, but
for a long time was not manufactured to
the high quality standards knifemakers expect, so knifemakers switched
over to ATS-34. CPM is again making high-quality 154-CM, and some
companies seeking to stick with
American-made products (like Microtech) are using it. ATS-34 is a
Hitachi product that is very, very similar to 154-CM. Normally hardened
to around 60 Rc, it holds an edge very
well and is tough enough even at that high hardness. Not as rust
resistant as the 400 series above. Many custom makers use ATS-34, and
Spyderco (in their high-end knives) and
Benchmade are among the production companies that use it. Contrary to
popular belief, both steels are manufactured through the
Argon/Oxygen/Decarburization process (AOD), not
vacuum remelted. Ref – ATS-34 vs. 154CM Steel Composition Comparison.

ATS-55

Similar to ATS-34, but with the moly removed and some other elements
added. This steel is a good cutlery steel but a tier behind ATS-34 and
its closest competitors (other steels in
ATS-55’s class might be Gin-1 and AUS-8).
With the molybdenum removed, ATS-55 does not seem to hold
an edge quite like ATS-34, and reports are that it’s less
rust-resistant. My guess is that with the moly gone, more chromium is
tied up in carbides — which means less free
chromium for rust resistance, and softer chromium carbides replacing
moly carbides for less wear resistance. Ref – ATS-55
Steel Composition
.

VG-10

Another vanadium-containing high-end stainless steel. Due to the
vanadium content, VG-10 takes a killer edge, just like other vanadium
steels like BG-42 and AUS-8. VG-10 is also
tougher and more rust-resistant than ATS-34, and seems to hold an edge
better. Ref – VG-10 Steel
Composition
.

Update[Gator]

:Vanadium in VG-10 is rather trace amounts,
influencing grain refinement, not so much wear resistance. Still, Cobalt
and Molybdenum are strong carbide formers,
Chromium is also a carbide former. Overall, very good steel, but if you
are looking sppecifically for high wear resistance look elsewhere, with
alloys having few % V or Nb, etc.

BG-42

Bob Loveless announced a while back that he’s switching from ATS-34 to
this steel. Keep an eye out for it, it’s bound to catch on, although the
higher cost, limited stock-size
availability, and added difficulty of manufacturing are holding BG-42’s
popularity back. BG-42 is somewhat similar to ATS-34, with two major
differences: It has twice as much
manganese as ATS-34, and has 1.2% vanadium (ATS-34 has no vanadium), so
look for significantly better edge-holding than ATS-34. The addition of
vanadium and the clean manufacturing
process (VIM/VAR) also gives BG-42 better toughness than ATS-34. Chris
Reeve has switched from ATS-34 to BG-42 in his Sebenzas. Ref – BG-42 Steel Composition.

S60V

(CPM T440V) –

S90V

(CPM T420V)
Two
steels that hold an edge superbly, world class type edge holding, but it
can be difficult to get the edge there in
the first place. These steels are made with Crucible’s particle
metallurgy process, and that process allows these steels to be packed
with more alloying elements than traditional
steel manufacturing methods would allow. Both steels are very high in
vanadium, which accounts for their incredible wear resistance. Spyderco
offers at least one model in CPM S60V.
Spyderco, one major user of S60V, has cut back hardness down to 55-56Rc,
in order to keep toughness acceptable, but that sacrifices strength so
there is a tradeoff. S90V is CPM’s
follow-on to 440V, and with less chromium and almost double the
vanadium, is more wear-resistant and tougher than S60V — and, in fact,
is probably more wear-resistant than any
other stainless steel used in the cutlery industry. As such, S90V is in
the running with steels like BG-42 as among the best general-purpose
stainless steels; however, S90V is even
more expensive and difficult to work than BG-42, so it’s strictly in the
realm of custom makers currently. Ref – CPM S60V vs. CPM S90V Steel Composition Comparison.

CPM S30V

:
The newest stainless steel from Crucible, purpose-designed as a cutlery
steel. This steel gives A2-class toughness and almost-S90V class wear
resistance, at reasonable hardness
(~59-60 Rc). This mix of attributes is making S30V one of the hottest
stainless steels going, with makes such as Chris Reeve switching from
BG-42 to S30V. Will this be the new king
of general-purpose stainless cutlery steels? We’ll know over the next
couple of years.

Update[Gator]

: The section about S30V was written when it was
just appearing on the market. By now it is not new, was well tested and
is used in knives of all varieties.
Toughness is nowhere near of A2 steel, and wear resistance, while being
quite high, still not on S90V levels either. Very decent steel never the
less, just didn’t live pup to all
they hype surrounding its development.
Ref – CPM S30V Steel Composition.

400 Series Stainless

Before Cold Steel switched to AUS-8, many of their stainless products
were marketed as being of “400 Series Stainless”. Other knife companies
are beginning to use the same term.
What exactly *is* 400 Series Stainless? I always imagined it was 440-A,
but there’s nothing to keep a company from using any 4xx steel, like 420
or 425M, and calling it 400 Series
Stainless.

Damascus steels are made by forge-welding two or more different
metals (usually steels). The billets are heated and welded; to get an
idea of the process, see Don Fogg’s URL listed
in the bibliography. The Damascus is then acid-etched. The different
metals etch at different rates, and depth and color contrast are
revealed.

Damascus can be made with performance and/or aesthetic objectives in
mind. Aesthetically, the choice of materials is important. One shiny
steel and one darker steel etch out to
show the most striking pattern. If the maker is going more for beauty
than performance, he might even go with nickel, which is bright but does
not perform as well as steel for
cutlery applications. The other factor affecting beauty is of course the
welding pattern. Many patterns of Damascus are available today, from
random to star to ladder, and a whole
lot more.

The following steels will provide bright lines:

  • L-6 and 15N20 (the Swedish version of L-6) — nickel content
  • O1 — chromium content
  • ASTM 203 E — nickel content
  • Nickel

The following steels will provide dark lines:

  • 1095
  • 1084
  • 5160
  • 52100
  • W-2

D. Non-steels used for cutlery

Talonite

Stellite 6K

Boye Dendritic Cobalt

(BDC)
These cobalt alloys have incredible wear resistance, and are practically
corrosion resistant. Stellite 6K has been around for years, but was
expensive and very difficult to work,
and so is only rarely seen. Talonite is easier to work, and as a result
has been gaining in popularity, especially among web-based knife buyers.
David Boye uses his casting process
to manufacture Boye Dendritic Cobalt. This material is tough and has
great wear resistance, but is relatively weak.

Titanium

Newer titanium alloys can be hardened near 50 Rc, and at that hardness
seem to take something approaching a useful edge. It is extremely
rust-resistant, and is non-magnetic.
Popular as expensive dive knives these days, because the SEALs use it as
their knife when working around magnetic-detonated mines. Mission
knives uses titanium. Tygrys makes a
knife with a steel edge sandwiched by titanium.

Ceramics

Numerous knives have been offered with ceramic blades. Usually, those
blades are very very brittle, and cannot be sharpened by the user;
however, they hold an edge well. Boker and
Kyocera make knives from this type of ceramic. Kevin McClungcame out
with a ceramic composite knife blade that much tougher than the previous
ceramics, tough enough to actually be
useful as a knife blade for most jobs. It is also user-sharpenable, and
holds an edge incredibly well.

IV: Selected Urls For Steel Information

In no particular order:
# An extensive list of steel links
http://www.metalwork.0catch.com/list.htm
# Principal Metals vast database of steel properties & terms
http://www.principalmetals.com
# Matweb's steel database
http://www.matweb.com/
# Crucible's Steel Pages, loaded with info on composition/selection/etc.
http://www.crucibleservice.com/cscd/crumain2.htm
# Suppliers Online huge database of steel info
http://www.suppliersonline.com
#A.G. Russell's FAQ Pages
http://agrussell.com/faq/index.html
#Spyderco's Steel Page
http://www.spyderco.com/education/steelchart.asp
# Knives.com entire site is interesting, but hit "Tech", then "Steel"
http://www.knives.com
# Metal Mart's dictionary of metallurgical terms
http://www.metal-mart.com/dictlist.htm
# A list of metallurgical sites, schools, organizations, and journals
http://www.mlc.lib.mi.us/~stewarca/metallurgy.html
# Titanium Info
http://www.halperntitanium.com/
# Don Fogg's excellent info pages
www.dfoggknives.com
# A good steel chart
http://www.pizzini.at/steellist.htm
V. BIBLIOGRAPHY
I got the information for this FAQ
from my own experience as a collector and amateur knifemaker, and from
conversations with custom makers. There are too many people on
the internet who have taught me about steels for me to name them all,
but I've particularly sought out the posts of people like Jerry Hossom and
Cliff Stamp. I've also read plenty of
articles on steels, but here are the ones that I actually had in front
of me:
Bob Engnath's Blades and Stuff Catalog. Bob's catalog is a
must-see for everyone, even for just collectors, as it contains
a wealth of information on all kinds of great knife subjects.
There is a section on knife steels. Bob passed away in 1998,
but if you can find an old copy of his catalog, grab it.
"The Secrets of Steel," by Butch Winter, _Tactical
Knives_, Spring 1995.
"What Alloys Do For Blade Steel," by Wayne Goddard, _Blade_,
June 1994.
Email conversation with Wayne Goddard, February 1998.
Don Fogg's article on Damascus steels from his website
www.dfoggknives.com (information used by permission)
"Inside Steel: What the Alloying Elements Do For Your
Blade", by Ed Severson with Steve Shackleford, _Blade, August 1999.

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