When it comes to knives, what is the best steel to use? Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to that question.
Knives come with varying functions, in different shapes and sizes. Some may like a knife with a sharp edge for easier skinning. Others may like one that is resistant to corrosion for minimal maintenance. Yet, some may also like a strong blade for easier prying. As such only the user have the answer to the type of steel that is perfect for his use.
In fact, there are hundreds of steel alloys that are or had been used in the past to make knives. The exact composition of the alloy used by a particular manufacturer depends on the functionality of the knife that is to be produced. As such, a survival knife will not use the same kind of steel as that of a fighting knife.
I will repeat again, the functionality of the knife will dictate the kind of steel to be used for any particular design.
In choosing a steel alloy for making knives, a manufacturer will consider the following factors before making the final decision:
a) Ability to hold an edge: It means the time a knife can be used before it needs resharpening. Although all knives dull over time with frequent use, some dull faster than others. Usually, a knife that is easy to sharpen will not hold the edge for long and vice versa.
b) Ability to take an edge: It means how sharp a knife can be. Other factors that may contribute to its sharpness include angle of the blade grind as well as blade construction.
c) Corrosion resistance: It refers to the metal’s resistance to rust and stain.
d) Strength: It refers to the metal’s resilience to permanent deformation when cutting hard materials.
e) Toughness: It refers to the metal’s resistance to chips and cracks from impacts.
** Do take note that strength and toughness are, more often than not, inversely proportional to one another. In other words, a stronger steel will most likely chip or crack from impacts while a tougher steel will most likely not be very strong.
Although the metals themselves are already strong, manufacturers usually apply additional treatments to increase performance in key areas. For example, the metal surface of a knife is sometimes oxidised to increase its resistance to corrosion.
There are three major types of steel that most knife manufacturers use in production. They are:
a) Carbon steel: It’s a popular steel to use for making durable blade knives which are very tough yet easy to sharpen. Unfortunately, carbon steel is not resistant to corrosion.
b) Stainless steel: It’s the most popular steel used in making knife blades. It contains at least 13% Chromium to make it resistant to corrosion. The popular stainless steel alloys are 420, 440, ATS-34, AUS-6 and AUS-8. Although stainless steel blade will generally not corrode under normal care, it will discolor and rust if exposed to harsh outdoor environment for a long time.
c) Tool steel: It’s a general steel product that varies in quality from normal to very good. Although not as popular as stainless steel, it is used in making some knife blades.
To summarize, the best steel for knives depends on many factors.