BLADE Magazine

Knife Ed 101: From the Periodic Table to the Rockwell Hardness Scale

Jim Bowie scowls as I absorb the minutia of properly conveying knife specs.
Jim Bowie is not amused with my lack of knowledge about steel mixes.

Knowing what you don’t know sometimes means knowing when to stop researching and just play with your knife. In the course of more fully educating myself about knives, I find that everything, and I mean every little thing, involves further study. It can be paralyzing. And sometimes it needs to just get silly so I can stop worrying about it.

I’m in charge of maintaining the style sheet at BLADE, which is an alphabetical list of knife industry-specific terms and instructions—or exceptions to instructions—regarding how we present certain things in BLADE. We want to be consistent.

The other day my boss and BLADE editor, Steve Shackleford, sent me something like, “Just so you know… the V in MoV is always capitalized. For example, 8Cr13MoV: Cr refers to chromium, Mo refers to molybdenum and V refers to vanadium—all elements in the steel mix.”

Cool, I thought.

And then I thought: The periodic table of elements? Seriously?

For an English major with a history minor—even one into guns and knives—this concerned me. Oh sure, there’s science in the acids and bases of a batch of cookies in the oven, but I honestly never imagined printing out that chart after I left high school. But there it lies, adding color to the growing pile, its information so obvious in hindsight. Jim Bowie perpetually scowls with what I imagine can only be his disappointment in my slow pickup.

So, when Steve explained how BLADE presents Rockwell hardness: “the Rockwell hardness is 58-59 HRC,” I figured I should try to fit more about that topic into my rock hard head.

After work I called a friend.

His response: “What is the Rockwell hardness scale and what does it mean to me?”

Exactly, I replied.

And while we’re at it, I thought, aren’t “hard” and “tough” synonyms for the same thing, like soldiers or overcooked steak? (That’s a joke. You can read about the difference between hardness and toughness in Bernard Levine’s article, “Rockwell Hardness, What It Is And What It Means To Your Blades,” BLADE Magazine, Sept. 1997, Pages 74-76.)

And why can’t I close my Twitch II? Am I not pressing hard enough? Am I afraid of the release? (That’s not a joke, and no, the lock is not engaged.)

“I can envision both scenarios,” my friend said.

That’s how he talks.

We joke about cut-resistant gloves, only he’s not joking. I’m a klutz.

He explained something about measuring divots and my ears stopped up and my eyes glazed over. I have a hard time thinking in 3D.

But I had the power all along. In the archives of BLADE itself I found this helpful article: Bernard Levine’s article, “Rockwell Hardness, What It Is And What It Means To Your Blades,” BLADE Magazine, Sept. 1997, Pages 74-76

It all makes perfect sense. I think I can now move on to worrying about whether there’s a good mix of ATS-34, 440C, CPM S30V, CTS steels and 5160, O1, D2, 1095, L6 steels represented in our Knifemaker Showcase pieces.

Your Knifemaking Questions, Answered

Get all your knifemaking questions answered in this collection of expert advise from former BLADE columnist Wayne Goddard. The Wonder of Knifemaking makes a thoughtful gift for someone interested in starting or perfecting their knifemaking skills


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