BLADE Magazine

Sharp Knowledge: 3 Knife Steel Basics

How the knife will be used, edge geometry and heat treating are all key to deciding which knife steel to choose.
The knife steel you choose depends a lot on what jobs the knife will perform.

One of the questions knife enthusiasts ask most is What is the best steel for a knife? Before you can answer such a question, you must first know exactly what it is you need in a knife.

1) Will you use the knife to cut meat, or paper, or rope, or plastic, or a little bit of everything? Much depends on what you will be using the knife for, and just about any knifemaker or knife manufacturer who knows his stuff will know which steel he has on hand will be best for your purposes.

Learn more about selecting steel types and how to make knives in the third edition of “BLADE’s Guide to Making Knives.” The classic is back and better than ever!

2) The steel is just part of the equation. The blade’s geometry is also important. By blade geometry is meant how the blade is ground and tapered from the back (spine) to the edge. If too thick, it won’t slice or cut properly; if too thin, it may chip.

3) How is the steel heat treated? As BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member Wayne Goddard has written, “A knife of the very best steel may not perform any better than one made of an inferior type steel unless it is heat treated to bring out the full potential of the alloy content.” He also writes, “The reasons for a maker to turn out incorrectly heat-treated blades are too many to list. However, the most common is not having the correct heat-treating specifications from the steel maker.” If you find the maker does his own heat treating and does not go by the heat-treating specs provided by the steel maker, that’s an immediate red flag. In fact, many makers simply have professional heat treaters do their heat treating. Goddard is among them.

These are just three basic things to know about knife steels. There are many others.



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