Friday, March 2, 2012

The Properties of Common Steels

In my last post I showed you some which steels the most common manufacturers use. This information is not very useful unless you know what all those letters and numbers mean! I am going to go through the most common steels and briefly describe their properties.

This is considered by many to be the premium stainless steel. It is used by Buck, Benchmade, Spiderco, Gerber, and many smaller companies. It has a high amount of Carbon (good) and a low amount of Chromium (good). This steel is hard to temper correctly. It is possible to get a bad blade that chips easily. It is easier to sharpen than most stainless steels and holds its edge well.

A poor grade of stainless steel. Used by Gerber and other budget manufacturers. It has almost no carbon which makes it soft. Avoid this steel.

A budget stainless steel. Used by Buck and Gerber. It has a low amount Carbon (bad) and a low amount of Chromium (good). It sharpens easily, but does not hold its edge as well as higher grade steels. Do not mistake it for plain 420 steel, which is crap. If you must use stainless, this is a good inexpensive choice.

This stainless steel has three grades; A, B, and C. "A" having the least amount of carbon and "C" having the greatest. "C" is the only version you should consider. Used by Puma, Gerber, Benchmade and many others. This is one of the most common steels available. It is very hard and holds its edge well, but is also very hard to sharpen. In fact it is so hard to sharpen it is one of my least favorite steels. I hate it.

A common stainless steel that is very close to 440c in performance.

With its high carbon and low Chromium this may be the closest you can get to carbon in a stainless steel. Knife makers love this steel. It is used by Benchmade and a ton of custom knife makers. If I had to use stainless, it would be this one.

Common in "Made in China" knifes like Sharade. Similar to 440a. Avoid.

Surgical Stainless
A marketing term for 440c. Used by Case and many others.

Mostly marketing. No one knows how to make true Damascus steel. That technology was lost hundreds of years ago. Knife makers use a proprietary process to make a steel with fancy swirls in the blade. It is very pretty, but since virtually everyone does it differently, you never know how your steel will perform. Buy one for its beauty, not to clear brush.

AUS-6, AUS-8, AUS-10, etc.... This steel is similar to the 440 line with AUS-10 being close to 440c. It has some slightly different properties that make it a little better than the 440 steels.

Finally, some carbon steels! 1055 has a low amount carbon which makes it hard to get a good edge, but makes it very hard. This is a good steel for chopping blades. Used on most cheap machetes and axes.

Another good steel for chopping and general work. Can be made very hard and can sharpen to an unbelievably sharp edge. You can often find this steel in very cheap "Made in China" brands.

A hard, but flexible steel. Ka-bar uses this steel in their machetes.

My favorite steel. Hard but flexible. Good edge retention, but easy to sharpen. Used by Ka-bar, Mora,  and most custom knife makers. In my opinion, this is the ultimate knife steel.

Another name for 1095.

Spring Steel
Could mean a lot of things. Usually 1070 or 1095.

I could go on and on, but these are the most popular. Obviously, I prefer the carbon steel blades. However, most of the steels on this page will serve you well.

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