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My Favorite Knife Steels


As many of you know there are a myriad of steel types used for making knife blades. Metallurgy is literally a science in itself and one for which I don't have a degree. But, I have used a lot of knives for a long time and I know what I like.

People often ask me "What's the best steel out there?. It is like the other question I get a lot "What is the best knife out there?. There is no easy answer to that question (as much as many manufacturers wish there were). In fact there is no correct answer to this question

As far as knives go there are a lot of considerations and an easier approach might be to start by dismissing the knives that are poor in quality and design.

You could start with anything that you get from the cheesy knife shows on cable TV. The price point of $1.23 per knife is a dead giveaway. Besides red herrings like garage sale scores, good knives cost good money. And good knives have to have good steel. But what is good steel?

There are a lot of good steels, but it is more complicated than that. The question is what will you be doing with your knife and will you have access to the type of sharpening equipment that will work with the that given steel.

There are some steels that are super hard. They can be tempered to reach in the area of 62-64 on the Rockwell hardness scale (HRC). A common steel that can attain this hardness is D2. Is this good? Sure, if you need a knife that will skin 3 deer without resharpening when you are out in the field. The problem is that a steel of this hardness is very difficult for your basic user to sharpen. So, when it does lose it's edge you either take it to a pro to sharpen or spend a long time on it yourself.

Most of us use kitchen knives more than any other knife. Having a knife that is always sharp is a joy to use and safer all the way around. Sharpness equates to control and control equates to safety. So, you need a knife that is always sharp which means a knife that can take an edge easily enough that you don't have to send it out to a professional sharpener.

So here are three steels that I favor for their overall qualities of attaining a sharp edge, keeping that edge and being easy enough for your basic user to sharpen themselves:

HIGH CARBON STEEL: A good quality high carbon steel can attain a razor sharp edge with fairly good edge holding capacity depending on it's chemical make up and how it has been heat treated. It is not stainless steel and will discolor. But I would rather have an effective knife than a pretty knife.

VG10 (TRIPLE LAYER CORE): This one is a bit more complicated as it involves two steels and a process. Many of the better Japanese knives, for example, have a core of VG10 (a hard steel) with softer steel on the exterior. This design adds overall strength and flexibility to the blade and also contributes to edge holding capability. These are a little harder to sharpen than carbon steel knives, but still doable and worth the extra effort.

SANDVIK 12C27 SWEDISH STEEL: Sandvik steel has a lot of the qualities of high carbon steel, but with the ability to resist corrosion. Originally developed for scalpels and medical implements in Sweden it has become a popular steel especially in Europe. It can attain a razor sharp edge, will hold it longer than carbon steel, is stainless and easy to sharpen.

There is an ongoing debate between a lot of people who know the science of steel better than I do. But, for my needs I don't have to venture far outside these three fine steels.

As many of you know there are a myriad of steel types used for making knife blades. Metallurgy is literally a science in itself and one for which I don't have a degree. But, I have used a lot of knives for a long time and I know what I like.

This material is copy written by Chris Hyde 2007 for World Knives, Ltd.

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