Chef Tools Canadas guide to the Best Knife Steel
Alongside edge geometry and design, blade steel is a critical element that determines how a knife performs. Steel is essentially an alloy (i.e. a mix) of carbon and iron that is often enriched with other elements to improve certain characteristics depending on the desired application. In the knife industry different types of steel are created by varying the types of additive elements as well as how the blade is rolled and heated (i.e. the finishing process).
Ultimately, the different types of steel used in knife blades each exhibit varying degrees of these five key properties:
Hardness Hardness is the ability to resist deforming when subject to stress and applied forces. Hardness in knife steels is directly correlated to strength and is generally measured using the Rockwell C scale (aka “HRC”). Toughness Toughness is the ability to resist damage like cracks or chips when subject to impact or “sudden loads”. Chipping is a knife’s worst enemy and never easy to fix. There are a number of different ways to measure toughness (i.e. Charpy, Izod) thus it’s less standardized than hardness when it comes to knives. In general, the harder the steel the less tough it’s likely to be.
Wear Resistance Wear resistance is the steel’s ability to withstand damage from both abrasive and adhesive wear. Abrasive wear occurs when harder particles pass over a softer surface. Adhesive wear occurs when debris is dislodged from one surface and attaches to the other. Wear resistance generally correlates with the steel’s hardness but is also heavily influenced by the specific chemistry of the steel. In steels of equal hardness, the steel with larger carbides (think microscopic, hard, wear resistant particles) will typically resist wear better. However, carbides can become brittle and crack, thus decreasing toughness.
Corrosion Resistance Corrosion resistance is the ability to resist corrosion such as rust caused by external elements like humidity, moisture and salt. Note that a high resistance to corrosion does involve a sacrifice in the overall edge performance. Edge Retention Edge Retention represents how long the blade will retain its sharpness when subject to periods of use. It’s what everyone talks about these days but unfortunately the measurement of edge retention lacks any defined set of standards and so much of the data is subjective. For me, edge retention is a combination of wear resistance and an edge that resists deformation.
Unfortunately the “best knife steel” is not simply a case of maximizing each of the properties above….it’s a trade off. The biggest trade off is balancing strength or hardness with toughness. Some blades can be made to be exceptionally hard but will chip or crack if you drop them onto a hard surface. Conversely a blade can be extremely tough and able to bend but will struggle to hold it’s edge. Basically, the stuff that makes steel strong (high amount carbon/carbides) generally lowers the toughness. Also note that the term ‘stainless steel‘ is generally misleading as most all types of steel will show some kind of discoloration if left exposed to the elements for long enough. By knowing how you plan to use the knife you will generally be able to determine the best steel for your situation.
Common Knife Steel Types
The most common blade steel types generally fall into the following categories:
Carbon Steel – generally made for rough use where toughness and durability is important. Common in survival knives and machetes. They take a sharp edge and are relatively easy to re-sharpen. The trade-off is being more prone to corrosion given the low chromium content. The most popular carbon knife steel is 1095.
Tool Steel – primarily hard steel alloys used in cutting tools. Some popular tool steels in this group include D2, O1 and Crucible’s CPM series (i.e. CPM 3V) plus more advanced high speed steels like M4.
Stainless Steel – basically carbon steel with added chromium to resist corrosion and other elements which increase performance levels but usually at the expense of inferior toughness. Easily the most popular category today for EDC knives and includes the 400, 154CM, AUS, VG, CTS, MoV, Sandvik and Crucible SxxV series of steels. Note that to qualify as a true stainless steel there must be at least 13% chromium.
Our newest set for the entry level cook or chef student
ABOUT THE BLADE :: The Blades of these Beautiful Knives are Stainless Steel. The Blades are Strong and Durable. These are FULL TANG Knives.
ABOUT THE HANDLE :: The Handles are made with Beautiful Green Micarta. The Handles are Designed to have a lovely Grip on them.
TOTAL LENGTH : 7 to 13"
BLADE LENGTH : 3 to 8"
HANDLE LENGTH:: 4.5 to5" Inches
Stainless steel is an alloy containing a high percentage of the element chromium, which gives its main characteristic, corrosion resistance!
The main reason stainless steel is so popular, is because its composition makes it very resistant to water and humidity. This weather resistance means that a stainless knife can be used essentially in any environment, from snow to jungles and even underwater!
As far as sharpness and edge retention are concerned, stainless steel can hold a razor sharp edge for a long time.
This type of steel is also less hard and more flexible than carbon, which allows it to absorb impacts more effectively without breaking or chipping.
Carbon steel has, as the name implies, a high carbon content. This results in a very hard steel with superior sharpness and edge retention!
In general, carbon steel knives are sharper, harder, hold an edge for longer and are easier to re-sharpen.
Keep in mind that although this is the norm, I am generalising a little here and that some high-end stainless steels can rival carbon. At the same time though, these knives won’t hold an edge for as long because of the hardness of carbon steel.
The superior edge retention makes them ideal for prolonged use in the wild, as they will be a breeze to keep sharp and effective!
Thats all folks! Chef knives and Tools are a great Christmas Present for that hobby cook in your life, stop by the SHOP, and have a look around. Cheers, and have a great weekend!