Knife steel is a critical component of the custom knife. Making a fine homemade knife is a work of patience, and a dedication to precision craftsmanship. A custom knife maker must understand the science of metallurgy when choosing an appropriate knife steel.
To rust or not to rust, that is the question. Actually, that is only one of the questions. To maintain a great industrial mini crossover. edge, or not to maintain a great edge is another important question! Many custom knife makers are finding middle ground for those two questions.
High carbon and stainless steels are both acceptable if properly alloyed. The high carbon steels are typically the steels that are forged. They can be differentially tempered. This property gives the knife maker more options. He can better control the hardness of the cutting edge, and still have a tough knife with a springy back.
1095 is the most popular steel for knives. It is a simple steel consisting of. 95% carbon, and. 4% manganese. Other 10 series steels are used for knife making such as 1084, 1070, 1060, and 1050 etc. Each of these steels are decreasing in carbon content, and thus are also decreasing in wear resistance. At the same time, as the carbon content goes down the toughness goes up. As such, some of the lower carbon content designations are more commonly used for swords.
O-1 steel is another high carbon steel which gives razor sharp edges but dulls quicker than A2 Steel. O-1, like A2 has a 1% carbon content It has 1. 35% manganese,. 5% chromium,. 35% silicon, and. 5% tungsten. O-1 steel is more forgiving to those who are not as accomplished in getting a decent edge. In summary, it is easier/faster to hone to a razor sharp edge than some of the other choices, but does not stand up to abuse as well. 0-1 is very popular with forgers and bladesmiths. It is tough, although not as tough as 5160.
L-6 is very similar to O-1. It is basically band saw steel. It is possibly the very best steel for a knife if maintenance is not an issue. It rusts very easily, but holds an edge very well. It is also very tough. It is a favorite of forgers.
A2 steel is almost a stainless steel. At (5%) it does not have quite enough chromium. It has 1% carbon,. 6% Manganese, 1% molybdenum, and. 2% Vanadium. It is not prone to rust. A2 steel is popular for combat knives because of its toughness. The toughness of the edge of the A2 steel is improved by cryogenically treating the blades at -320 degrees Fahrenheit. A2 steel is much harder than 0-1 carbon steel and although more difficult to sharpen, it keeps an edge longer. It performs best somewhere between 30 and 35 degrees. The problem with A2 steel is that it tends to fracture more easily when the bevel is ground less than 30 degrees. A2 is tougher than D2 and M2, but has less wear resistance.
M2 Steel is a fine-grained molybdenum/tungsten high-speed tool steel. It has. 85% carbon,. 25% manganese, 4. 2% chromium,. 30% silicon, 5% molybdenum, 6. 35% tungsten, and 1. 9% vanadium. It is an excellent choice for high temperature applications. For example, the annealing temperature of M2 steel is approximately 1000° F. It is slightly tougher and more wear resistant than D2, however, M2 rusts more easily.
“D” series steels are classed as cold work tool steels. D2 steel is a premium tool steel. With 1. 5% carbon content It is better at holding an edge than less exotic stainless steels. D2 has a fairly high chromium content (11. 5%) and is sometimes referred to as a “semi-stainless”. It is a well respected, air hardened, high carbon, high chromium tool steel. It has 1% molybdenum, and. 9% vanadium. It possesses extremely high wear resistance properties. D2 steel is one of the toughest knife blades you can get, and is a favorite of the best custom knife makers. Anyone who has ever used a good D2 steel blade in the field, raves about the steels cutting ability, durability, and edge holding properties. Simply put, D2 steel can produce one of the best blade stocks available for a working knife.
5160 steel is a common spring steel. It is basically 1060 with 1% of chromium added to make it deep hardening. It is used in swords, axes or other high-impact tools. 5160 Steel is popular now for a variety of knife styles, but is usually used for bigger blades that need more toughness. It is quick and easy to sharpen, and, when resistance to lateral forces comes into play, 5160 is a champion.