Quality steel is the backbone of any knife blade. Understanding the composition makeup and performance properties of steels commonly used in production knife manufacturing can be mind boggling. I fall into the group of knife enthusiasts who are familiar with good steel but don’t necessarily understand why it’s good or how it compares to other production steels in a side by side comparison. Composition defined simply is the balancing of elements to form steel for a particular use or purpose.
My objective for this series of articles is to create awareness and to generate discussion on common blades steels, breaking them down into terms we novices can understand so the next time you lay down your hard earned money for a knife, you’re able to make an informed buying decision. For discussion purposes pertaining to blade steels, I’ll reference Kershaw Knives.
The majority of modern production knives utilize 3 types of steel – High Carbon Steel, Stainless Steel and High Carbon Stainless Steel. We’ll discuss the performance qualities, advantages and disadvantages of each as they relate to 7 blade steel attributes:
3. Wear Resistance
4. Stain Resistance
5. Ease of Sharpening
6. Edge Retention
7. Performance / Value Ratio
Please note that the type of steel, though important, isn’t the sole factor of a knife’s overall performance. Other knife characteristic come into play such as blade design, blade construction, blade geometry, production treatments, handle design & makeup, balance, weight and others all effect how a knife will perform for a particular job.
Let’s begin with High Carbon Steel (HCS). HCS typically contains an abundance of Carbon which exists in all knife steels and is the most important element to determine the hardness of steel. Most quality HCS blades will fall between a 58-62 range on the HRC scale like the Kershaw Knives K1079 Outcast with D2 coated HCS. At this range, most blades are capable of taking and holding hair splitting edges! To be considered a HCS, carbon must compose a minimum of.5% of the overall steel composition. What does this mean? Here is an easy way to understand it. HCS is essentially Iron combined with carbon and other alloys to create the desired performance characteristics for a blade. Other alloys present in HCS generally provide an element of corrosion resistance (chromium) or toughness (molybdenum). As an example, 1095 blade steel is composed of about 98% iron,.95% Carbon &.4% Manganese. Other alloys exist in trace amounts but do not contribute significantly to the blades overall composition and performance. HCS used in knife manufacturing include CPM3, 1095, A2, D2 (Kershaw Knives Outcast) and O1 steel.
Kershaw Knives utilizing HCS & HCSS (High Carbon Stainless Steel):
Kershaw Knives – K1079 Outcast
Kershaw Knives OCC-1000 w/ CPM-D2 HCS
Kershaw Knives ZT0170 Combat Knife w/ 14c28N HCSS
Kershaw Knives ZT0150 Black Fixed Blade w/ CPM-3V HCS
Kershaw Knives ZT0100 All-Black Fixed Blade w/ S30V HCSS
The advantages of HCS blades are:
• less expensive than stainless steel blades
• higher tensile strength (Kershaw Knives K1079 Outcast)
• better resistance to wear and abrasion
• HCS is recognized for its ability to hold a killer edge
The disadvantages of HCS blades are:
• rust & stain more easily
• require more maintenance
• lack toughness (prone to chipping)
• more difficult to sharpen (Kershaw Knives K1079 Outcast)
My next commentary will compare 5 common production HCS to the 7 attributes used to measure the quality & performance of a blade. Stay tuned…
*Special thanks to: elev8australia Service Management the are a tremendous resource to learn about knife steelsiShop Knives has one uncompromising mission; to deliver the world’s highest quality knives from the most respected, dependable and passionate knife makers in the industry. For unparalleled service and a truly worry free shopping experience, look no further than iShop Knives.