When you need to buy a knife, it is not always easy to choose the right knife steel. First of all, there are lots of different steel alloys to choose from. Then different knife manufacturers have their types of steel which are marketed under special names. The starting point is always: what will the knife be used for and how will it be used? After that, it is very much a matter of taste which features you want on your knife. In this article, we find out which types are available.
What is steel?
Steel is an alloy that mostly consists of iron. Among the other alloying elements, carbon is the most important and it is this that determines a large part of the knife steel’s features. Modern steel grades also contain other alloying elements. Then it is called alloy steel. Otherwise, we talk about unalloyed steel or carbon steel. Carbon steel is magnetic.
Two types of steel
When making a knife, there are essentially two types of steel to choose from for the knife blade.
- Stainless steel: A knife blade made of stainless steel withstands wetness and moisture well. The sharpness is retained much longer than for a knife made of carbon steel. A knife with a hardened stainless steel blade is very strong and durable.
- Carbon steel: An advantage of carbon steel knife blades are easy to sharpen. You can get them a little sharper than stainless steel blades. Some claim knives with carbon steel blades have a nicer feel, but that’s a matter of taste. Japanese knives are known for their high carbon content. However, carbon steel blades are susceptible to rust and need more maintenance. It is usually possible to find affordable quality kitchen knives with carbon steel blades.
There are also knives with laminated carbon steel. Then the core is made of carbon steel while the outer sides are made of softer steel. The knife gains great sharpness while the blade becomes more bendable and durable.
The characteristics of the knife steel
When manufacturing knife blades, there are several features that you want to bring out in the steel:
- Abrasion resistance
- Egg sharpness
The knife must be hard enough to cut through different materials. At the same time, it must not become so hard that toughness is lost. Then the steel can break. The scratch resistance ensures that the knife can last for many years without extra care, although all knives need to be sharpened from time to time. The edge sharpness is assured for the knife’s cutting quality. To achieve these features, the steel is processed by heating and rapid cooling, hardening, and heat treatment.
The hardness of the steel
Regardless of whether the knife blade is made of stainless steel or carbon steel, the hardness is qualified according to a scale known as the Rockwell C scale, or HRC.
The harder the knife’s style, the easier it is to sharpen.
At the same time, the edge becomes more sensitive to impacts. There is a risk of chips falling off the edge of a knife used the wrong way. Accordingly, a knife with less hardness does not achieve the same sharpness but, on the other hand, is much more durable. When the HRC is between 56 and 58, we talk about medium-hard blades. An HRC of 62 to 65 is considered extremely hard.
A typical high-quality European kitchen knife is usually somewhere in the 54 to 56 HRC range. On the other hand, exclusive Japanese knives are usually HRC 56 to 63, which means that the edge can be lowered to a vertical angle of 12-15 degrees. The sharpening angle of European knives is usually 20-25 degrees.
The alloy contributes to the shape of the knife blade
The criterion for the feature of knife steel is which type of alloy is used. Carbon steel knives do not have any alloying elements other than carbon. Many knife blades on the market are made of alloy steel. The following alloying elements occur in steel for knives:
- Iron (Fe): Earth’s fourth most abundant element. Iron forms the basis of all steel. Iron in its pure form is quite soft, bends easily, and is not very wear-resistant.
- Carbon (C): Besides iron, carbon is the most important element in steel. No other substances than iron and carbon are needed to produce steel for a good knife blade. The carbon is crucial for the knife edge to be durable. When you say that a knife has a high carbon content, you are talking about a carbon content of over 0.5 percent. The higher the carbon content of the knife blade, the harder the knife steel becomes. Metallurgists usually say that steel for knives should preferably have a carbon content of between 0.8 and 1 percent. If the carbon content is too high, the iron becomes brittle and may break off. In addition, a knife with a high carbon content rusts more easily.
- Chromium (Cr): Added to protect the steel against rust. Stainless steel contains at least 12 percent chromium. It is wrong to say “stainless” because even such steel can rust if it is exposed to wet or acidic liquids for a long time.
- Molybdenum (Mo): Works well with chromium to increase steel’s corrosion resistance. In addition, molybdenum increases the steel’s acid resistance and strength.
- Vanadium (V): Increases the fracture toughness of steel.
- Cobalt (Co): Gives the steel a finer grain structure and gives the knife blade greater strength and hardness.
- Manganese (Mn): Gives the steel better wear resistance and hardenability.
- Tungsten (W): Improves the impact resistance of the knife steel and makes it less sensitive to heat and wear.
- Nickel (Ni): Used to make the steel more corrosion-resistant.
- Phosphorus (P): Increases the strength of carbon steel.
- Silicon (Si): Makes the steel stronger and harder.
- Sulfur (S): A higher sulfur content makes the knife steel easier to work with. At the same time, it affects the strength negatively.
Popular steel grades for knife blades
Once you have decided whether you want an alloy steel or carbon steel knife blade, there are quite a few steel grades to choose from.
These are some of the most common:
- SUS: If knife steel is marked with SUS, it means that it is stainless. The numbers are given in connection with “SUS” gossip about hardness and stainless features.
- 1.4116 or CrMoV: Cr means Chromium, Mo for Molybdenum, and V for Vanadium. This is a very common stainless steel that is often used in kitchen knives. It is suitable for everyday use when you want a knife that works for cooking with less care. It can be difficult to recognize the name because it is often used together with numbers, for example, X50CrMoV15.
- VG-10: This is one of the most common steel grades for knife blades. In VG-10, the carbon content is high, 1 percent, even though it is of stainless steel. This knife is therefore much harder than most other stainless steel knives. Due to the high carbon content, the knife steel becomes more sensitive to corrosion and you should never use it with VG-10 steel wet. A VG-10 knife is easy to sharpen and the edge becomes sharp. This steel is almost always mixed with another steel. It can be overlaid with another stainless steel.
- AUS8: A very durable stainless steel popular in pocket knives. Steel is an alloy that, among other things, contains nickel, which contributes to composing steel.
- AISI 1095: Pure carbon steel popular with knife makers. Affordable steel that gives a good and durable edge. Rusts quickly if exposed to moisture or wetness.
- AUS-8: A high-alloy Japanese steel with a carbon content of around 0.75%. This is a steel that is corrosion-resistant and with a very durable edge.
- ZDP-189: A rather special steel developed by Japanese Hitachi. Not popular this steel but we include it on the list because it is unique. ZDP-189 has an extreme carbon content (3%) and a lot of chromium (20%).
Lamnia, a knives manufacturer company
Lamnia specializes in handmade knives. They have a large selection of Finnish and Swedish knives at good prices. If you are looking for hunting knives, tactical knives, folding knives, kitchen knives, EDC knives, or razors – you will find everything you need here. You can also buy swords through them. They keep reasonable prices and make sure to always update the selection.
Among their assortment, you will find Boker, Puukko, Cold Steel, Extrema Ratio, Roselli, and also Marttiini, Helle, and Ahti. Depending on which category you visit, you will have a large selection of knives to choose from. Of course, you’ll find all the big brands here, including Benchmade, Fox, and Kauhava.
Buying Lamnia knives is easy and convenient. You can directly see all the most common knives in the store, but also a large number of special variants. Most of the customers deserve the best and they, therefore, have a large number of different knives. Here you will find a quality, regardless of the type of knife you are interested in. Choose between brands or countries of manufacture, as well as several different types of knife blades.
Please take a look at their different categories with good knives from all over the world. Swedish and American knives are popular, but there are many more to choose from.