Knife Steels... Can You Really Tell the Difference?

Discussion in 'Edged Tools' started by PMSteve, Jun 14, 2018.

  1. PMSteve

    PMSteve Old Timey Outdoorsman Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    6
    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2010
    Messages:
    8,209
    Likes Received:
    10,178
    Location:
    Relocated to Salt Lake City from Nevada
    Over the years I've read articles about knives made from the latest and greatest custom steels. There's D2, A2, Cpm30v, 440c and a host of others. Each claim to be the best for edge retention, ease of sharpening, durability etc.

    My personal experience is that I honestly can't tell the difference from one to the other. I have knives made from those steels listed above. I use them all, some harder that others. After use, I examine the edge and if it needs sharpening, I do so.

    So, can the average user of modern knives really tell the difference during day to day use? When I say 'average user', I'm not referring to knife makers who work with this stuff on a daily basis. I'm talking about the guy who carries a knife on a pocket clip or a sheath knife on his belt every day, or even on weekends when he heads to the outback.

    I have an EDC folder, a Ritter Griptillian with a Cpm30v blade that gets put to light duty use and only ever gets touched up on a ceramic rod every week or two. This is usually my go-to knife for daily wear.

    So, what do you say? Is 440c as good as D2? Now's the time to speak up.

    Steve
     
  2. Vanitas

    Vanitas Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2013
    Messages:
    6,833
    Likes Received:
    8,578
    Location:
    New England
    If it's quality heat treat, kinda... I mean youll be able to tell 1075 from S7 or 3v but if the steels are somewhat similar then not really. Heat treat and hardness is the key though. There are some steels you just will take forever trying to sharpen and others that a quick couple minutes will do the job... key word is sharpen, not strop.
     
  3. batmanacw

    batmanacw Guide

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2015
    Messages:
    4,196
    Likes Received:
    11,658
    Location:
    NE Ohio
    You most definitely can tell the difference. No question. My 3V Bark River Aurora has a much tougher steel than my 1095 Old Hickory Knives.

    There are many steels that overlap in performance depending on the heat treat. I have some 1075 knives that are pretty close to my 1095, but then I have some Condor knives in 1075 that are poorly heat treated and they are pretty soft.
     
  4. Zunga

    Zunga Bushmaster

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2017
    Messages:
    6,678
    Likes Received:
    35,515
    Location:
    British Columbia
    I've consistently used 440. Mainly because I've owned a lot of mtech knives, which is common for them. I have no complaints with it. My pocket knife is a budget 420 of some kind. It sees the most (daily) use of all my knives. So I can't really give a fare comparison on edge retention. I have found 420 more finicky in sharpening. A pass or two on a good stone. You can feel the difference. But one or two more and you've undone it. The 440 tends to take more effort to sharpen.
    Cheers Jim
     
    DomC, Quinlan, JasonJ and 4 others like this.
  5. dannyp

    dannyp Tracker

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2013
    Messages:
    63
    Likes Received:
    366
    Location:
    St Louis, MO
    I can tell a difference in classes of steels, but not between similar ones. There is a big difference between 420HC, D2, and M390. It would be easy to tell them apart based on ease of sharpening and edge retention. If you gave me a knife and told me it was either VG10 or 154CM, I would only be able to guess.
     
    Rooster, buckfynn, Coryphene and 5 others like this.
  6. J. Pierce

    J. Pierce Perpetually Off Topic, Sorry. Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2013
    Messages:
    2,471
    Likes Received:
    10,087
    Location:
    Wisconsin, the north end
    Heat treating and geometry play a huge roll, but sharpening is a major part of edge retention.
    A knife can feel damn sharp with a burr on the edge, someone uses it, the burr folds over, "this piece of junk is dull, already".
    It wasn't the knife, the maker or the steel, it was the guy who sharpened it.

    I never say it here, because many people are very happy with the results they get from stropping, but I never use a strop. And it's for edge retention reasons. I don't want to start a pissing match over it or derail this thread, and if you like your stop, wonderful. It just doesn't meet my expectations, and I feel it eventually makes your knife perform less than it's true potential.

    My point is, there are a lot of variables that determine knife performance, and steel is just a small part of it.

    I love messing around with different steel, but 5 identical knives made from different steels are not necessarily as different as one would assume.
     
    Sloany, backlasher, DCPugh and 4 others like this.
  7. GreyOne

    GreyOne Elder Lifetime Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    4
    Joined:
    Oct 11, 2008
    Messages:
    41,362
    Likes Received:
    12,363
    Location:
    Texas
    For the user the differences are in the heat treat/ hardness, in the edge holding, in the ease of sharpening, and the corrosion resistance.
    I could not identify a particular steel, but I can certainly feel the difference when on the stones, as well as the way the edge lasts doing normal chores.
    The differences are subtle but definitely observable, and non trivial in use.
     
    Corso, buckfynn, BrandonJ and 8 others like this.
  8. Red Wing

    Red Wing Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2016
    Messages:
    1,973
    Likes Received:
    5,853
    Location:
    Dublin, oh
    I can 100 tell the difference between my D2 and m390 knives. Probably harder with more similar steels.
     
    PMSteve and Bobsdock like this.
  9. S.Gossman

    S.Gossman Guide Vendor Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2010
    Messages:
    3,963
    Likes Received:
    10,068
    Location:
    God's country, Maryland
    Heat treatment, Rockwell hardness and grind/edge geometry is where it's at. The ingredients in the steel make up, play a huge role when it comes to sharpening. Certain alloys like vanadium and chromium can make some knives a bear to sharpen. That's where the proper abrasives come into play. Low alloy steels will be easier to sharpen then high alloy/high speed steels.
    Scott
     
  10. Unistat76

    Unistat76 Nerd Supporter Bushclass I

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2012
    Messages:
    2,538
    Likes Received:
    7,643
    Location:
    SE Michigan
    Certainly. Ease of sharpening, edge retention, corrosion prevention, bend vs. snap. All sorts of things show the difference. From mundane daily stuff to hard use/near breakage.
     
    DomC, PMSteve, Bobsdock and 1 other person like this.
  11. GoKartz

    GoKartz Sharpaholic

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2017
    Messages:
    2,032
    Likes Received:
    9,290
    Location:
    Quakertown, PA
    In short yes, in long sort of.

    My pocket knife is AUS8, and it’ll sharpen quick and dull quick and roll easier than one of my other stainless knives, or even D2.

    O1 and 1095 always seemed more or less similar - they seemed to hold a good edge, take about as long to dull or sharpen, and weren’t prone to chipping. SO much easier than sharpening

    My A2 and D2 knives were a lot more rust resistant, a little harder to sharpen, but I didn’t see much difference in edge retention compared to O, but I’d say definitely better edge retention than 1095.

    But here’s the rub - is that a difference from the steel, the grind, the heat treat, how I’m using them, my ability to sharpen... there’s so many factors, I’m at the point where OK if I know it’s a decent steel.

    Oo - but I have owned one knife, 52100 steel maybe? That thing gets sharper than any other knife I’ve owned. Is that me or the steel? I’m leaning steel, personally. But it could be the thinner stock, the angle of the grind, yada yada ...
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2018
  12. K Harris

    K Harris Scout

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2012
    Messages:
    627
    Likes Received:
    1,120
    The following was written by a high-end custom knife maker who will remain nameless. It is a bit dated, but some interesting observations are made. I am only the messenger.

    It should first be understood that a large difference exists between machine tools and hand tools. Steels that work marvelously for cutting aluminum or steel on a lathe will not necessarily make a great utility knife. Conversely, some of the steels preferred for knife making render only moderate performance in the machine tool cutting processes. "But wait!", you say, "surely an alloy capable of cutting ribbons of steel off a gun barrel or sawing through a piece of bar stock would make a marvelous knife that would hold an edge virtually forever!!??".

    Well, yes, these high chrome, high tungsten alloys do have incredible abrasion resistance, and a knife made from them would be a great edge holder, BUT, the "relative toughness" of the alloys are very low, and they break easily if subjected to any "unusual" forces. They are simply not very shock resistant and do not work reliably in situations where applied force is not smooth, calculated, and unfaltering. This, unfortunately, is the exact set of circumstances encountered when your average human type gets his/her hands on a knife. Simply because we are not repetitively perfect, the knife will be subjected to a huge variety of aberrated applications of energy. It will be abused. It will be forced to cut, chop, hack, pry, pierce, and poke. Mere mortals are incapable of exerting perfectly symmetrical forces in high enough quantities to do much work, so basic brute force is required. Take wood chopping as an example: the blade is slammed repeatedly at a variety of speeds and angles, into a very tough composite of cellulose fiber and resin. Some spots are hard, some are softer, chips are cleared by lateral forces being exerted across the thinnest (weakest) part of the tool (the edge). The whole structure is relatively abrasive, very tough, and not terribly willing to give up its intended form. All of this is very hard on a knife, and for it to survive it must be tough and shock resistant.

    Under most circumstances, toughness and shock resistance are accomplished at the expense of abrasion resistance in a given alloy, as most alloys are developed with a very particular job in mind. The alloying elements giving the highest hardness and abrasion resistance, when present in large quantities, can give truly stupendous edge holding ability. However, the addition of tougheners reduces the gross percentage of carbides formed in the alloy. The reduction of precipitated carbides normally allows greater toughness, but not always.

    There are some "middle of the road" alloys that offer a compromise, if you will, without greatly favoring abrasion resistance or toughness. These alloys are the ones being used by most knife makers and sensible cutlery manufacturers. There are always other considerations involved in knife design, niggling little issues like cost, corrosion resistance, and target market.

    Having laid the basic groundwork for thoughts on blade steel choices, we can now explore the alloys and their relative strengths and weaknesses. One more thing must be added here: we are talking here primarily about utility knives built for a wide range of tasks, the middle of the spectrum. The more specialized the blade, the more specialized the alloy can be allowed to be. It should also be noted that regardless of how superior an alloy is, it is not worth spit in a knife or tool if not heat treated with great care.

    There are several basic groups of steel, some suitable for knives, some not. The ones included in this list are those most used in knife making, and are generally called out by their A.I.S.I. or S.A.E. designations. If they are non-standard, they will be listed by their manufacturer's designation. Bear in mind that two manufacturers of the "same" alloy may have widely varying quality, so a less expensive manufacturer may have cut significant corners in getting their product to market.

    Water Hardening Steels: Wl, W2
    These are generally hardened by quenching in a brine solution or, on occasion, oil. They are shallow hardening, rather weak, and make durable knives only if held below 54 HRC (hardness, Rockwell C-scale). W1 and W2 rust very easily due to the lack of chrome and vanadium. Their only alloying elements are carbon and manganese. They are usually used in industry for inexpensive, low yield tooling.

    Oil Hardening Steels: 01, 5160, L6, 50100, 52100
    Perhaps the best available compromises in cutlery steel are some of the oil quenched alloys. They offer a variety of heat treat options which allow reasonable toughness and abrasion resistance in the same package. The relative ease of availability, grinding, and heat treating are attractive as well. Due to the relatively low chrome content, these alloys are more susceptible to corrosion than their highly alloyed cousins, the air hardening steels.

    Oil hardening steel, specifically 01, is my personal favorite. Randall Knives uses 01 extensively, hardened to 52-54 HRC.

    Leaf springs for automobiles are made of 5160 steel. Properly heat treated, it makes a very tough blade. Ideal for throwing knives. L6 is a nickel bearing steel, most often used in circular saw blades. Tough, but a poor edge holder even under the best circumstances. 50100 steel has been long used by KaBar, Case, and others. This is the easy to sharpen, hard to break steel. It sort of holds an edge, but not really very well.

    Held in high esteem by the heat and beat crowd, 52100 was designed for use in ball bearings. Ball bearings are very hard and have no sharp edges. You figure the rest out.

    Highly Alloyed Steels, Air Hardening Tool Steels: A2, A6, D2, 420, 425, 440, 154CM, ATS-34
    A2 is popular and is used by Chris Reeve, Phil Hartsfield, and others. It is extremely simple to heat treat, but by the time the temper is drawn to give it decent toughness, the abrasion resistance is low. Many make up for this by leaving the hardness relatively high, above 57 HRC, and using thicker sections or less acute (more obtuse) angles for the grind. You end up with a fat, heavy knife that's hard to sharpen. A2 contains 5% chrome, but it rusts with the best of them.

    A6 is less brittle than A2 and can be forged, as proven by Tai Goo, who makes many Damascus blades from it. He makes the only air hardening Damascus I know of.

    D2 is 12+% chrome, with gobs of carbon. It is relatively stain resistant when polished well, and not too expensive. It has great abrasion resistance at high hardness, but again it suffers from very low toughness. Don't pry or chop with D2 - cutting and slicing only. Probably at its best in small, thin blades at hardness of 60-62 HRC.

    The 400 series stain resisting steels are the ideal steels for folks who prefer shiny over sharp. The much vaunted 440C is superior only to the other 400's (410, 416, 420, 425) and makes a truly mediocre knife capable of no great feats of edge holding or toughness. But boy, is it stain resistant. It is NOT "stainless", so it WILL RUST if not cared for.

    ATS-34 is basically a Japanese copy of 154CM. Produced in mega-bulk by Hitachi, it offers all the things big cutlery manufacturers look for: stain resistance and low cost. I have only seen one knife made of ATS-34 that cut really well. It was a Chris Reeve Sebenza. Since then I have seen other Sebenzas that did not cut well. ATS-34 and 154CM are supposed to be better than 440C, but not by much. My own personal opinion is that 440C is still the best available cutlery stainless.

    The "Super Alloys"
    These are highly alloyed steels with some remarkable properties. Once again though, the types with the highest abrasion resistance also show lower toughness than desired for combat knives. CPM-10V has the highest abrasion resistance available in a tool steel for cold work, yet its toughness is only slightly better than D2 at the same hardness. CPM-T-440V is more wear resistant than 440C, but its toughness is lower than D2 or 440C. For small knives that will never be pried or chopped with, these may well be ideal, if properly heat treated.
     
    Sloany, backlasher, buckfynn and 11 others like this.
  13. Wasp

    Wasp We are GO for Sting! Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2014
    Messages:
    9,595
    Likes Received:
    40,236
    Location:
    Arkansas
    Im no steel expert but I believe most modern steels (not necessarily super steels) are good enough for what most people will use them for if they are well designed and sharpened.

    With that said I can tell my S30V is better than my 440, quite a bit. I still like my 1095 steels too though because they are easy to care for in the field.
    I think a lot of people think when they get a super steel they wont ever need to sharpen it. That simply isn't true. If you are already sharpening challenged then you are going to have more trouble in the field when it does need sharpening. Just thinking out loud on that part.

    I like all kinds and am rarely a steel snob per se, but I do have some favorites in spuer and traditional (nonsuper) steels. JMO
     
    Rooster, Coryphene, DomC and 4 others like this.
  14. GoKartz

    GoKartz Sharpaholic

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2017
    Messages:
    2,032
    Likes Received:
    9,290
    Location:
    Quakertown, PA
    Two things make a knife stand out to me enough to want to keep and use a lot:
    1. How comfortable it is to use.
    2. How easy it is to resharpen.

    A knife that I can sharpen to my standards easily with a variety of methods (stones, sandpaper, with or without stropping), is a knife I quickly grow to love. Two of my current favorites are a BHK Featherstick and an old Roselli (and both I got here!) - crazy comfy to use, super easy to get sharp on a flat stone, no strop necessary. I don’t even know what steel they are...
     
  15. Paulyseggs

    Paulyseggs Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2018
    Messages:
    2,345
    Likes Received:
    9,568
    Location:
    CT.
    @GoKartz said what I was gonna say .

    I dont know much besides ss and carbon.

    I know if I take a carbon knife and dangle it by the handle. Then flick the blade as hard as I can with my fingers. If it rings like a bell its a good knife . Other than that i got nuttin!

    As long as i can get it sharp im happy . Nuttin worse than a dull knife
     
    Derzis, Coryphene, DomC and 3 others like this.
  16. highlander

    highlander Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2010
    Messages:
    4,964
    Likes Received:
    14,701
    Location:
    Scott County,Tennessee
    Usually, if I can sharpen it, I like it. I’m not sure I can tell a difference.
    That being said, I have trouble with 3V. It’s good steel, but I can’t sharpen it for crap.
     
    Coryphene, DomC, PMSteve and 3 others like this.
  17. gdpolk

    gdpolk Hobbyist Hobbyist

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2012
    Messages:
    2,928
    Likes Received:
    1,510
    Location:
    Arkansas
    I absolutely can. Even in the edge retention tests by BLADE magazine where various makers made the exact same knife pattern in various steels, all the knives were sharpened by the same person to the same level with the same tools and then given to the same deer butcher, he got vastly different results. 3 deer versus 15 deer...that's a noticeable difference!
    [​IMG]


    Moreover that is just ONE example of how steel and heat treat affects the performance of a knife. Edge retention is really only one desirable quality in a blade. Sharpening CPM10V or M4 at high Rockwell values is much more difficult than a 10xx alloy blade. Edge durability in terms of impact resistance and flexibility also vary by steels which can play a major role in what steel I want for a given task. A chopper may do well in CPM3v while a filet knife would do better in something more akin to AEBL. Also edge quality can have a noticeable performance on how a knife cuts certain materials. Knives with large carbides in them (D2 is a popular steel like this) do very well at slicing fibrous materials and take a coarse edge the best while retaining a coarse edge the best. Meanwhile simple high carbon steels like the 10xx series or 01 take a refined edge the best and excel and push cutting tasks like what is used for whittling, leathercraft, and even a lot of cooking tasks. To expect a handheld woodworking plane to perform optimally with a large carbide forming steel would be silly which is why top end hand plane irons are using 01 steels...they perform noticeably better at push cutting woods providing cleaner cuts with less tear-out. Meanwhile many knife companies specializing in hunting blades (such as Dozier) are using mostly D2 and other large carbide steels because their market notices that they perform better on animals.

    I'm not discounting that other factors such as blade shape, edge geometry, heat treat, bevel thickness, sharpness/level of refinement, surface prep of the steel on the knife, the material being cut, and even the ergonomics of the handle and the skill of the user make a difference in how a blade performs. However, I think it is kind of short sighted to say that steel type doesn't matter in the overall performance of a knife.
     
    Pastor Chris, Coryphene, DomC and 6 others like this.
  18. Seeker

    Seeker Woods Bum Supporter Bushclass I

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    16,987
    Likes Received:
    21,066
    Location:
    In the woods
    I can't tell what they are, but I can that they're different for the most part, especially when sharpening different knives... they just act different. In short use, they're similar... over a period of, say, skinning a deer, you can tell by edge retention... that's one of the big reasons I like my VG10 (vs O-1 or 440).
     
  19. gm42

    gm42 Scout

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    655
    Likes Received:
    121
    Location:
    San Ramon California
    The only steel that really stands out to me is M390. It sharpens easy and strops back to sharp easy. It also holds an edge a really long time.

    Besides M390 I can use a well heat treated 1095 and be happy.

    Geoff
     
    DomC, PMSteve and Bobsdock like this.
  20. GoKartz

    GoKartz Sharpaholic

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2017
    Messages:
    2,032
    Likes Received:
    9,290
    Location:
    Quakertown, PA
    Woah. I just got me some learnin. Thanks for sharing dude! Any other posts you’ve contributed to on this type of topic I could look up?
     
    Pastor Chris, DomC, PMSteve and 2 others like this.
  21. 62flint

    62flint Scout

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2017
    Messages:
    727
    Likes Received:
    1,756
    I usually have some sort of cheap beater for daily abusing. These are/were freebies or otherwise given to me, so generally some softer Chinese SS. One is a S&W branded of unknown steel, and its noticeably harder/tougher. The Chinese steels can run from soft to pretty good (8Cr13MOV and higher) IF the heat treat is right. The same is true of high carbon. Batmancw mentioned 1095 as used in Old Hickory, and they are softer than the 1095 used in Ontario machetes, which are softer than my RAT-7, and those might all be softer than my old Schrade Walden 165OT (pre-1973), so is a function of heat treat. IIRC, the 1075 that Puma used before switching to SS was heat treated to 61Rc. I gave my nephew a 2017 Puma in SS and the box indicates 440A at 54-57Rc. The SS hunting knives I had in the '70s and later were all pretty hard, and some downright brittle. Schrade+, G96, Buck, Gerber, Case. I've snapped the blades on a few, so am more careful these days to not pry with them.

    I watched a video of a couple of guys abusing a Cold Steel SRK in AUS8 and couldn't believe what that blade took, and other versions of that blade (CarbonV and 3V) are supposed to be better. The only truly modern steel blade I have is Elmax. It doesn't even look like it should be sharp, but IS. It hasn't done anything other than shave my arm and look pretty, but it just got here a couple of days ago.

    For rough use, I'll take good heat treat 1095 or 5160 and be comfortable.
     
    PMSteve and Bobsdock like this.
  22. tomme boy

    tomme boy Guide

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2015
    Messages:
    1,578
    Likes Received:
    4,708
    Location:
    iowa
    i have a fillet knife that was a custom made in spring steel. No matter what I do I can not get it sharp. I have to take it to a professional sharpener to have it done. And he rolls his eyes when I come by with it. He hates it.

    It is really thin and it flexes way too much and is a real pain!

    But that is what makes it work SOOO GOOODDDDD! But I would NEVER buy one like it ever again. I don't use it much. I have other knives that work well. But for smaller delicate fish I use this knife and I am very careful on where I set it down and how I wash it.

    The old man that I bought it from died many years ago. I do not know the type of steel it is. All I got was from him was it's "Steel! That's all you need to know!"

    I would say that Carbon is easier to sharpen than stainless. Unless it is made out of whatever this fillet knife is made out of
     
  23. TheDandyLion

    TheDandyLion Scout

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2016
    Messages:
    283
    Likes Received:
    796
    Location:
    Oregon, United States
    I notice my Moras and other softer knives chip and roll when I carve walnut or mahogany, while the nicer steels might just dull without damaging. Really high end steels like S30V might go a much longer time without blunting and prevent damage from hard woods all together. Carbon steel pocket knives will rust and patina in my pocket (because of sweat) while the stainless ones won't.

    So yes, I can tell the difference between various classes or groups of steel but I can't exactly tell the difference between alloy "zyx132" and "abc098". It seems like caliber or ammunition debates to me, for example yes .30-06 is more powerful than .308 but I don't think the deer will notice :) Both do the job better than a .32 ACP. VG-10 might be better than well done 440C, but the chunk of wood doesn't care. Both do the job better than 420 stainless.
     
  24. T. Pollock

    T. Pollock T's Custom Outdoor Gear Vendor Supporter Bushcraft Friend Bushclass I

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2015
    Messages:
    11,337
    Likes Received:
    37,497
    Location:
    TN
    Generally speaking I can tell a difference yes. There are just too many variables though to be definitive (if that makes any sense).
     
    DomC, PMSteve, GoKartz and 2 others like this.
  25. Jacob

    Jacob Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2016
    Messages:
    947
    Likes Received:
    5,655
    I really like your summary, that’s how I look at it too. To piggyback a bit... it seems likely that if you used your really high carbide volume blades (think d2, s90v etc.) for mildly abusive chores or push cutting duties then the differences between them and the classic tough fine grained steels (ex. 01, 1095 etc.) are probably going to be more subtle. But if you use your high carbide steels for gentler tasks like meat processing the differences would probably be a lot more obvious.

    I wonder sometimes if the preference for simple and low alloy carbon steels in the bushcraft community is driven buy our love of wood working? It makes sense in that context.
     
    DomC and PMSteve like this.
  26. Bobsdock

    Bobsdock Still going Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2017
    Messages:
    3,415
    Likes Received:
    19,488
    Location:
    Shell knob mo.
    Yes.
    I like the 1095 easy to care for.
     
    DomC, PMSteve and highlander like this.
  27. Bookshelf

    Bookshelf Tracker

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2012
    Messages:
    175
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Eternal Sunshine...
    I won't lie I got bit my being a steal snob when my passion for blades got reignited, but now I like easy to sharpen knives. Some of the super steal knifes just take to damn long to sharpen.
     
    DomC and PMSteve like this.
  28. Midwest.Bushlore

    Midwest.Bushlore Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2017
    Messages:
    1,951
    Likes Received:
    6,371
    Location:
    Idaho panhandle
    I can tell with kitchen knives since I have a huge variety of them. Interestingly the time the differences are most apparent is when I sharpen them. Different steels feel and sound different on the stones, sometimes they smell different. Often I joke that buying a knife is like getting married but sharpening one is the honeymoon. Often I learn more about a blade from sharpening it once than from using it for a week.

    But yeah, different steels can vary a lot re edge retention. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that HT is as important as the kind of steel if not more so.
     
    DomC, PMSteve and GoKartz like this.
  29. slysir

    slysir Guide

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2013
    Messages:
    1,619
    Likes Received:
    7,216
    Location:
    Florida
    My wallet can definitely tell the difference between steels. When my A2 does absolutely everything I would expect a knife to do, CPM-3V is nothing more than an expensive luxury, totally unnecessary. Even ol' 1095 get's most jobs done to my satisfaction. And yes, I can tell the difference between my 1095, 52-100 and A2.

    -John
     
    DomC, PMSteve, Madwell and 2 others like this.
  30. batmanacw

    batmanacw Guide

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2015
    Messages:
    4,196
    Likes Received:
    11,658
    Location:
    NE Ohio
    I roll my eyes just a bit when people use nothing but stropping to sharpen their knives. I love the polished edge I get from stropping but it's always proceeded by a stone or ceramic to realign the edge and remove damage. The strop is just a short final step for me.

    An over stropped edge is a rounded over crappy cutting edge.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2018
    Coryphene, DomC, PMSteve and 2 others like this.
  31. Ptpalpha

    Ptpalpha Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2016
    Messages:
    4,595
    Likes Received:
    18,824
    Location:
    Michigan
    Why I get annoyed at other people's opinions regarding knife steels is beyond me.
    I should just pass these threads by without peeking in the door. I'm old enough to know better!

    Nope, I'm not going to bite.
     
  32. Richinva

    Richinva Lover of Sharpened Bits of Steel... Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2013
    Messages:
    1,493
    Likes Received:
    4,091
    Location:
    Suburbs of Deatonville, VA, USA
    "Knife Steels... Can You Really Tell the Difference?"

    For the most part, yes. In both sharpening and using. Like @Ptpalpha, I'm going to try and stay out of this with anything further................
     
    Coryphene, DomC, PMSteve and 2 others like this.
  33. J. Pierce

    J. Pierce Perpetually Off Topic, Sorry. Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2013
    Messages:
    2,471
    Likes Received:
    10,087
    Location:
    Wisconsin, the north end
    You are absolutely right, and I know better, but did it anyway.. . . Lol

    I think that everybody has vastly different expectations.
    One given steel can have widely different characteristics.

    I doubt we will solve this riddle, and all come to a consensus any time this morning.
     
    DomC, PMSteve, Ptpalpha and 3 others like this.
  34. GoKartz

    GoKartz Sharpaholic

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2017
    Messages:
    2,032
    Likes Received:
    9,290
    Location:
    Quakertown, PA
    I would add different experiences too, and different amounts of experience. Sort of like eating bear - some people think it tastes awful, some think it tastes awful if the bear's been eating a rotting whale or moose, and others think it tastes amazing, regardless of what its been eating (but especially blueberries). Are you basing that off of a particularly bad experience (the one time I ate rabbit I got horribly sick), several experiences (the couple times I had wild pig it was amazing), or a lifetime of full of experiences (my mom would WAY overcook meat when I was growing up; I've since learned the beauties of "properly" cooked meat).

    (And then there's people that don't like chocolate, or black coffee... But they're just wrong. :9:)
     
  35. wrath0r

    wrath0r Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2017
    Messages:
    1,020
    Likes Received:
    4,599
    Location:
    Eastern Massachusetts
    I can tell the difference in general swipes. Standard stainless, "super steel," tool steel, and high carbon steel. Beyond that, no, I can't really differentiate. I do know what I like for different purposes, though.
     
    PMSteve and J. Pierce like this.
  36. Jacob

    Jacob Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2016
    Messages:
    947
    Likes Received:
    5,655
    Aw c’mon man! You’ve probably played with more steels from great makers than anyone I know. Throw your hat in the ring!

    For motivation- it’s all just marketing hype anyway right?
     
    DomC, PMSteve, Ptpalpha and 2 others like this.
  37. arleigh

    arleigh Guide

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2015
    Messages:
    3,196
    Likes Received:
    8,432
    Location:
    southern california
    If a knife's edge stands up to dressing/processing out a bear and still maintains it's edge ,it's more than sufficient for me .
    When I was a kid either you took several knives or stone or both with what ever knife you could get .
    I preferred my grandfathers knives made of files and made them my self as he did .
    They can be made brittle and hard to sharpen but the edge retains well . At the same time you didn't baton them either .
    I mistakenly added hard facing rod to axes, and though digging through dirt and roots is great, however sharpening can only be done on the grinder .
    As for knowing steels , with out a rockwell harden test it's really tough to know any thing .
    Finished product is going to very even in production ,unless it's CNC all the way through the process .
     
    DomC and PMSteve like this.
  38. Ptpalpha

    Ptpalpha Supporter Supporter Bushcraft Friend

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2016
    Messages:
    4,595
    Likes Received:
    18,824
    Location:
    Michigan
    Pot-stirrer!!!
    Ok, I'll play.
    Favorite stainless = 154CM & S30V
    Favorite carbon = CPM3V
    Everything else is glorified aluminum.
    (mike drop, exit stage left...)
     
    Torrin, DomC, PMSteve and 6 others like this.
  39. 62flint

    62flint Scout

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2017
    Messages:
    727
    Likes Received:
    1,756
    In all actuality, the average guy doesn't know those steels exist let alone own and use them.
     
    Stophel, DomC, gdpolk and 5 others like this.
  40. OutdoorsFamilyMan

    OutdoorsFamilyMan Guide

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2012
    Messages:
    1,379
    Likes Received:
    2,049
    Location:
    Ohio
    I always asked the same question until recently. For almost a year I carried a ZT 0566 in Elmax steel as my work knife...I use it to cut open the thick tape on cardboard boxes, shrink wrap on pallets and thick cardboard at least a couple times a day. I did some figuring and estimated I use my work knife about 500 times a week (Mon-Fri)...So after 10 months of using this knife (roughly 20k times just at work,plus whatever I used it for at home) and not once did I sharpen it or strop it. It would cut through the cardboard like butter. A few months ago I switched to a different work pant that is more of a ripstop rather than cotton. The framelock side of the ZT was too slippery and it kept slipping out. I was afraid of losing it so I picked up a cheap Chinese ZT 0456 (didnt realize it was a knockoff til I got it) in Chinese d2 steel. In less than 2 months (about 4k cuts and never using it at home) it was so dull it would only tear through the cardboard....I still haven't sharpened the ZT and use it often when I'm not at work...
     
    Madwell, PeterPNL and PMSteve like this.
  41. Gumbi

    Gumbi Guide Bushclass I

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2012
    Messages:
    1,354
    Likes Received:
    1,993
    Location:
    Iowa
    I have a limited experience with good steels, but so far, I really like O-1 and A2, and 1095 cro-van that is used in the Kabar Becker knives.

    My first experience with 440 steel was a Swiss army knife. It was fairly easy to sharpen, but it didn't hold the edge very long. It was also brittle. I dropped my first one on a hardwood floor with the blade closed, and somehow, the last 1/2" of the blade bent over about 45 degrees. The tip snapped off when I tried to straighten it back with some pliers.

    I got a stainless folding Old Timer, which was a little better than the SAK. Edge retention was a bit better, but a bit more difficult to sharpen. I'm not sure what kind of stainless it is.

    I then bought a Gerber fixed blade knife, made of Chinese mystery steel. I could never get it truly sharp, and any kind of wood carving would dull it very badly and very quickly. I wish I had bought the Buck sheath knife I was looking at instead.

    Then I got a Mora stainless steel knife and I loved it! It took a lot more effort to sharpen due to the scandi grind, but I could get it extremely sharp and it had far better edge retention than any of my previous knives. Though the edge would roll if I made it a zero scandi. I stropped it to give the edge strength.
    IMG_20180615_225725.jpg

    Then I had a Becker bk2. After I convexed the secondary bevel and thinned it down, I really liked the 1095 cro van steel. I could beat on the knife, baton it through a lot of oak and maple, and still be able to make great shaving curls.
    IMG_20180615_225532.jpg

    Then I made myself a few knives out of O-1 steel, hardened by Peter's to 58rc. One is a scandi grind and the other is a sabre grind. The edges hold up better than anything else I'd had to that point, and I could get it razor sharp. At this point I realized that I much prefer sabre over scandi grinds. Edge stability is better than the stainless Mora.
    IMG_20180615_225621.jpg

    Lastly, made a few skinning knives out of A2 steel, heat treated by Peter's. They are full convex grinds, but kind of uneven, because I am not very good at convex grinds. I haven't tested them out myself, but I loaned one to a friend who skinned and quartered 3 deer with it before it needed sharpening. He was amazed because he was used to only getting through half a deer before having to stop and sharpen.
    IMG_20180615_225453.jpg

    All this to say, I really like O-1 and A2 for carbon steel hardened appropriately and I really can tell the difference between them and lesser quality steels, but I really can't speak to higher quality stainless steels, although Mora's stainless steel is acceptable.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2018
    Kona9, Coryphene, DomC and 3 others like this.
  42. Jacob

    Jacob Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2016
    Messages:
    947
    Likes Received:
    5,655
    Bwaaaa haaa ha! Gotcha!

    Well played.
     
    DomC, PMSteve and M.Hatfield like this.
  43. Prairiewolf

    Prairiewolf Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2012
    Messages:
    1,651
    Likes Received:
    1,381
    Location:
    Illinois
    Personally, I have been able to get my S30V knives sharper than any other kind of steel. I have had pretty good luck with good old 440C too. Recently I have acquired a few knives in 5160 that sharpen up very nicely. I have sometimes had a hard time getting a really good edge on 154CM blades. And sometimes 1095 will not take an edge for me - probably heat treat issues (or sloppy grinds).
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2018
  44. PMSteve

    PMSteve Old Timey Outdoorsman Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    6
    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2010
    Messages:
    8,209
    Likes Received:
    10,178
    Location:
    Relocated to Salt Lake City from Nevada
    I guess I'm just like this old man. If it cuts and can be sharpened, I'm good with it. If it's steel, that's all I need to know!

    Steve
     
    Madwell, GoKartz and J. Pierce like this.
  45. GoKartz

    GoKartz Sharpaholic

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2017
    Messages:
    2,032
    Likes Received:
    9,290
    Location:
    Quakertown, PA
    I think being able to work with and learn the steel you have is all you really need, unless you want to get “into it.” Just like some people are satisfied with a regular Mora and never ask anything else, or are happy with that old steel pot.

    Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) for some of us, we can enjoy the variety available.
     
    J. Pierce and Madwell like this.
  46. Gumbi

    Gumbi Guide Bushclass I

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2012
    Messages:
    1,354
    Likes Received:
    1,993
    Location:
    Iowa
    Many of my friends ask me about whether certain knives are any good to buy. And most of the knives they ask about are made of Chinese mystery steel. I would be very dissapointed with the performance of the blades they ask about, but they are very casual users who wouldn't be able to tell the difference and can't sharpen them anyway. And they wouldn't be willing to spend more than $30 on a knife anyway. So I try to be diplomatic about it, and not tell them that their new knife is a piece of junk, but pick out the features I like about it. (Yes I know that you can get decent performing knives for under $30, but you can't get them at the gas station where my friends apparently buy their knives, and my friends would say that they don't look very "cool".
     
    Madwell and GoKartz like this.
  47. Leshy_apprentice

    Leshy_apprentice Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2016
    Messages:
    622
    Likes Received:
    2,170
    Location:
    Maine
    It's personally a "yes and no...but mostly no" for me.

    I understand that certain broad categories of steel have differing material properties: hardness, ease of sharpening, how thin/sharp an edge it will take, durability of edge with use, propensity of a thinner edge to "roll," etc.

    But I also understand that manufacturing processes like heat treatment for example have an impact on final blade qualities, and that such manufacturing processes are variable by the makers, and sometimes it can be hit or miss by the same maker with the same material.

    So I can sometimes tell the difference in properties between some knives, but I don't know if it's possible to point with certainty to the material alone as the reason when manufacturing process is also such a big factor. I'm certainly not discerning enough to do so with certainty.

    I have good working knives made by cheap manufacturers with cheap materials, but they get the job done and then some. I have some middle ground working knives too. I like pros and cons of all of them, and I don't think it is just the various steels used alone which accounts for the variation. I don't have high end, big money super knives because I don't want to invest so much in a working tool when the cheap and mid-range knives perform the tasks I need just fine. I don't need a super-engineered knife to perform general woods and camping tasks, though I'm sure they are very nice to handle, don't get me wrong, and maybe I would notice some difference in the steel.
     
    GoKartz likes this.
  48. Leshy_apprentice

    Leshy_apprentice Supporter Supporter

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2016
    Messages:
    622
    Likes Received:
    2,170
    Location:
    Maine
    Just as an example, I still have my first pocket knife: a folding trapper knife I got when I was 15. I use it ALL THE TIME, and I think I've only sharpened it 3 or 4 times in 20 years! It's still sharp!

    That must be some great steel, right? Well, probably not. It is a Made in Pakistan cheapie stainless steel folding knife I thought was "cool" at 15. But it's held up like a tank and I am amazed at how this blade just stays sharp forever even though it's used all the time.

    That shouldn't be, right? Cheap material, sweat shop manufacturer probably. But the proof is in the pudding after 20 years, and this knife still folds smoothly on the hinges and the blade steel is some kind of miracle that gets used daily but only dulls every 5 years. Go figure.
     
  49. TAHAWK

    TAHAWK Guide

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2011
    Messages:
    2,771
    Likes Received:
    7,990
    Location:
    Ohio
    The cook makes the good cake far more than the brand of flour. I try to identify good "cooks."
     
  50. GoKartz

    GoKartz Sharpaholic

    Blog Posts:
    0
    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2017
    Messages:
    2,032
    Likes Received:
    9,290
    Location:
    Quakertown, PA
    Ah I have friends like that. I try to introduce them to the cult of Mora, but they’re like “but... dragons!” To which I invariably sigh and say “you’re right, that one does have dragons.” Haha if they’re a close friend I invariably gift them a Mora sooner or later just in case...
     
    Gumbi likes this.

Share This Page