What's In a Blade?


Whether culinary, hunting or combat you should pay particular attention to the type of steel used in the blade. Steel is really the essence of the blade and primarily responsible for how the knife performs. Steel is essentially an alloy 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, heated, forged and quenched. Ultimately, the different types of steel used in knife blades each exhibit varying degrees of these five key properties:

What's In a Blade?


Whether culinary, hunting or combat you should pay particular attention to the type of steel used in the blade. Steel is really the essence of the blade and primarily responsible for how the knife performs. Steel is essentially an alloy 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, heated, forged and quenched. Ultimately, the different types of steel used in knife blades each exhibit varying degrees of these five key properties:







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Hardness

Hardness is the ability to resist deforming when subject to stress and applied forces. Hardness in knife steels is often referred to as 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 and also the ability to flex without breaking. The measurement of toughness is less standardised as hardness so it’s
often subjective. What we do know is 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 comes from softer surfaces coming in contact with rougher ones. Adhesive wear occurs when debris is dislodged from one surface and attaches to the other.

Corosion Resistance

Corrosion resistance is the ability to resist corrosion such as rust and other oxidisations. Note that a high resistance to corrosion does involve a sacrifice in the overall edge performance, hence stainless steels are not really ideal for heavy duty purposes where long sharpness and edge retention is needed.


Edge Retention

Edge Retention represents how long the blade will retain its sharpness when subject to periods of use. The measurement of edge retention lacks any defined set of standards and so much of the data is subjective. Edge retention is a combination of wear resistance and edges that resist deformation.

No Perfect Combination

Unfortunately the “best knife steel” is not simply a case of maximising each of the properties above....it’s a trade off. It simply isn't possible to produce a knife set that has a perfect score for each property. 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 its edge.


Hardness

Hardness is the ability to resist deforming when subject to stress and applied forces. Hardness in knife steels is often referred to as strength and is generally measured using the Rockwell C scale (aka “HRC”).

No Perfect Combination

Toughness is the ability to resist damage like cracks or chips when subject to impact and also the ability to flex without breaking. The measurement of toughness is less standardised as hardness so it’s often subjective. What we do know is the harder the steel the less tough it’s likely to be.

Toughness

Wear resistance is the steel’s ability to withstand damage from both abrasive and adhesive wear. Abrasive wear comes from softer surfaces coming in contact with rougher ones. Adhesive wear occurs when debris is dislodged from one surface and attaches to the other.

Wear Resistance

Corrosion resistance is the ability to resist corrosion such as rust and other oxidisations. Note that a high resistance to corrosion does involve a sacri ce in the overall edge performance, hence stainless steels are not really ideal for heavy duty purposes where long sharpness and edge retention is needed.

Corrosion Resistance

Edge Retention represents how long the blade will retain its sharpness when subject to periods of use. The measurement of edge retention lacks any defined set of standards and so much of the data is subjective. Edge retention is a combination of wear resistance and edges that resist deformation.

Edge Retention

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.