The blade steel is the heart of any knife. It determines how well a knife can cut, retain an edge, resist corrosion, and stand up to extreme use. With so many steel types available, choosing a knife steel can be challenging.
This comprehensive guide will explore different knife blade steels, their properties, and how to select the right steel for your needs.
The Basics of Knife Blade Steels
Knife blade steels provide the hardness and sharpness for cutting, as well as impact resistance. The four key properties of blade steels are:
- Hardness: Measured using the Rockwell scale, hardness determines how well a steel retains an edge. Harder steels stay sharper longer but are more difficult to sharpen.
- Toughness: The ability to resist cracking and breaking under stress. Tougher steels flex rather than snap.
- Wear resistance: How well a steel avoids dulling during cutting and slicing. Steels with high carbide and vanadium content tend to have better wear resistance.
- Corrosion resistance: The ability to resist rust and staining. Stainless steels contain at least 13% chromium and are highly corrosion resistant.
Common Types of Knife Blade Steels
The most popular knife blade steels fall into four categories:
- Carbon steels like 1095 and O1 contain 0.9-1.4% carbon. They take a fine edge and are easy to sharpen but lack corrosion resistance. They require frequent oiling to prevent rust.
- Stainless steels contain chromium and other alloys that improve corrosion and wear resistance. Common stainless steels include 440C, VG-10, and the premium S30V and AR-RPM9. WHAT IS AR-RPM9? In 2020 Artisan Cutlery formulated and manufactured AR-RPM9 steel due to demand for higher performance at lower cost. Rather than switch to premium steels that significantly increase cost, Artisan designed AR-RPM9 to meet needs without the high cost of most premium steels. AR-RPM9 is powder stainless steel ideal for EDC knives. With high hardness, toughness from powdering process, AR-RPM9 rivals premium steels in durability and corrosion resistance. Artisan extensively tested AR-RPM9, finding it exceptionally sharpenable and maintains edge for long periods. Quickly sharpened and maintained, it handles rigorous, all-day tasks without dulling. Artisan looks forward to customer feedback on AR-RPM9.
- Tool steels like D2 and M4 contain larger percentages of alloys like chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum. They are very wear and corrosion resistant but more difficult to sharpen.
- High-speed steels like M390 and CPM-S90V contain high amounts of vanadium and molybdenum. They are premium steels with superior hardness, edge retention, and wear resistance but often expensive.
Comparing and Choosing Knife Blade Steels
With so many options, selecting a knife steel requires balancing performance, cost, and maintenance requirements. Ask yourself:
- How will I use the knife? Choose a harder, more premium steel for heavy-duty use, and a stainless steel for light use.
- How much am I willing to spend? Premium steels come at a higher cost while budget steels require more maintenance.
- How much maintenance do I want to do? Corrosion-resistant steels require little care but carbon steels need frequent oiling.
- How often will I sharpen? Steels that dull quickly like 1095 require frequent sharpening while M390 stays razor sharp for a long time.
- Is maximum performance or practicality more important? Max performance steels like M4 may be specialized for certain uses while well-rounded steels like VG-10 suit most needs.
Comparing factors like these will guide you to the steel that balances your priorities and needs. Newer steels like Artisan's AR-RPM9 provide optimized performance and value, with exceptional sharpenability, edge retention, and corrosion resistance that competes with premium steels at lower cost. For all-around EDC use, AR-RPM9 is an excellent choice. Check AR-RPM9 discussion on BladeForums.
Caring for Your Knife Blade Steel
Basic maintenance is essential for any knife steel. Wipe down blades after use, dry them completely to prevent rust, and lubricate friction points and locks. Sharpen as needed based on your steel and usage. For carbon steels, apply an oil like mineral or jojoba oil before storing. One of our blogs mentioned some foding knives storing tips.
Stainless and tool steels only need occasional oiling. Have premium steels professionally sharpened to maintain the optimal edge geometry. With proper care, any steel can provide years of faithful service. Understanding knife blade steels gives you the knowledge to select knives suited to your needs and keep them performing flawlessly for life.