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Material Witness: V20N5

By David Lake

The Metallurgy of a Blade

This is a discussion for the ages… which steel makes the best knife?

If only there were one simple answer. It all depends on the burden of intended use, actual use, the frequency of use, and potential abuse one puts on a knife. As a basis for the argument, one must first identify the primary use of a knife. Then consider cost. Then maybe, future investment value as many high-end and custom blades appreciate better than most publicly traded stocks and commodities.

Let’s divide the field down the middle- a knife will either be used in a professional capacity or as casual every day carry, (EDC). The professional knife will be taken to task in the course of one’s job or duty. Or maybe remove a seatbelt from a victim of a motor vehicle accident. The professional knife may even see real violence if deployed in close hand-to-hand combat. The professional knife may very well be counted on to protect life, limb and freedom. Or maybe just to skin and dress wild game. The EDC knife, for casual daily carry, may be used to cut packaging or portion food, or may only ever be used as a letter opener. Though, at times the EDC pocket knife could be deployed to protect life and limb from an evil-doer. So the EDC knife may actually get to save the day.

The demands on one knife will never quite be the same as another. We can certainly make sound suppositions about what’s best. Modern technology has lent itself well to the advance of metallurgy to expand steel’s range of abilities. As diverse as modern steel selection is, they’re all very, very good materials. No steel of reputable pedigree should totally and completely disappoint. So even with the wide range of choice, most of our knife steels today will in fact perform satisfactorily, most of the time. Only when pushed to extreme limits will steel ever expose its shortcomings or strengths.

The steels listed and compared here all fall into the categories of Stainless, Carbon, or Tool steel. Stainless steel...

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