Hey, and welcome back. Trying something new today. Allow me to introduce what hopefully will be the first of our new video rambles. This one is a review of the Meadowlark II from Byrd.
Hey there! And welcome back to my little corner of cyberspace. I hope you're having a great week so far, I know I am.
My ramble today is a bit different from what I normally do, but I hope you'll find it useful any way. As many of you know, my mother has developed dementia and so I've had to hire companions to help us keep her safe and sound. Over all, I've had pretty decent luck. Two of the ladies have almost become part of the family in many ways, and they are as devoted to mom as I could wish. Yet one and all of them, for what ever reason, seem to have never been taught how to properly care for good kitchen knives! Needless to say, this came as a rather large shock to me; and it leaves me wondering just how many others out there were never taught how to take care of their knives as well.
The first thing to understand is that a good kitchen knife is more like a hunting knife, or even a good pocket knife than a table knife that comes as part of a table setting. Unless you have a set of "Ginsu" type knives from Walmart or Target, or any other thrifty store, a good kitchen knife is a finely crafted tool designed to cut with little or no force needed. This means a good, high quality steel that's been properly heat treated and fitted with a handle or grip that fits the hand smoothly allowing for a firm, comfortable grip. And as such, it needs to be cared for in certain ways; especially since it probably se you back a pretty penny!
The first, and perhaps most important rule of taking care of any good knife is never, ever wash it in the dishwasher! Always hand wash your knife in warm, soapy water and immediately hand dry it and put it away. Why? Three reasons really.
First there's the handle. Even today with man made materials becoming ever more prevalent, many good knives have wood handles; and a dishwasher is entirely too harsh an environment for any fine wood implement. I mean, you wouldn't wash your $1000.00 dining room table with 140 degree water and allow it to air dry, or bow dry it with hot air! Before long you'd end up with a table that was dry, cracking, and probably warping into a hunk of junk you'd expect to find in the landfill. So why do that to the finely crafted wood handles on your knife? Before long, maybe even after the second wash, you'll notice that the handles don't feel as smooth as they used to in your hand. Then, as the wood continues to dry out after repeated washings, they'll start to crack; and sooner or later they'll get to the point where they actually won't be safe to use any more. By hand washing them, they'll last much longer. You'll still want to oil them with a good, food safe oil like Linseed oil or maybe Grapeseed oil now and them, but at least by hand washing your knife handles have a chance to last long enough to pass them on to your grandkids. If you continue to wash them in the dishwasher I can almost guarantee they won't last 5 years even if you're lucky.
The second thing to keep in mind is that in a dishwasher, items are not secured firmly. As a result there is always some movement of the items that will allow one item to bang into another. And when the item being banged into is a knife, you're going to end up with nicks, scratches, and rolled edges. Granted a good sharpening can take care of these little problems, but still. Allow enough nicks to form, and your prized $200.00 Shun Classic will cut no better than a $20.00 Walmart special; and maybe not as well. By hand washing with a soft cloth, all of that can be avoided.
The final reason has to do with the way a knife blade is made. Forging and grinding may be the methods used to shape a blade, but unless the blade has been properly tempered and heat treated it will never hold an edge. The blade needs to be tempered so that it reaches a hardness that will allow it to stand up everyday use, and then it needs to be heat treated so that it isn't too brittle. I know, I know. That sounds like a contradiction doesn't it. But consider a diamond. A diamond is the hardest substance known to man, which is why diamond edge saws are used to cut extremely tough metal and other hard things. But hit a diamond with a hammer and you'll find out that it's as brittle as glass. And so your knife needs to be heat treated so that it isn't brittle, which involves heating the blade up and then cooling it down under controlled conditions. But what happens if it is then heated up again, and this time isn't allowed to cool down under those controlled conditions? If it's only done once, probably nothing. But if it happens time and time again, especially if it's heated up to the hotter settings of a dishwasher using a Sani-rinse setting, then the blade will slowly loose it's tempering and start to degrade. After a while, your knife will no longer hold an edge the way it should and once again your prized blade will be no better than a flea market bargain basement knife.
So you hand wash your knives. But what then? Why you dry them of course, and you dry them carefully and immediately. Letting them air dry is almost as big a no-no as putting them in the dishwasher. Why? Simple. Any knife, given enough time, will start to rust. True, stainless steel will resist visible rust for many, many years. But even stainless steel will eventually rust, and if your knife is high carbon it'll rust almost just from looking at it cross-eyed! And there's nothing in the world that will cause rust to appear faster than water. So dry them immediately with a soft towel and put them away as soon as you're done drying them.
But now we have to consider where you keep your knives. I've been in more than a few homes where knives are carefully put in a drawer, but there's nothing in that drawer to keep them from banging up against each other as the drawer is opened and close; see reason number two for why knives should not be washed in a dishwasher. Why in the world would you hand wash your knives, and then allow one of the main reason for doing so to happen during storage? The least you can do is place each knife blade in a protective cover! Better yet, buy yourself a good knife block or a magnetic strip designed for storing knives. I've seen the magnetic strips sold at Ace Hardware for as little as $20.00 and on Amazon.com for as little as $15.00. Cheap indeed when you're talking about caring for a set of knives that could easily run you $300.00 or more.
Finally, you need to keep your knives sharp. Contrary to what I overheard one man telling his son at a recent gun and knife show; the sharper you keep your knives, the safer they are. And the reason is just plain common sense. The sharper your knife, the easier it is to cut; so you don't end up putting a ton of pressure behind the act. The more force you need to use to cut anything, the more likely it is that you won't be able to stop the cutting motion once you're through what ever it is you're trying to cut; and that will almost inevitably lead to cutting yourself. But to paraphrase Alton Brown, that's another ramble.
So there you have it. The proper way to care for your kitchen knives. If you need advice on buying them, well I've already done rambles on knife steel, blade shapes, knife grinds, and handle materials; and those rambles apply to kitchen knives just as much as they do the hunting and tactical knives I more commonly write about. However my wife has talked me into writing a self published e-book on knives that I will be offering through this site once I've had it edited, sort of a Knives for Dummies type thing (though of course copyright laws mean I couldn't call it that unless the company who publishes the For Dummies line of books decides they want my little book as one of their own). In the mean time, I hope the rest of your week goes as well as it has so far if not even better and I look forwards to seeing you here again. And as always; remember, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!
Hey there! And welcome back to my somewhat warped little corner of cyberspace. I'm glad you could join me.
A couple of weeks ago I started rambling on about the various materials they use to make knife handles, and I've covered the natural materials fairly well. I had originally planned to do metals in this ramble and then look at man made materials next time, but instead I think I'm going to combine the two into a single ramble. After all, there's just not that many of the two compared to natural materials; so let's go ahead and get started.
When it comes to metal knife handles, almost every knife I know of uses one of three metals. Stainless Steel, aluminum, or titanium. Of the three, steel is the most scratch resistant but also the heaviest, aluminum tends to be the lightest, and titanium tends to be the most durable as well as the most expensive. Aluminum and titanium also can be anodized which can result in some spectacular colors, and of course all three can have a "brushed" look applied. Most stainless steel knives in my experience also tend to have some other material mated with the steel, most often in the form of an inset with rubber and plastic being the most common. The reason many knife makers do this is that stainless steel tends to feel rather slippery in the hand and so they add another material to improve the grip. I've also noticed that aluminum seems to get colder in the winter than either steel or titanium for some reason. Admittedly this rather subjective and you may find no noticeable difference, but I have run into several people who agree with me about this somewhat perplexing observation. I'll also freely admit that as a general rule I'm not all that fond of metal handled knives, though there are a few exceptions. The old Colt 668 fixed blade knife comes to mind, however the bankruptcy proceeding Colt went through back in January ended the production of all Colt knives for the foreseeable future so finding one may prove a bit of a challenge.
When you start talking man made materials, synthetics to use the proper terminology, things start to get a bit more colorful as well as wide ranging in both quality and price. Some of course use plastic to simulate natural materials, and some of them are really quite amazing in their similarity to the real thing. Still, as a general rule very few knife makers are going to use plastic on any of their good knives so it's probably best to stay away from most knives with plastic handles unless you happen to come across one of the rare exceptions.
Perhaps the most commonly used synthetic for knives is micarta. Originally developed by Westinghouse around 1910 as an electrical insulator, it is made by layering sheets of some material impregnated with resins (normally phenolic resins) and then exposing the built up mess to heat and pressure to form a very durable "board". The sheets can be linen, cotton, paper, or even fiberglass; and when two or more colors of sheet material is used, the resulting knife handle can be truly striking. The drawback is that micarta tends to extremely smooth, and is one of the more difficult materials to work. As a result micarta handled knives tend to be more expensive than the other synthetics.
Similar to Micarta is a material called G-10. Like micarta, G-10 is a laminate, but it uses glass fibers instead of cloth or paper. Almost as durable, G-10 is also used as an electrical insulator in many industries, but where most micarta tends to be of a darker hue due to the type of resin used, G-10 can be found in almost any color you can imagine. It also tends to be much easier to work which normally translates into a lower cost to you, the knife buyer.
Another laminate you may come across is commonly referred to as carbon fiber. Keep in mind that carbon fibers can be one of the strongest materials around, much stronger than steel in fact. The only problem is that all that strength only runs in one direction. As a result a knife with a carbon fiber handle is kind of like a diamond in a way. A diamond is indeed the hardest material any where, and can be used to cut through even the toughest item, but they're so brittle that if you hit it with a hammer all you'll have left is diamond dust. Carbon fiber handles are also extremely labor intensive, for about the only place you'll find these handles are on the very highest grade knives around. I mean, this stuff is expensive!
At the other end of the price spectrum is a material known as Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon, or FRN for short. The earliest example of FRN is a material called Zytel, which was introduced by DuPont back in the 1950's. Unlike the others mentioned so far however, the fiberglass fibers in FRN tend to run in completely random directions instead of being lined up neatly. This results in a material that can be injection molded in almost any form you like, which helps to keep costs way down. I know some feel that FRN isn't any better than plastic or rubber as a knife handle, but personally I find it to be as durable as you could possibly ask. In fact, my most commonly carried EDC knife, a Kershaw Freefall, has a FRN handle and the knife has yet to fail me in anyway.
One of the newer handle materials on the market is an acrylic based product called Kirinite. Available in a wide variety of colors and color combinations, you can find kirinite in almost any color you could possibly want. It works almost identically to wood, and, at least so far, seems to be as durable as you could possibly want. On the other hand the only major knife company I'm aware of that is currently using kirinite on any of their knives is Case, so at least for now you're most likely to see this material used on custom knives only; unless you're lucky enough to live near a major Case dealer.
And that my friends is the nitty gritty of knife handles. Yes, there are some out there who will think this whole series of rambles about the different materials that can be used to make a handle for your favorite knife silly in the extreme. Most of them will try to tell you that the handle really doesn't mean anything, but I personally think they're nuts. A knife with a poor handle will fail you every time. If the handle doesn't fit your hand right, or is made of a material that allows it to slip in you grip, then the knife will be a danger to you and anyone beside you. So pay attention to that handle. Pick the knife up and see how it fits in your hand even before you pay any attention to what style of blade or blades it has or what those blades are made of. If you can't keep a grip on it, then even the best blade isn't going to do you any good.
But for now it's late and alas, I must be up all too early in the morning. So until we meet again in this little corner of cyberspace I call my own, I wish you well dear reader. And remember, if it's worth doing then it's worth doing with attitude!
Welcome back my friend. It's Wednesday, so it's time to talk knives again and last week we had started to discuss handle materials. So let's see where we were then.
So, you've already listen to me ramble on about the different categories; which admittedly was kind of boring and limited. So why don't we start looking at the first of those categories, namely natural materials such as bone and wood. Is there any thing that can't be used to make a knife handle? Not really. In fact is you go back far enough you'll find just about any natural material you can name used somewhere or other, even stone! So what's used today?
One material that's been used for thousands of years, and is still used even today is of course wood; and why not. There's very little out there more beautiful than a nice piece of wood that's been lovingly shaped and worked. Rosewood, cocobolo, ironwood, even birds eye maple, the possibilities are as endless as the type of trees in the forest. Wood is pleasing to the eye and comfortable in the hand, and some are as durable as you could ask. Archeologists have found oak foundations in various parts of the world that are 100's, even thousands of years old, and still as solid as the day they were made. However not all wood will last like this, and like almost all natural materials it will suffer much more from abuse than metal or man made materials. So if your wood handled knife gets wet or dirty, wash it gently, dry it well with a soft towel as best you can, then set it aside to dry naturally over the course of a day or two. Then when it's dry, rub it well with mineral oil or some natural wood oil. And for God's sake, whatever you do, don't put it in a hot oven, on top of a stove, or by the fire! You'll dry it out so completely it'll crack and then you'll have no choice but to either replace the handle or replace the knife.
Another material that's been in use at least as long as wood, and possibly longer, is leather. After all, when man was still living in caves and chipping his blades out of flint and obsidian, what was easier to work with? It cut easily, much more easily than trees, and there was plenty to go around after each successful hunt. Even today there are many knives out there with leather handles, but most of them use what are often referred to as "spacers". Wrapping a handle in leather often doesn't work well over time since leather can stretch leaving you with a grip that can turn in your hand at the worst possible minute. Leather spacers, which look like washers made of leather, form the handles of some of the more iconic fighting knives around; from the famous Ka-bar of the U.S. military, to the V-42 dagger used by the British "Devil Brigade" in WWII. The Premium Bowie from Magnum by Boker also uses them, interspaced with piece of cocobolo wood and the entire handle polished to a fair-the-well.
Perhaps the most beloved handle material for many knife collectors is bone. Almost as easy to work as wood, bone can be smooth or rough and died in almost any color imaginable. Today cow bone is the bone of choice for most knife makers, mainly because as long as people eat beef there will be a steady supply. Plus it's even more durable than most woods, so it'll last a long, long time.
Then there's Stag or antler. All antler material from legitimate suppliers come from antlers that have been "shed" by the animals in the spring before the new antlers start to come in, and it's natural texture make for a great grip. However poorly fitted antler can easily come lose from the tang resulting in a knife that can turning your hand, so I personally would recommend spending a bit more to make sure you get a quality fit and, possibly, sambar stag antler from India since it has a much smaller "morrow" core than other breeds.
Along the same lines of antler would be horns. Unlike antlers, most animals do not shed their horns; but since true horns are, believe it or not, a form of hair it does not hurt the animal to have their horns cut off once a year or so. Perhaps the most popular horns are buffalo, sheep, and types of ivory; though getting ivory legally is getting tougher and tougher as countries crack down on poachers more and more. Indeed, every new manufacture knife I've seen in the past 2 years with an "ivory" handle was actually using a synthetic material of some sort instead.
Similar to ivory, but no where near as durable is Abalone and Mother of Pearl. Both materials are made from the shell of various mollusks, and while beautiful as all get out, it doesn't tend to be very durable. For this reason they tend to be used mainly for "gentlemen's" pocket knives which will rarely see any heavy use or presentation knives that are not intended to be used at all. It also tends to be one of the most expensive of the natural handle materials since it can literally take a ton of muscles and oysters to get a pair of pieces big enough for one knife.
Near the beginning I mentioned using stone for knife handles, and I know I heard at least one or two snorts of disbelieve out there; but stone really is used for knife handles even today. Most of the time it's a semi-precious stone such as turquoise, but I've also seen fossilized wood and mammoth tusks. Don't believe me? Go look. You'll find knives from Case, Rough Rider, Colt, and, some of my personal favorites though I have not yet managed to become a dealer for them (and truthfully, since they're so small, probably never will), Santa Fe Stone Works.
Finally, there's a group that some are still arguing over which category they belong in; namely the stabilized woods. What happens here is that the wood (or any natural material that's porous enough for the chemicals toward their way in) is put in a vacuum tank along with a resin like material and the resin is forced into the wood and then cured, most often by applying heat. The result is a material with the natural beauty of wood and the durability of a synthetic.
And there in a nut shell are the choices. Truthfully, I find the natural materials so beautiful that they comprise most of the knives in my personal collection. But next week I'll ramble a bit about the synthetic material currently in use, which, in all honesty, tend to be superior in terms of durability; even if many of them don't hold a candle to the natural materials in looks. But hey, some don't agree with me on this; and isn't that part of what makes life so grand? Things would be dreadfully boring if we all agreed on everything after all. But until then, I hope your weeks all you could ever hope for and may the god of your choice smile down on you. And as always, remember, if it's worth doing then it's worth doing with attitude!
Hey, and welcome back! I hope you've been enjoying my little rambles on knives. So far we've looked primarily at the blade, which is only reasonable since it's the blade that does the work, right? Well sort of. As we've seen, the material a blade is made out of, the style of blade used, and the final grind all have huge impacts on just what a knife can do best and what it's main weaknesses may be, but it's more than a little difficult to hold onto a knife with out a proper handle. Yet the number of things that handle can be made out can sometimes be so overwhelming as to leave a person new to knives curled up in a ball somewhere staring into space. I mean, one web site I saw listed over 24 different handle materials to choose from, and that still leaves some items out and others put under listings that make them sound like it's all the same thing. So how do you choose?
Unfortunately, there's just too many choices to cover all of them in one ramble, even one as long as I sometimes find myself delivering; but I can at least try to start breaking it down for you. So for today, let's look at the three main categories and then in later rambles I can try to start breaking each category down a bit.
The first, and oldest category would be natural materials such as wood, bone, horns, antlers, mother of pearl, etc. These are of course the oldest materials used, and some knife collectors won't even consider a knife that doesn't use one of these traditional materials. These materials have a natural beauty to them that has shined down through the ages, and are generally self renewing. Even those materials that come from animals, with the exception of bone, are most often obtained with no injury to the animal. I mean think about it. Almost every animal out there looses it's horns or antlers at least once a year, and for those that don't it's rarely dangerous or painful for the material to be harvested in a humane way. They tend to be tough, durable, and for the most part relatively cheap. The biggest drawback is that unless they're stabilized, they will start to deteriorate over time. Of course, if you take care of your knife and don't abuse it that may take two or three generations, but still.
The next category would be metals, most often stainless steel, aluminum, or titanium (though occasionally other metals may be used for one reason or another). Now I must admit that I'm not all that fond of metal hilts or handles, but they do have their advantages. For one thing they're tough as, well, metal. So you end up with a handle that is as durable as hell, and can be finished in a wide variety or ways. Some even have other materials used as inserts which can greatly improve the grip feel. However they often get hot or cold depending on conditions much faster than other handle materials, which can make holding the knife somewhat uncomfortable under extreme weather conditions.
Then we come to the synthetic materials. This can be anything from plastic to a carbon fiber, fiberglass, or even resin based materials. Some, such as FRN (Fiber Reinforced Nylon), can be molded into just about any shape you want. Others, such as Micarta and G-10, must be worked and shaped in a method very similar to the way you'd make a handle out of wood. In this group of materials, perhaps more than any other knife handle materials, you really do get what you pay for though. G-10 for example in almost as durable as metal, doesn't scratch as easily, and can be made in a wide variety of colors. What's more it doesn't absorb or loose heat the way metal will. However it does tend to be on the expensive side. Plastics on the other hand run the gamut from cheap and flimsy to ones that are tough as nails. However unless the plastic is reinforced in some method, it will crack or break much more easily that almost any other knife handle material out there. For those who might be interested Walter Sorrells, a highly respected custom knife maker, has a video showing how to make Micarta here.
And there you go. A very fast and dirty look at knife handles. Not a lot of information you say?Well, yeah, you're kinda right there, and I do apologize. But if I started trying to discuss each type of material used I'd have an entire book! A thin book maybe, but still a book's worth of information, and then where would I be? So come back next week and the two weeks after, and we'll start to take a look at each category in a little more depth. I'm figuring on starting with natural materials next week; but hey, if you'd rather I start with synthetics, or even metal, just let me know in a comment post to this ramble. Or you can go to my Facebook page and leave a comment there. Either way my friends, if enough of you want me to start somewhere else I'll be more than happy to do so. Or maybe you have a specific question you'd like me to address. Again, just leave a comment in either place and I'll get you an answer some way or another.
But until then, I wish you clear skies and smooth sailing until we meet again here in my little corner of cyberspace. Take care my friend, and remember; if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!
Half way through another week. Lord time seems to fly, but that makes it Wednesday and timer another ramble about knives. So far we've looked at the steel they're made of and the style of blades you might find, so today I thought I might take a look at the grinds used in blades and how the grind effects a knife's cutting ability.
Now if you're fairly new to knives, or even if you're not but always used to assume a knife is a knife is knife; you may not know just what a blade smith means when he talks about the grind. Well no matter how a knife gets it's form, be it forging or removing excess metal until the blade takes shape, sooner or later you have to take it to a grinder of some sort to put the final edge on. That grinder may take the form of an old fashioned bench grinder, a belt grinder, or even an even older fashioned whet stone and a set of sandpaper sheets, but you simply cannot put an edge that will really and truly cut without it; and the type of grind you use can have a huge impact on the finished knife.
Probably the oldest, and still most common type of grind is the V-grind, sometimes called a Scandi grind or Scandinavian grind. With this grind, the blade is left the same thickness as the spine until you get close to the cutting edge and then it's ground to the appropriate angle to form the edge; often about 25 degrees. This makes for a great field knife since the bevel is rather obvious, making field sharpening fairly easy. However this also makes for an edge that dulls more easily and can require more work to keep sharp. It's also a great shape for whittling since again the cutting edge is fairly obvious and easy to see. The other drawback is that if your spine is fairly heavy, it can be difficult to cut through some items as the back tends to get hung up once you get too deep.
Similar to the V-grind is the Flat Grind. With this one, the grind starts right at the spine and goes straight down to the cutting edge. This produces a knife with the potential for a much sharper edge than commonly found on a V-grind, but at the cost of removing a fair amount of metal from the blade resulting in a weaker, more delicate blade. It's biggest strength is that the single flat grind makes it another easily field sharpened knife. Just lay the side of the blade flat on your stone and you're good to go. This type of grind is most commonly seen on various chef's knives and other professional kitchen knives, though Spyderco and a few others do use a flat grind on several of their pocket knives.
The next grind is a Saber grind, also called a High Flat Grind. Somewhere between a V-grind and a Flat grind, a Saber grind starts it's angle closer to the spine but still leaves a fair amount of metal coming down flush from the spine resulting in a edge that's almost as sharp as a true flat grind but still retains the additional strength of the spine similar to that enjoyed by a V-grind. This tends to result in an excellent compromise between strength and sharpness and can be found in many survival knives and hunting knives.
One grind that is increasingly popular today is the Hollow grind or Razor grind as it's sometimes known. With this one a concave curve is ground into the blade from near the spine to the edge giving you a edge second to none for sharpness. It is this reason why this ground was used for straight razors back in the day, and it's still popular for hunting and skinning knives. The drawback here is that the sharper you make the edge, the less metal you have supporting it resulting in an edge that needs constant attention in the form of honing and sharpening.
Another one that is gaining in popularity among some in the business is the Convex grind. On this one the grind is also curved, but in the opposite direction from the hollow grind. This results in an cutting edge that is extremely durable and holds an edge quite well. The biggest drawback is that it requires speciality equipment to sharpen. Still, if you're willing to pay to have your knife professionally sharpened or to spend the money on the right sharpening equipment, this grind produces a survival knife that can cut and chop almost anything you throw at it.
Then there's the Chisel grind. Like it's namesake, a chisel grind only grinds away one side of the blade, leaving the opposing side straight and flush from spine to cutting edge. Although this grind also requires a lot of maintenance, making it something of a specialty blade; it's is fantastic at what it does both for the woodworker and the chef who is most likely to find this edge on his or her cleaver.
Finally there's the Complex, or Double grind. As it's name implies, this grind actually uses two grinds or bevels to produce the cutting edge. This is extremely popular with manufacturers since it allows them to use one grind in the initial forming of the blade and a second grind, which may or may not be a different type, to form the actually cutting edge. An excellent example can be seen in this picture of the main blade of a Christmas themed knife I sold this past winter. The main grind or bevel is stone washed as well as engraved and runs from just in front of the spine to the second grind, which is mirror polished making it much easier to see. By producing the edge this way, the manufacturer does not run as much risk of damaging the engraver or the employee running the engraver.
And that's it in a nut shell my friend. Well, actually there is one more grind, called the asymmetrical grind; but that's basically using one grind (say a flat grind) on one side of the blade and a different grind (say maybe a convex grind) on the other. Knives and cutting instruments with this style of grind are all specialty units of one type or another and unlikely to be found at your average knife shop. Still I should mention them just for completeness sake if for no other reason.
So there you have it. Every type of grind I know about distilled down to their basics for you. If we keep this up, you'll be a knife expert before school starts back up, and be able to amaze your family with the knives you buy them for Christmas. But in the mean time, this should have been published last night and I'm going to be late for work if I ramble on too much longer. So I'll just wish you all the best my friend, May the sky's always be sunny for you and the breeze ever cool. And until we meet again in this little corner of cyberspace I call mine, and remember; if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!
So you're looking to buy a knife, but you really don't know what to buy. Don't blame you. I mean, all those confusing numbers that knife makers and manufacturers throw at you can be more than a little daunting, and what exactly do they really mean anyway? Does it really make a difference? Or is it all just another form of hype? Well no, it's not just hype; but when you get right down to it it almost takes a degree in metallurgy to make sense of them all. So how do you decide? What steel do you want. and how do you tell?
For starters, steel is an alloy made up of Iron, Carbon, and up to 10 other elements ranging from Chromium to Manganese in specified amounts; and the various numbers represent specific "recipes" if you will. Each element adds something to the steel, and knowing what each adds tells you how each steel will work when made into a blade, be it a knife, a sword, or an ax.
Carbon is probably the most important element, since without carbon steel would be nothing more than wrought or cast iron with a handful of impurities in it; and iron really doesn't make a very useful blade. There's a reason after all why bronze was still used for weapons long after iron was discovered after all. Carbon adds a toughness and hardness to the iron that makes it steel, and the higher the carbon content, the harder you can make the steel. The problem is that the harder a metal is, the more brittle it's likely to become. I mean, look at a diamond! A diamond is the hardest naturally occurring substance known to man, and it's basically pure carbon that's been subjected to unimaginable pressure for thousands of years. Yet even though a diamond can cut through anything I know, one sharp blow from a small hammer and all you've got left is dust (which isn't all that useful now, is it). So for all practical purposes, you really can't get too high above 1% carbon or your knife is going to break the first time you stress it too much. Oh yeah, if carbon is all it really has going for it it's also going to rust the first time you look at it cross-eyed. On the other hand, it's hard to beat a high carbon steel for toughness and taking an edge. This is why many "survival" knives and butcher knives are made of high carbon steel (as well as why many are coated). Most of the time these knives will be made of what in the U.S. are referred to as 10 series metals such as 1045, 1080, and 1095. The 10 part of the number tells you it's high carbon while the second set tells you approximately what percentage of carbon is used, with 1095 being close to 1% carbon.
Chromium is the second most often used element in steel making, and it's what generally makes a steel "stainless". Don't get me wrong now. Even the most "stainless" of steels are still going to rust and discolor over time; but chromium will stretch that time out to years as opposed to weeks, or even days. It can also help with the hardness, making heat treating the blade more effective; and it can help raise the tensile strength of the steel. Another element that can also help in these endeavor is Magnesium, as well as Molybdenum. Then there are elements added to increase strength, wear resistance, and workability. Each one must be used in precise amounts, and those amounts determine the number, or "name" assigned to each particular steel, whether it's 440C, AUS-8, S30V, or 8Cr13MoV. But that still leaves the question of which steel should you be looking for in your new knife, and how much does it really matter.
Well here's where I'm probably going to piss some knife lover's off. In the end, at least in my opinion, the knife maker means more than what steel they use. Why? Well first off, as you've already noticed, it really does take someone with a degree in metallurgy to keep all this straight; and I don't know about you, but if I had a degree in metallurgy I sure wouldn't be working in the field I'm currently in! However the good knife makers all have metallurgists on their payrolls making sure that their knives are made of the right stuff. After all, Spyderco doesn't want a reputation 40 years in the making to go down the drain because of a bad decision on what type of steel to use. Secondly, each type of steel has it's own best uses. I know that if you go on many knife forums you'll hear people loudly decrying one type or steel or another, such as 440C; and yet 440C was the steel of choice for many years, and it's still used for many high end kitchen knives even to this day. The problem isn't 440C, it's low cost knife makers who routinely cut corners (especially in heat treating their knives) that gave 440C such a bad reputation. It also didn't help that since 440C could be heat treated to such a high hardness scale it could be used for knives that were advertised as "never needs sharpening", which basically means "can't be sharpened". If the company making your new knife really cares about it's reputation and the quality of it's knives, then it will make sure the knife is heat treated properly AND that it can be cared for (unlike the old Ginsu knives of yesteryear). Beyond that though, I will admit that I love my Schrade Frontier with it's 1095 high carbon, powder coated blade as well as my Kershaw made with 8CR13MoV. I also can't imagine cooking without my Gunter Wilhelm filet knife with it's X50CrMoV15 German made steel or my 30 year old Chicago Cutlery chef's knife with it's 440C steel blade. But there you have it. 4 very different knives made of 4 very different steels, and I wouldn't trade one of them.
But it's getting late, and as usual, I've rambled on almost long enough to have written a book instead of a blog. So until next time we meet here in my little corner of cyberspce, I wish you clear skies and smooth sailing. And as always, remember. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!