My favourite knife Steels
There is no better way to start a riot in the knife maker and knife collector community than to discuss steel types. One persons favourite steel will be considered a terrible choice in someone else's views. They say that opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one. Well welcome to mine!
This is a list of the current knife making steels that I use to make my blades.
For the first 6 years of knife making I only ever made knives from 2 different steels. And for the first 4 of them I only ever used O1 tool steel. So lets start there.
O1 Tool Steel
O1 is also known as Ground Flat Stock or Gauge Plate Steel.
For years and years O1 was the go to steel for an awful lot of knife makers. It was the steel that was recommended to anyone who wanted to dabble in knife making, and it was made popular in the bushcraft community by Ray Mears with his Alan Wood Woodlore bushcraft knife.
This is a picture of one of the bushcraft knives I used to make from O1 tool steel.
On all the knife forums 10 years ago O1 was labelled as an easy to use, easy to heat treat and easy to maintain steel. The best steel for beginners and established makers alike. It gained a lot of popularity because of this, and was sometimes hated in equal measures. I personally think that part of this was born from that fact that at the time it was one of the only steels you could easily purchased for making knives in the UK. There simply wasn't the variety we have at our fingertips these days, so O1 became the go to steel for pretty much everyone.
O1 is relatively forgiving for someone wanting to heat treat themselves at home, and sure my first knives were made under the old adage of heat until non magnetic and quench in rapeseed oil. Then temper to a straw colour. However over the years I did many tests with O1 steel and being able to maintain a consistent temperature, soaking the steel at this temperature and quenching in specialist steel quench oil makes for a much better blade.
I have found the sweet spot to be 58/59 on the Rockwell scale, and O1 knives of this hardness produce a keen edge that can be kept sharp easily. It isn't the toughest of steels and the edge dulls quicker in use than other steels however, due to this drop in toughness it does make it easy to re-sharpen. Again, I think that this is one of the reasons that it has gained popularity in the bushcraft world as an O1 knife is easy to maintain in the field.
So this is my personal favourite carbon steel. When I first used it I thought it was like O1 on steroids. It has a much higher toughness than O1 steel with great edge retention. This does mean that it is slightly tougher to sharpen, but the edge itself is easy to maintain. What I mean by that, is that if the edge is looked after during use it will remain sharp. Stropping during use will quickly bring that keen edge back to life and you wont have to take it to the stones.
It is now my go to carbon steel steel for outdoors knives, hunting knives, camp knives and edc knives. I love being able to draw out the temper of the spine (known as as a differential heat treat) which makes for a very forgiving tool when in hard use.
My camp knife in 80crv2 with a differential heat treat
I have found the sweet spot for 80crv2 to be around 59/60 on the Rockwell hardness scale. This produces a very tough blade that doesn't chip or dull easily in hard use yet with a little practice remains easy to sharpen and maintain in the field
I also use it for a lot of chef knives as the steel can be ground to a very thin edge whilst maintaining high rockwell hardness. As you can see 80crv2 really is a brilliant all round steel, made even better by the variety of thicknesses that this steel is available in.
This steel has only been in my repertoire for the past year, but I brought it in to do some testing for my range of kitchen knives. I found during my initial testing that this steel could produce a very fine yet stable edge which was just what I was looking for in my kitchen blades.
I have found 1.2419 steel to be slightly less tough than 80crv2 which makes it easier to sharpen. This for me is a big win for the home chef who may not be quite so skilled at maintaining and sharpening a blade.
My K-Tip chef knife in 1.2419 carbon steel.
I have found my sweet spot for this steel to be around 61/62 on the Rockwell hardness scale at which it produces a hard stable edge that sharpens easily. It can be maintained with a steel or ceramic rod with ease. I have had great feedback from both professional chefs and home cooks on knives made from this steel.
Purchasing an Evenheat oven from Multitool Europe last year opened up a whole new world for me, and has allowed me to start using a heat treating stainless steel. Below is a guide to the steels I use.
This was the first steel I played with and tested when I bought my heat treatment oven. I can honestly say that I have used and really abused this steel and have been really impressed with the results.
This steel takes a keen edge and keeps it. I personally like to temper this steel to 58 on the Rockwell scale which I have found to give a good trade between hardness and toughness. I have really abused knives at this hardness in the garden and woods and have never had issues with edge damage or even the real need to re-sharpen.
This knife below is made from N690 steel, easily chopped up a pineapple, cut open a coconut and then was still able to slice paper.
Of the stainless steels this is one of the easier to sharpen, but if you are only used to sharpening carbon steel then you may find it a little more hard work.
Niolox Niolox is a niobium-alloyed steel, and it is the addition of niobium that forms hard carbides in the steel. This makes Niolox very wear resistant. It actually makes it grinder resistant! This steel is hard work to grind, and this is reflected in the price when buying a knife with a Niolox blade. However, a Niolox blade when sharp stays sharp. It takes an amazing edge that really in general day to day use will only ever need to be stropped to bring it back to a razor edge.
In the same way that these carbides give the steel excellent wear resistant properties it also reduces the toughness. In hard use the steel can be prone to micro chipping, and I would not suggest using knives of this steel as a crowbar ( I wouldn't suggest using any knife as a crowbar though). "Reduces" is the operative word here though, Niolox is still a very tough steel.
I love using this steel on my friction folders as for general day to day tasks this knife will remain sharp pretty much forever.
This photo is of my Goliath friction folder in Niolox steel.
The sweet spot I personally like for this steel is 60 on the Rockwell hardness scale.
This is the newest steel to my repertoire, and so far I am impressed. I brought it in to offer a stainless steel option to my kitchen knife range, but actually my tests so far have proven that it will be an excellent all round steel. It seems to tick so many boxes it almost seems unreal.
The steel is tough and takes a really keen edge. The steel holds an edge well and it sharpens with relative ease. All of this will contribute to making an excellent professional chef knife in a stainless steel.
Although early days, I am currently playing with this knife at 61 on the Rockwell scale, and am happy with the results I am achieving.
Check out my available knives section see see what I am currently making, and in what steel types!