Knife steel is a critical component of the custom knife. Making a fine homemade knife is a work of patience, and a dedication to precision craftsmanship. A custom knife maker must understand the science of metallurgy when choosing an appropriate knife steel.
To rust or not to rust, that is the question. Actually, that is only one of the questions. To maintain a great edge, or not to maintain a great edge is another important question! Many custom knife makers are finding middle ground for those two questions. Stainless Steel Balustrades
High carbon and stainless steels are both acceptable if properly alloyed. The high carbon steels are typically the steels that are forged. They can be differentially tempered. This property gives the knife maker more options. He can better control the hardness of the cutting edge, and still have a tough knife with a springy back.
Let’s consider first, some of the more common carbon knife steel available.
1095 is the most popular steel for knives. It is a simple steel consisting of.95% carbon, and.4% manganese. Other 10 series steels are used for knife making such as 1084, 1070, 1060, and 1050 etc. Each of these steels are decreasing in carbon content, and thus are also decreasing in wear resistance. At the same time, as the carbon content goes down the toughness goes up. As such, some of the lower carbon content designations are more commonly used for swords.
O-1 steel is another high carbon steel which gives razor sharp edges but dulls quicker than A2 Steel. O-1, like A2 has a 1% carbon content It has 1.35% manganese,.5% chromium,.35% silicon, and.5% tungsten. O-1 steel is more forgiving to those who are not as accomplished in getting a decent edge. In summary, it is easier/faster to hone to a razor sharp edge than some of the other choices, but does not stand up to abuse as well. 0-1 is very popular with forgers and bladesmiths. It is tough, although not as tough as 5160.
L-6 is very similar to O-1. It is basically band saw steel. It is possibly the very best steel for a knife if maintenance is not an issue. It rusts very easily, but holds an edge very well. It is also very tough. It is a favorite of forgers.