A quick reference for steel selection

Chris Railey

KNIFE MAKER
Based on recent topics posted by Mr. Cashen and because I have a HT oven now, I have been thinking about perhaps starting to better match my steel choice to the desired function (cutting, chopping, slicing etc.) instead of making everything from 10XX steels. I am also a big fan of not re-inventing the wheel. Since Ed and Kevin (others too) have spent many years experimenting with steel types and the accompanying attributes I figured perhaps I would create a quick reference chart and see if I could con them into completing it. If you guys do not mind would you share your preferences for the types of blades listed and add any you wish? If for ANY reason you do not wish to fill this out that is no big deal I will delete it if someone tells me how. All you need to do is hit the reply button and you should be able to fill the table out. If others wish to respond they can as well.

Knife or tool typeSteel Choice(s) in order of preferenceGrindEdgeMisc
EDC
Skining
Camping
Bushcraft
Chef's (kitchen) knife slicing
Chef's (Kitchen)knife chopping
Kitchen Boning Knife
Machete or brush chopper
 
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EdCaffreyMS

"The Montana Bladesmith"
First off, pretty darn ingenious of you. It's worth taking the time to fill out for that alone! :)

OK, below is my input. What I do need to make known is that the steels are listed in order of preference, as viewed from the standpoint of I IF WERE MAKING THE KNIFE FOR MYSELF. Sometimes when producing a knife of another, there are considerations that are not always obvious, and depending on the client, I MIGHT choose differently.

Also, in the "Edge" block, notice I wrote "variable per uses" with covnex edges. How much, or how little to convex an edge is a learned skill. As they say, you have to break some eggs to make a cake, and likewise, you need to test, and maybe destroy some blades to figure out how much or how little convex works the way YOU want it to, with the particular steel type, and the particular heat treatment of that steel/blade.

As you can see, I like 52100, SUJ2, and 80CRV2 a lot. I am one who has always believed in choosing a few steels, and knowing them well, versus offering a truck load of steel choices and not knowing them so well. I just looked up on the shop wall, and counted the number of 1st place plaques from cutting competitions over the years..... 52100 has the most wins, with SUJ2 second (SUJ2 is Japan's 52100, but it's a double vac melt, which makes it significantly cleaner than 52100) I have a small supply of SUJ2 for special purposes, only because it's more difficult to find/buy here in the U.S. and because of that, I use 52100 more).

When it came to the kitchen blades, I threw in CPM154, because many demand "stainless" in a kitchen/culinary knife. Personally, I've produced far more Damascus Chef's/culinary knives than anything...... but that's because the high end Chef's tend to be all about one upmanship, and impressing their friends. :)

Here's the thing, it doesn't matter what I say/choose, there is no "One Size Fits All" when it comes to this chart. Others might despise 52100 or any of the other steels I listed, and love something else, and that's perfectly OK.....as long as they taken the time/effort to get the most out of their chosen steel(s) that they can. Until I discovered 80CRV2, I was all about 5160 for "tough" applications. But after several months of testing all the variables I could with 80CRV2, it's pretty much replaced 5160 in my shop. The main reason? Because I can put a MUCH finer convex edge on 80CRV2 without it chipping/crack, or warping, versus 5160.

The sharp end of this stick is...... whatever steel you choose for a given application, TEST and LEARN that/those steels, and the/their capabilities....that will help you build a "file" of what steels you want to use for specific types of blades. A well made, well heat treated blade of 1080/84 can run circles around a poorly made, poorly heat treated blade of 52100 or SUJ2.... just some food for thought.

Anybody can read the information in a heat treat manual and apply that information to heat treating their blades and get a serviceable blade. Those who are a step above have taken the time, and have learned how to "tweak" things... not only in their heat treating, but in every other aspect of a knife, to achieve that "Little bit more" that can set a given maker's knives apart from the peers.

Knife or tool typeSteel Choice(s) in order of preferenceGrindEdgeMisc
EDC80CRV2, SUJ2/52100,10XXFLATconvex (variable per uses)
SkiningSUJ2/52100, 80CRV2, 5160""
CampingSUJ2/52100, 80CRV2, 5160""
Bushcraft80CRV2, 5160""
Chef's (kitchen) knife slicingSUJ2/52100, 80CRV2, CPM154""
Chef's (Kitchen)knife choppingSUJ2/52100, 80CRV2, CPM154""
Kitchen Boning KnifeSUJ2/52100, 15N20, CPM154""
Machete or brush chopper1050-75, 5160, 80CRV2, 52100/SUJ2
[/QUOTE]
 

Kevin R. Cashen

Super Moderator
Nothing against you Chris, you are doing fine. It is just one of my hang-ups, on any internet forum, that I get a little uncomfortable with threads addressed specifically to me in the title. It seems exclusionary and robs the poster of a lot of valuable input from countless other sources who could be reading the thread but are not named. I would rather see as many people as possible participate and give their input, before I jump in, if that is all right.

I have an entire lecture that I include in every Intro class I teach, hammer-ins as well, and will eventually release it on video, called "A Systematic Approach to Steel Selection." It addresses this exact question and explains the chemistry and steel properties needed for each blade type. I try to slip it into any ABS, and other, events that I can, because it is right at the top of my list of things that is really needed in knifemaking education. For years there has really been no rhyme no reason to how folks choose steels, and making a really great knife is a lot easier if you choose the right steel to begin with.

But I really would rather let some other folks have their say on this one as well.
 
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Chris Railey

KNIFE MAKER
Nothing against you Chris, you are doing fine. It is just one of my hang-ups, on any internet forum, that I get a little uncomfortable with threads addressed specifically to me in the title. It seems exclusionary and robs the poster of a lot of valuable input from countless other sources who could be reading the thread but are not named. I would rather see as many people as possible participate and give their input, before I jump in, if that is all right.

I have an entire lecture that I include in every Intro class I teach, hammer-ins as well, and will eventually release it on video, called "A Systematic Approach to Steel Selection." It addresses this exact question and explains the chemistry and steel properties needed for each blade type. I try to slip it into any ABS, and other, events that I can, because it is right at the top of my list of things that is really needed in knifemaking education. For years there has really been no rhyme no reason to how folks choose steels, and making a really great knife is a lot easier if you choose the right steel to begin with.

But I really would rather let some other folks have their say on this one as well.
Based on recent topics posted by Mr. Cashen and because I have a HT oven now, I have been thinking about perhaps starting to better match my steel choice to the desired function (cutting, chopping, slicing etc.) instead of making everything from 10XX steels. I am also a big fan of not re-inventing the wheel. Since Ed and Kevin (others too) have spent many years experimenting with steel types and the accompanying attributes I figured perhaps I would create a quick reference chart and see if I could con them into completing it. If you guys do not mind would you share your preferences for the types of blades listed and add any you wish? If for ANY reason you do not wish to fill this out that is no big deal I will delete it if someone tells me how.

Knife or tool typeSteel Choice(s) in order of preferenceGrindEdgeMisc
EDC
Skining
Camping
Bushcraft
Chef's (kitchen) knife slicing
Chef's (Kitchen)knife chopping
Kitchen Boning Knife
Machete or brush chopper
I agree with you sir. I am not being a smart a$$ or anything but that is why my original post explains that others can respond as well in bold type. I am constantly impressed with the humility you show in your responses to others that is one of the reasons I read everything you post, not just because of your knowledge but because of how you treat those that want to learn. Ed falls solidly into that category too that was why I singled you two out in the title was to ask for your responses while still allowing others to respond. I guess I could have titled it differently though. I am a little gun shy on asking some questions because about 10 or 11 years ago when I first started forging steel I joined a blacksmithing forum I will not name. I asked a couple of stupid newbie questions (like we all did at some point) and I was ridiculed by the experienced people. It made me so angry I wrote forums off for many years as a viable info source literally until I found this forum. Anyway, I do apologize for singling you out I suppose that was kind of un-cool.
 
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Chris Railey

KNIFE MAKER
First off, pretty darn ingenious of you. It's worth taking the time to fill out for that alone! :)

OK, below is my input. What I do need to make known is that the steels are listed in order of preference, as viewed from the standpoint of I IF WERE MAKING THE KNIFE FOR MYSELF. Sometimes when producing a knife of another, there are considerations that are not always obvious, and depending on the client, I MIGHT choose differently.

Also, in the "Edge" block, notice I wrote "variable per uses" with covnex edges. How much, or how little to convex an edge is a learned skill. As they say, you have to break some eggs to make a cake, and likewise, you need to test, and maybe destroy some blades to figure out how much or how little convex works the way YOU want it to, with the particular steel type, and the particular heat treatment of that steel/blade.

As you can see, I like 52100, SUJ2, and 80CRV2 a lot. I am one who has always believed in choosing a few steels, and knowing them well, versus offering a truck load of steel choices and not knowing them so well. I just looked up on the shop wall, and counted the number of 1st place plaques from cutting competitions over the years..... 52100 has the most wins, with SUJ2 second (SUJ2 is Japan's 52100, but it's a double vac melt, which makes it significantly cleaner than 52100) I have a small supply of SUJ2 for special purposes, only because it's more difficult to find/buy here in the U.S. and because of that, I use 52100 more).

When it came to the kitchen blades, I threw in CPM154, because many demand "stainless" in a kitchen/culinary knife. Personally, I've produced far more Damascus Chef's/culinary knives than anything...... but that's because the high end Chef's tend to be all about one upmanship, and impressing their friends. :)

Here's the thing, it doesn't matter what I say/choose, there is no "One Size Fits All" when it comes to this chart. Others might despise 52100 or any of the other steels I listed, and love something else, and that's perfectly OK.....as long as they taken the time/effort to get the most out of their chosen steel(s) that they can. Until I discovered 80CRV2, I was all about 5160 for "tough" applications. But after several months of testing all the variables I could with 80CRV2, it's pretty much replaced 5160 in my shop. The main reason? Because I can put a MUCH finer convex edge on 80CRV2 without it chipping/crack, or warping, versus 5160.

The sharp end of this stick is...... whatever steel you choose for a given application, TEST and LEARN that/those steels, and the/their capabilities....that will help you build a "file" of what steels you want to use for specific types of blades. A well made, well heat treated blade of 1080/84 can run circles around a poorly made, poorly heat treated blade of 52100 or SUJ2.... just some food for thought.

Anybody can read the information in a heat treat manual and apply that information to heat treating their blades and get a serviceable blade. Those who are a step above have taken the time, and have learned how to "tweak" things... not only in their heat treating, but in every other aspect of a knife, to achieve that "Little bit more" that can set a given maker's knives apart from the peers.

Knife or tool typeSteel Choice(s) in order of preferenceGrindEdgeMisc
EDC80CRV2, SUJ2/52100,10XXFLATconvex (variable per uses)
SkiningSUJ2/52100, 80CRV2, 5160""
CampingSUJ2/52100, 80CRV2, 5160""
Bushcraft80CRV2, 5160""
Chef's (kitchen) knife slicingSUJ2/52100, 80CRV2, CPM154""
Chef's (Kitchen)knife choppingSUJ2/52100, 80CRV2, CPM154""
Kitchen Boning KnifeSUJ2/52100, 15N20, CPM154""
Machete or brush chopper1050-75, 5160, 80CRV2, 52100/SUJ2
[/QUOTE]
Thanks very much ED. That is a lot of great Info for me to study.
 

Chris Railey

KNIFE MAKER
A Systematic Approach to Steel Selection
After watching your video (about eight times) on 1080 and 1084 I started understanding why I was doing what I was doing on my HT instead of just knowing I should do it. So I will be first in line for the steel selection series.
 

Doug Lester

Well-Known Member
I have read some claims that 52100 needs to be forged to get the best out of it but for the life of me I can't see why that would be true as long as the correct heat treating was applied to that alloy. My experience with 52100 is being carbide rich it will go through grinding belts. I'm not forging right now because most of my tools have been stolen and I'm slowly building them back up. When I do get my tools back together, which I hope to by fall, I'm going to try to make a short sword blade from my last bar of 9260 and then I think I will give 80CrV2 a try.

Just keep in mind that knifemaking is a study in trade offs. A blade made of 1080 might not be as strong or hard (wear resistant) as 52100 but it will be tougher, thus less likely to break, and less hard, thus easier to put an edge back on the blade. Some people may prefer a blade that can be quickly sharpened on an Arkansas stone and a leather strap over one that pretty much has to be sharpened on a grinder. Others may prefer a blade with superior edge holding that will allow him/her to go on a hunting trip and field dress and skin an elk and then sharpen it when they get back home.
 

opaul

Well-Known Member
I don’t see 26C3 listed as an option.i made a chefs knife and it’s held up well and stays sharp. I also think it would make a good hunting knife or edc knife.
 

Chris Railey

KNIFE MAKER
I don’t see 26C3 listed as an option.i made a chefs knife and it’s held up well and stays sharp. I also think it would make a good hunting knife or edc knife.
I have not heard of that steel Opaul, where did you get it? That is another reason I kind of started this topic I figured some new stuff would come up too. I have used 5160 but I do not like how it finishes compared to other steels. 80CRV2 is on my short list to try soon.
 

opaul

Well-Known Member
I have not heard of that steel Opaul, where did you get it? That is another reason I kind of started this topic I figured some new stuff would come up too. I have used 5160 but I do not like how it finishes compared to other steels. 80CRV2 is on my short list to try soon.
Alpha has it. Over on blade forums it gets great reviews. It takes a beautiful Hamon.
 

tkroenlein

Well-Known Member
Currently I do about half forging knives and half stock removal. How does 52100 do on stock removal?
It does just fine. In fact, it's a bit less forgiving in the forge. Plenty forgeable, but it will crack if you forge too cold. So I prefer to do stock removal. You may need to dial in a normalizing process from certain suppliers. Probably wouldn't hurt to do any suppliers steel, but I have had good results from every batch I've got from AKS.
 

tkroenlein

Well-Known Member
Chris, I think think the big take away this far, is there are some big benefits to moving into the deeper hardening, low alloy steels like 5160, 80CrV2, and 52100 (mid alloy?) They are all stupid tough. 52100 adds wear resistance and higher strength for better fine edge stability.
 

Chris Railey

KNIFE MAKER
That is why I started this and this is what Kevin was talking about in his first post. Never heard of 26C3 and would not have considered 52100. I was looking at Cru-Forge previously but discounted it based on some advice from a friend.
 

Casey Brown

Well-Known Member
There is also a site called Knife Steel Nerds, which is produced by Larrin Thomas, who is a steel metallurgist, and knife enthusiast. It is a wealth of information on knife steel material science. Larrin does extensive research on all of the different knife steels, and appears to be fairly unbiased as far as steel selection goes. He really goes into the weeds of the metallurgy if you are interested in that. I subscribe to his reports, and try to read them as they come out. If you are unfamiliar with the website, I recommend checking it out.
 
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