Best hunting knife steel.

Justin W.

Well-Known Member
#21
Thank you guys for setting the record straight. I see where it could be frustrating to see people skipping over a 10xx steel that they could get great heat treating results with only too choose a steel type that they don't have the proper equipment to HT and that results in a blade that doesn't preform as well as the properly heat treated 10xx blade would have
 
#22
You're not taking a step back...you're taking a step up...

No such thing as "beginner" steel in knife making. Only good steel and mystery metal.
A guy should never pick a steel above his heat treating capabilities...which is usually an equipment issue...not a beginner issue.

Everything has a learning curve...Dan's advise to learn...REALLY learn one steel...before jumping to another is EXCELLENT!!

I have been working with A-2 for three years now. ( and of course everyone agrees it is the best knife steel...lol!!!) But I am confident that I am making decent blades...still tweaking tempering to seek various results...but liking what I am getting. I would never trust a poor assessment of a given steel by a guy who has only made a couple blades out of the steel he feels is subpar...."I didn't like it...it was too this or that... " lol...careful what you listen to.
 
#24
Hello Justin,

So many posters have been so kind to me with their words that I though the least I could do is help out as well if I can. I will examine exactly what you are asking which is what steel you could use to make the best hunter you can make. This would consider the other steels you have experience with and the current equipment that you have. There are all kinds of super-duper high alloyed steels that go all the way into the stainless range that would satisfy the descriptor of “best” for many people, and for many reasons. I will focus purely on function in the type of cutting a hunter does, and how you can achieve it with your current setup and experience.

Remember that the steel is only one third of the equation, the other two considerations are heat treatment and proper geometry. But the steel is the starting point and the other two need to match your steel choice. Also remember that toughness and strength are properties which often oppose each other and is the most common compromise we need to make in blade creation. If your blade is under 8 inches, and a hunting knife would be, toughness is not a top priority in its proper use, but fine cutting edge stability is. For this you want strength to support a fine cutting edge and abrasion resistance to maintain it.

Maximum martensitic strength will be achieved with carbon contents around .8%, if you want toughness from carbon content alone you look lower than this, but we want strength so we don’t want to go lower than .8% if we want to maximize it.

Next, we want abrasion resistance, so every percentage point of carbon over .8% can be used in the formation of extremely abrasion resistant carbides, and this is why 1095 will beat 1084 hands down in edge holding when heat treated properly. The key word here are “heat treated properly”, carbides can be beautiful things in just the right condition, but they can also make a mess of things if not condition properly. So, with the benefits of extra abrasion resistance also comes some skill requirements to take advantage of it. You will not be able to heat treat 1095 as if it were 5160 with any hope of success. That’s not to say that it can’t be done with your setup and experience, but you need to be aware of it to do it.

Next, things start to actually get complicated with alloying. Carbide forming elements like Cr, V, W, Mo and others, will make seriously abrasion resistant carbides, but are even more complicated to work with than simple iron-carbide. Something like O-1 will then definitely beat 1095 but heat treating it in forge, without some clever tricks, will only get you about the same performance as the 1084, so what is the point? One exception that I would mention is the addition of carbide formers at levels around .25% where they will not complicate matters but instead will make it easier to make a very stable edge. The best example of this would be W-2. It is no more difficult to work than 1095, but will maintain a fine grain size much better due to the V carbides present.

For these reasons, 1084 would be the easiest but 1095 or W-2 could produce the best hunter blade for you, if you want to take on a little more of a challenge.

Remember choosing the right steel is not the sole factor in making a good knife, otherwise we would not be knifemakers we would just be steel selectors. It is still our skill set in shaping and heat treating that steel that we can take pride in as knifemakers. But choosing the wrong steel is one of the first mistakes that knifemakers make in making their lives much more complicated than it needs to be.
 
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#25
I just bought Kevin DVD it should be here in a couple days
Whoops! I must have been typing my reply when you bought the DVD! I will have to go out to the shop and process your order! Thank you, and I will sign it just for you and get it out today Justin. Let me know if I can be of any more help.

After 40 years of knifemaking and around 20 of them staring at blade steel though a microscope, it just feels good to know that all this seemingly useless information I've been collecting can help some people.
 
#28
Hello Justin,

So many posters have been so kind to me with their words that I though the least I could do is help out as well if I can. I will examine exactly what you are asking which is what steel you could use to make the best hunter you can make. This would consider the other steels you have experience with and the current equipment that you have. There are all kinds of super-duper high alloyed steels that go all the way into the stainless range that would satisfy the descriptor of “best” for many people, and for many reasons. I will focus purely on function in the type of cutting a hunter does, and how you can achieve it with your current setup and experience.

Remember that the steel is only one third of the equation, the other two considerations are heat treatment and proper geometry. But the steel is the starting point and the other two need to match your steel choice. Also remember that toughness and strength are properties which often oppose each other and is the most common compromise we need to make in blade creation. If your blade is under 8 inches, and a hunting knife would be, toughness is not a top priority in its proper use, but fine cutting edge stability is. For this you want strength to support a fine cutting edge and abrasion resistance to maintain it.

Maximum martensitic strength will be achieved with carbon contents around .8%, if you want toughness from carbon content alone you look lower than this, but we want strength so we don’t want to go lower than .8% if we want to maximize it.

Next, we want abrasion resistance, so every percentage point of carbon over .8% can be used in the formation of extremely abrasion resistant carbides, and this is why 1095 will beat 1084 hands down in edge holding when heat treated properly. The key word here are “heat treated properly”, carbides can be beautiful things in just the right condition, but they can also make a mess of things if not condition properly. So, with the benefits of extra abrasion resistance also comes some skill requirements to take advantage of it. You will not be able to heat treat 1095 as if it were 5160 with any hope of success. That’s not to say that it can’t be done with your setup and experience, but you need to be aware of it to do it.

Next, things start to actually get complicated with alloying. Carbide forming elements like Cr, V, W, Mo and others, will make seriously abrasion resistant carbides, but are even more complicated to work with than simple iron-carbide. Something like O-1 will then definitely beat 1095 but heat treating it in forge, without some clever tricks, will only get you about the same performance as the 1084, so what is the point? One exception that I would mention is the addition of carbide formers at levels around .25% where they will not complicate matters but instead will make it easier to make a very stable edge. The best example of this would be W-2. It is no more difficult to work than 1095, but will maintain a fine grain size much better due to the V carbides present.

For these reasons, 1084 would be the easiest but 1095 or W-2 could produce the best hunter blade for you, if you want to take on a little more of a challenge.

Remember choosing the right steel is not the sole factor in making a good knife, otherwise we would not be knifemakers we would just be steel selectors. It is still our skill set in shaping and heat treating that steel that we can take pride in as knifemakers. But choosing the wrong steel is one of the first mistakes that knifemakers make in making their lives much more complicated than it needs to be.
You know everything just sounds better when Kevin explains it. Great write up sir I enjoyed reading it.
 

C Craft

Well-Known Member
#29
Justin I will tell you this you can get no better advice than from Kevin Cashen about anything to do with metallurgy and/or knife making. So listen, read and listen and read it again. Kevin has really got good at dumbing down the info so even I can understand it!!!

You have heard the old saying, "you must walk before you run"! It is pretty much the same way in knife making! I will tell you this as well, about the time you think you are beginning to understand everything, you will find you are just beginning to understand anything.

The best steel for this or that is a relative statement. Do you want tough, anti abrasive, holds an edge, is easy to refresh the edge, is rust resistant or is plain carbon OK., are they going to dive with, are they going to be using as an all around EDC, a skinning knife for a Cape Buffalo or a skinning knife for a Muskrat!

All these things are influenced by the chosen steel and the maker behind it. I have seen two makers take the same steel and thru the different process that each uses, virtually come up with two almost totally different knives. Now having said that, all steels have different limitations, but working within those limitations, there is still room to create two different animals so to speak!

Lets say client X wants a hunting knife. So first question is what do you consider a hunting knife. X's concept of a hunting knife and yours may be totally different! That covers part of shape!

Client X is a big game hunter and this knife will be used in the heart of Africa! That will help to decide the type of steel the knife should be from. However there are other factors. Client X is not good at taking care of his knives. That makes it lean towards a steel that is rust proof. He also has been know to take his hunting knife and baton it thru a piece of wood while building a fire! Now you are talking tough as well. Client X is also lousy at sharpening a knife, etc., etc., etc. Each one of those, factor into how the knife will be shaped and what will be the best steel to cover as many of those bases. After all Client X is buying a custom knife, not a Walmart special!!

Choosing a steel also has to do with your ability to correctly bring out the full potential of that given steel. In other words if you are not set-up to do a proper HT because that steel needs to be cyro treated. Then it probably is not a good choice for you!!

Back in the day and I was trying to explain the importance of why this task has to be done in this way, to someone on my construction crew. This is where I would throw this in there! "I see, said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw and proceeded off to work"!! There is more to that statement, than just the words!!

The only dumb question, is the one you didn't ask! Along with that comes the old proverb, when most needed is not heeded!! Good luck with your knife making endeavors. When I first started luck was about all I had. I found out I needed some insight into the parts I did not understand!!
 

Justin W.

Well-Known Member
#30
Thank you everyone for the info im going to refer to this again and again to read through these responses. I can see now that i was putting the cart before the horse. I have a huge amount of respect for the all the help that everyone is always so willing to give me.
Hello Justin,

So many posters have been so kind to me with their words that I though the least I could do is help out as well if I can. I will examine exactly what you are asking which is what steel you could use to make the best hunter you can make. This would consider the other steels you have experience with and the current equipment that you have. There are all kinds of super-duper high alloyed steels that go all the way into the stainless range that would satisfy the descriptor of “best” for many people, and for many reasons. I will focus purely on function in the type of cutting a hunter does, and how you can achieve it with your current setup and experience.

Remember that the steel is only one third of the equation, the other two considerations are heat treatment and proper geometry. But the steel is the starting point and the other two need to match your steel choice. Also remember that toughness and strength are properties which often oppose each other and is the most common compromise we need to make in blade creation. If your blade is under 8 inches, and a hunting knife would be, toughness is not a top priority in its proper use, but fine cutting edge stability is. For this you want strength to support a fine cutting edge and abrasion resistance to maintain it.

Maximum martensitic strength will be achieved with carbon contents around .8%, if you want toughness from carbon content alone you look lower than this, but we want strength so we don’t want to go lower than .8% if we want to maximize it.

Next, we want abrasion resistance, so every percentage point of carbon over .8% can be used in the formation of extremely abrasion resistant carbides, and this is why 1095 will beat 1084 hands down in edge holding when heat treated properly. The key word here are “heat treated properly”, carbides can be beautiful things in just the right condition, but they can also make a mess of things if not condition properly. So, with the benefits of extra abrasion resistance also comes some skill requirements to take advantage of it. You will not be able to heat treat 1095 as if it were 5160 with any hope of success. That’s not to say that it can’t be done with your setup and experience, but you need to be aware of it to do it.

Next, things start to actually get complicated with alloying. Carbide forming elements like Cr, V, W, Mo and others, will make seriously abrasion resistant carbides, but are even more complicated to work with than simple iron-carbide. Something like O-1 will then definitely beat 1095 but heat treating it in forge, without some clever tricks, will only get you about the same performance as the 1084, so what is the point? One exception that I would mention is the addition of carbide formers at levels around .25% where they will not complicate matters but instead will make it easier to make a very stable edge. The best example of this would be W-2. It is no more difficult to work than 1095, but will maintain a fine grain size much better due to the V carbides present.

For these reasons, 1084 would be the easiest but 1095 or W-2 could produce the best hunter blade for you, if you want to take on a little more of a challenge.

Remember choosing the right steel is not the sole factor in making a good knife, otherwise we would not be knifemakers we would just be steel selectors. It is still our skill set in shaping and heat treating that steel that we can take pride in as knifemakers. But choosing the wrong steel is one of the first mistakes that knifemakers make in making their lives much more complicated than it needs to be.
Thanks for the info I CAN'T WAIT TO GET MY DVD.


You have heard the old saying, "you must walk before you run"! It is pretty much the same way in knife making! I will tell you this as well, about the time you think you are beginning to understand everything, you will find you are just beginning to understand anything.

The best steel for this or that is a relative statement
Absolutely! The knives that I am making are going to be for whitetail deer. I am not making thsee knives for a certain customer but I'd like to learn how to make a great hunting knife now so that I can have some stocked up for Missouris rifle season and Christmas
 

Doug Lester

Well-Known Member
#32
Knife design, including steel selection, heat treating, and geometry, is full of trade-offs. That big game hunter that C. Craft used as an example who wants a knife that is rust resistant, can be used with a baton to split fire wood, is easy to sharpen, and will hold the edge long enough to field dress, skin out, and quarter a Cape Buffalo is a good example. You will have to know what the steel selection will do with the demands that he makes, like how the rust resistance plays off against the toughness and wear resistance. Will you have to increase the thickness of the blade to offset the loss of strength caused by the alloy? Will you have to change the grind on the primary and secondary bevels to be able to do some of the things he wants? Are you going to have to tell him that he can't have it in one knife?

Doug
 
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