It seems that some of the most frequently asked questions Game of Knives is receiving from our patrons are “what kind of steel are knives made of?” and “what quality of steels do knives use?” I will address these inquiries with our first blog post.
All steels are made based on the same principle, which is enhancing the properties of raw iron by tempering it and adding various substances. The most important and traditional additive is carbon, which gives the steel strength over raw iron; the higher the carbon content of the steel, the harder the steel is. But carbon also reduces the steel’s elasticity, thus making the steel more brittle. Another common steel additive is chromium, which gives the steel resistance against corrosion, but also makes the steel softer than plain carbon steel.
Most knives are made of either carbon or stainless steels. There are also tool steels, alloy steels and non-steel knives out there, but usually in designer categories. Each type of steels are graded by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), and designated by grades based on their quality. To make this discussion short and to the point, I will only explain the most commonly seen knife steels out there.
Plain Carbon Steel:
Plain carbon steel grades are based on a 4 digit number (i.e. 10XX). In the SAE system, the “1” indicates the general category “plain carbon steel”, the “0” indicates that there are no major secondary components in the steel aside from carbon, and the last 2 digits describe the exact carbon concentration of the steel. The higher the trailing 2 digit is, the higher the steel’s carbon concentration. For example, the grade range for most knives is 1045 to 1095; a 1045 knife has 0.45% carbon steel, while a 1095 knife has 0.95% carbon. In order to protect against corrosion, all carbon steel also contain a trace amount of manganese, which is inversely proportional to the steel’s carbon concentration. From this information, we can see that a knife with 1045 carbon steel has the softest steel, but has better protection against rust, while a 1095 knife is tougher, but rusts easily.
Unlike carbon steel knives, there are too many variations of knife stainless steel, and so I will only include a few common ones here.
420 series - These knives contain roughly 0.38% carbon, which means they are softer than carbon steel knives. However, they contain a minimum of 12% chromium, therefore are virtually rust-proof, and can maintain an excellent luster. This type of stainless steel makes up the bulk of all knives produced in the world, from dinning utensils to regular pocket knives. Due to the corrosion resistant nature of the steel, the 420 steel knives are much more practical than plain carbon steel knives. This is the type of steel they use for CS GO knives...I mean...Game of Knives use for our knives (see Karambits, Huntsman, Butterfly Knives) :P
425M – If you are a knife enthusiast like I am, this is the famous Buck Knives’ signature steel, which contains 0.5% carbon. It is a bit harder than a 420 stainless steel knife, and also retains the rust-resistance of the common stainless steel.
High Carbon Stainless Steel – this is a general term for high quality stainless steel, such as 154 CM and 440 series. They contain carbon range of 0.95% to 1.2%, and are very tough. These are nearly comparable to carbon steel knives, but are much more expensive than the 420 series, which is enough for most purposes. (You can cut that sausage in half with a 420 blade, trust me)
Chinese High Carbon Stainless Steel – the scientific names for these are 8Cr14MoV steel or 9Cr13CoMoV steel. Since China is the largest steel producer in the world nowadays, they tend to use their own version of the SAE high carbon. These types of steel have 0.75% to 0.85% carbon content, which less than their American counter parts. The result of the lower carbon content is that they are somewhat softer than American high carbon stainless, but they make up for it by adding vanadium, which increases the knife’s resistance without sacrificing strength like chromium. The advantage these hold is that they are easier to sharpen, and maintain an excellent edge. Make no mistakes, these are high carbon stainless steel blades, and they are not cheap to obtain.
Unlike plain carbon and stainless steel, the Damascus steel is not made from a single source of steel. It’s made by layering several different types of steel, heat treated into a single piece, and acid etched. Damascus steel is very expensive due to the way they are made, and knives made from these are usually in the upper end category.
Now that you have learned the different types of steels knives are made of, there is one last important point you should consider when purchasing a knife steel: Yes, the tougher the steel is the better the knife would hold its edge, but all knives dull eventually, and the harder the steel is, the harder it will be for you to sharpen the knife. Essentially it comes down to the question of prestige vs. practicality; would you rather have a knife that lasts 1000 cuts, then becomes impossible to use? Or would you rather have a knife that lasts 200 cuts, then takes 5 minutes to sharpen?