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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Guide to Knife Metal

All steels are not the same. Even those with the same ingredients are not the same. The time, care, and precision of manufacture that go into making a quality knife are more important than its material. Carbon content is not the only factor, as there is an ideal range for specific uses. The most extreme of these uses is knife throwing. High carbon knives, or knives that are too bendable, or thin fail quickly. Any knife can be thrown, but only good quality throwing knives, or special multiple-function knives can be thrown repeatably. Grades of steel are plentiful enough to be confusing. Just check out the following list.

Blade materials

Of these, only a few are good for throwing knives.
1050 carbon and 440C stainless are among the best for throwing in terms of tensile strength, which lends well to general toughness of the blade. To lend to the confusion there are very inferior 440A, 440B, and those just listed as 440. 440C is the only blade material of the 440 group that is referred to as a supersteel.

 Browning 122BL knives


 A good throwing knife has less carbon than a good cutting knife, at 1% or lower, but generally higher than .4%. Molybdenum and manganese seem to lend these steels toughness rather than a bitingly sharp edge. Cutting edges in throwing knives tend to be duller than other knives, due to the danger to the thrower. Piercing geometry and balance are more important.

A well made knife from 1055 carbon or 420HC stainless can also be pretty good. Plain 420, however is plain awful for throwing. 420 with the low levels of carbon typical of stainless cannot form the tough crystalline bonds of the higher carbon blades. This makes it too pliable to thunk into logs without bending and folding. 420 also can lose its edge quickly, so is inferior for regular knives as well.

AUS 8 and ATS 34 seem to perform well from what I've read, but I have yet to find tensile strengths or comparable values for these. CPM metals would likely hold up well to throwing, depending on carbon content, due to their uniform structures.


Don't throw D2 steel.

D2 tool steel (almost stainless steel) is premium level for holding its edge, but forms carbides in its structure. If you throw this premium knife, you will eventually pay a price. Carbides are strong, but fail catastrophically, by breaking apart like glass. So score and cut away with these knives, but never throw them.

High carbon steels will be similarly brittle, although they are super hard. So don't throw that high priced, high carbon knife. Stainless steels are tougher, usually. (The exceptions being 1050 and 1055, which are strong metals with no real chromium content- therefore non-stainless).

What is good for a hunting, skinning, and all around outdoorman style knife is unlikely to be a good throwing knife. Don't test out the good hunting knives for starting out throwing. Use a throwing knife. If you don't want to buy a good throwing knife  for a hobby that you're unsure about, then just go ahead and buy the cheap throwing knife set from walmart.com. These should come in at under $10. These will last longer than kitchen knives in that log out back.
 Walmart.com Whetstone Trio


Keeping stainless from rusting.

Many stainless steels rust. Silicone based car-wax will prevent this. The same treatment will work for 1050 and 1055 carbon steels. Grind only lightly... better yet use a whetstone. Over grinding thins the metal, and may make it lose its original heat treatment due to the heat imparted by grinding. Whetstones carry none of these risks, but you should use a quality whetstone for a quality knife. Learn how to use it properly.

How to sharpen a knife with a whetstone

Only sharpen the cutting or piercing edge, and try to maintain the original geometry, unless you plan on converting the blade into a different type or usage. Once a blade loses it's geometry, it's nearly impossible to restore to its original state.





1 comment:

  1. Updated... pictures now have relevant links to purchase/information sites for particular knives shown (Browning Black Label Throwing Knives, Whetstone Ninja Trio)

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