In its end-of-year review, KnifeNews made some interesting predictions about what to expect in the knife world for 2019.
Some of their predictions included more small-batch knives, thinner grinds/smaller knives, and more new talent in the field. But perhaps the one prediction that might set the mental wheels in motion for knife blade manufacturers is the one about budget steels. The article predicted that new steels, like D2 and 14C28N on the stainless side, would see favorable responses in the budget knife arena.
Serious knife users expect high performance whether they’re using one for hunting, fishing, cooking, construction, or something else. However, many manufacturers continue to incorporate premium steel into their products. This leads to the question of whether premium steels are always the best steel for knife making -- at least in terms of cost efficiency.
Blade manufacturers want to turn out a high-quality, durable product for their customers, but the choice often comes down to weighing cost vs. quality (like pretty much every manufacturing decision ever). Here are some points to take into consideration for picking the best knife steel for your project.
Comparing the Different Types of Knife Steel
Knife Depot pulled together a helpful guide to try to answer the question of whether premium knife steels are always better. Knife Depot broke the types of knife steel down into categories that include:
- Super steels
- Ultra-premium steels
- Premium steels
- High-end steels
- Average steels
- Low-end steels
While premium steels are often thought to contribute to logical knife wish list items -- durability, strength, sharpening ease, edge retention, and corrosion resistance -- they are not always better than average steels. Why? Sometimes tradeoffs occur -- having superior edge retention may also mean your knife is difficult to sharpen.
Premium steel might often appear to be the best choice. But while real-world end customers don’t always notice a difference in use, but they do notice a difference in price. So you’ll have to weight which knife qualities mean the most to your customer base and whether their pocketbooks will agree with your pricing.
The Best Steel for the Knife Job
The choice of steel for blade manufacturers may also lie in the type of product they create.
A manufacturer of pocket knives, for example, may find that an average steel like 440C works perfectly because it’s tough and durable. Makers of knives for the outdoor industry, however, often rely on a premium steel like S30V because of its toughness, corrosion-resistance, and edge-retention capabilities. S30V contributes to the high cost of these knives. Its cousin, S35VN steel, provides even more toughness without losing wear-resistance, and is also easy to machine and finish. High-end steel, like D2, is less costly, but does not offer the hardness or toughness of premium steel.
If you’re interested in getting further in the weeds on knife steels, BladeHQ pulled together a number of helpful knife steel comparison charts.
The Best Steel for Kitchen Knives
Kitchen knives range in use from the everyday paring knife to the heavy-duty butcher knife, so their composition must be made to suit the job at hand. A stainless steel is more likely to resist corrosion and rusting, while carbon steels are more durable but can get butt-ugly after a while. Carbon steel is quite affordable, but stainless steel provides a beautiful, mirror-like finish -- a look of cleanliness that matters to many who work with food.
The average kitchen cook might be perfectly happy with stainless steel knives, while the cooking enthusiast or professional chef might be more likely to favor carbon steel knives. Gauge your customer base before making any new design decisions (or consult an experienced knife blade manufacturer since they’ll know firsthand what works and what doesn’t).
What You’ve Learned Today
In the end, premium steels are certainly better for some knife applications, but they’re not always the best choice. Your choice of knife steel should be based on:
- End use
- Customer needs
- Pricing considerations
Consumers who demand top performance from their knives are often prepared to pay higher prices to receive it. Either way, an all-in-one metal fabrication shop that understands the needs of knife blade manufacturers can help make the best design choices for manufacturability.