Know Your Knife Steel & Knife Manufacturing Basics

As a knife manufacturer, you want to make tools that your customers find highly desirable. But it’s important to remember that there really is no “perfect knife” for every consumer.

Even the most basic component of a knife -- the steel the blade is made from -- will be made in a way that sacrifices some areas of performance to gain in other areas. And even the best steels for making knives may get top marks in one area but sacrifice performance in another.

Fortunately, the more you understand the basics of knife steel, the easier it is to find a steel that suits your particular needs. The more you know, and the more you discuss your options with your metal manufacturer, the more successful you’ll be in building a product that excites customers and builds brand loyalty.

Knife Steel Manufacturing Basics

If you have enough time and interest, you can spend decades learning about the intricacies of manufacturing knife steels. But, as with all things, it is usually best to start with the basics. Some key factors in knife manufacturing include:

  • HardnessA man sharpening a steel knife
  • Strength
  • Toughness
  • Edge retention
  • Corrosion/rust resistance

The Components of Steel

The two key components of steel are iron and carbon. The ratio of these two substances is what determines how steel will perform. A variety of other elements are also used to create different types of steel. These elements include:

  • Sulfur
  • Phosphorus
  • Silicon
  • Manganese

When steel is made with just iron and carbon, it is called plain carbon steel. When additional elements are added to steel, like those listed above, the steel is referred to as alloy steel.

Stainless steel is the most well-known type of alloy steel. There are many types of stainless steels -- each containing a different amount of additional elements at different ratios. What they all have in common is that the primary purpose of the alloy is to minimize corrosion. This, along with the clean, attractive look of stainless steel, is why kitchen tools and appliances often use it.

The Trade-Offs Involved in Steel Production

Stainless steel is the easiest example of how making steel requires trading some desirable properties for other, less savory ones. When most people think of stainless steel, they think of a material that never rusts or suffers from corrosion. To achieve such corrosion resistance requires adding enough of other elements, like chromium, that the steel suffers a loss of edge holding-ability.

See what we mean?

Many high-end knives are made using stainless steel varieties that are not fully “stainless” because the knife maker wants to create a blade that is relatively easy to sharpen and holds an edge. Generally, the better the edge-holding ability of a certain steel, the lower corrosion resistance it offers.

Keep in mind that just because steel is not fully stainless does not mean that it’s going to turn brown in a year. Knife steel that has great edge-holding ability may need to be dried after getting wet and have a thin layer of oil applied, but customers that want the best edge possible are usually happy to go to this minor hassle for a superior edge. It may come down to whether you’re designing a commodity product or a high-end kitchen or hunting knife for the pros.

Get Your Questions Answered About Knife Steel

Whether you want to make a kitchen knife with great edge holding ability, a hunting knife that is corrosion-resistant, or some other type of knife blade, an experienced blade manufacturer can help you learn more about the best steel for making knives -- specific to your needs.

Feel free to ask questions. Any manufacturer worth its salt should be happy to help.

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