Knife-Steel Question

Paddle easy,


Whoa Hoss.

– Last Updated: Nov-18-08 9:42 PM EST –

"Hundreds that are superior ... in every way." That is a little over the top. Or a lot over the top actually.

D2, One expert is said to have stated "It takes a poor edge and holds it forever." I say "it rusts like 1095 and sharpens like 440A. You get the worst of both worlds." Some folks, like it. I don't know why.

ASTM 34, I agree that it is a pretty good stainless, but I've only seen it in expensive knives, and it doesn't seem any better than the Sandvik 12C27 stainless that you can get in a $13 Mora.

Let us know what you decide on, please. I need a good GP knife, too, so I think I may just play copy cat and get whatever you get.

However, I agree with the comment above that this shouldn’t be your PFD knife. That one should be dedicated and never removed, and possibly with specialized features that you might not want on a GP knife - like big serrations for cutting a plastic hull and that hook thing for rapidly cutting lines.

Becker, Ontario, etc.
Camillus Cutlery produced the Beckers until it went out of business. Becker bought the rights to his designs back and is now working with KaBar. I believe they just brought the Becker Necker back out with other designs to follow. Interesting bit of info: Ethan Becker of Becker knives is the same Ethan Becker that is listed on the “Joy of Cooking” cover.

Ontario does have a number of carbon steel knives. Part of their offering was the RAT (Randall Adventure Training) series. The RAT folks split with Ontario and now have their own line of knives marketed under the RAT Cutlery label. I’m pretty sure those are all 1095 carbon steel.

A good knife for those who lose them!
I won’t get sucked into the stainless argument, but let me add an opinion about a carbon steel knife that I have carried, off and on, since I was in high school (and that is a very long time ago!) I like the Opinel knives from France. 1) They are cheap, currently around 12 to 15 bucks, depending on size. 2) That’s right, depending on size. They come in lots of different sizes. I currently use a #8, about 4 1/4" closed. 3) It is a folding knife (not always the best when paddling, I realize) but it has an absolutely positive locking collet that works both to keep it open and to keep it closed. 4) The wooden handles (some beech, some pear) can easily have their finish taken off, leaving you with a pretty good non (or at least less) slip grip. These knives have good carbon steel blades that need to be thinned (ground down) somewhat to make it easier to sharpen. And after sharpening them over time, you’ll eventually need to grind down the handle or the pick will disappear into the handle. However, this is a great everyday knife that, importantly, can be lost without any real financial hit; its a $12 knife that takes a superb edge. Having an nice expensive knife is fun (my favorite is a Gerber Paul locking rotater) but having a damn good knife that won’t make you sick you when you lose it is even better. $12!

…and for those who don’t, apparently!
I’ll check that out too. I won’t necessarily be buying “the best” knife, just one that can be expected to performs as well as what I’m accustomed to. I’m also thinking that as long as I’m thinking about this, I could probably use two or three different kinds, since I “can’t find” a couple of my old pocket-knives (though I don’t think they are lost, and they’ll probably turn up some day).

carbon steel pocket knives
One of the best places to check out carbon steel pocket knives is Mike Latham is a great guy to deal with and has a pretty good range of knives, probably the best selection of carbon steel pocket knives around. The German brands are probably going to be the least expensive, but the Case CV knives are also pretty reasonably priced. I have a couple of Moore Makers that I really like. The Moore Makers are made by Queen, which has a few carbon steel pocket knives in its own lineup. The Great Eastern brands (Great Eastern Cutlery, Northfield, and Tidioute) are supposed to be extremely well made, but are starting to get a bit more expensive.

Old Hickory
Old Hickory knives are carbon steel and very cheap. If it got lost it wouldn’t mean much.

I have had one for 28 years
It’s an old friend, I would be sick if I lost it. And not because of the price.

Who here shaves with their knife?

– Last Updated: Nov-20-08 11:35 AM EST –

Why in the world would anybody need that kind of an edge on a utility knife? Surgeons use stainless scalpels. Sashimi chefs might need Samurai-quality blades for gutting blowfish, but I certainly don't. If your good-quality camping knife won't hold an edge, then try a different sharpening angle or hone more often. If your river knife won't cut a line in an emergency, then it's not serrated, or kept sharp, like it should be.

I'm as much a proponent of quality stuff as anybody, but still, "It's a poor craftsman, who blames his tools".

Edit: I've got one of those Gerber "Blackie Collins" river knives on my PFD that I bought 19 or 20 years ago. I take it out of its hard plastic sheath about once a year and shave a little hair off my forearm, just to see if it still will. It has been soaked (fresh) countless times, but never actually used and never sharpened. It's stainless.

"It’s a poor craftsman, who blames his tools."

But a good craftsmen knows to use quality tools to begin with.

I’m trying to figure out what you are …

– Last Updated: Nov-20-08 8:26 PM EST –

...talking about, and to whom. You seem to be on the attack, but you haven't addressed anything in my original question and I can't find a post in the whole thread that seems like the one you might be referring to. In a thread that's chock-full of useful advice, by people who clearly mean well, this response sure breaks the tone. Many seem to understand why I want a carbon steel knife, just a fewe disagree with me regarding whether there's a reason to like carbon steel better than stainless, and some have said there are good and bad examples of both metals. Some clearly like a really high-quality knife, but no one has said it's a necessity, and several have recommended cheap-but-good blades. Bashing an idea that wasn't even mentioned is pointless, and talking about the wonderful edge on a stainless steel knife that is old but has never actually been used sure doesn't demonstrate anything to me or anybody else. Maybe you could clarify this a bit for me.

I guess I don’t get it.
Sorry, didn’t mean to dis anybody, but the difference in edge quality between the alloys being discussed here, assuming all are sharpened by the same process, is insignificant in typical usage. Sure, some alloys are harder, more brittle, have differing crystalline structures, etc. and yes, trying to sharpen the wrong one to a fine edge is frustrating. Most decent quality outdoorsman’s knives are a compromise, I agree, but I can’t really imagine a scenario where having a perfect edge or the ultimate steel is going to make a difference.

The point I was trying to make, albeit poorly, by telling you about my river knife is that there are stainless blades that will take a wicked edge. I carry that thing for one reason - emergencies. Thankfully, I’ve never needed it. I don’t use it for anything else because it’s not well suited to other tasks.

When I’m camping, I take a small Norton fine india stone and a small mill bastard with which to touch-up edged tools. I don’t bring my Novaculite stones. I might if I needed to hone a straight razor for shaving, though.

Again, I apologize for any offense incurred, as none was intended. Although I own many, many edged tools, mostly for working wood and mostly carbon steel, I can’t rightly classify myself as a knife weenie. I suppose I should’ve just stayed out of it. But really, you guys crack me up sometimes.

That clarifies some,…

– Last Updated: Nov-20-08 11:22 PM EST –

but actually, it sounds like you are more obsessive about knives than I could ever be. Noviculite stones? What's that? I just grab one of three stones I've picked up over the years (who's lineage I neither know nor care about), slap on some 3-in-1 oil from the hardware store and spend a few minutes putting the edge back on whatever knife needs it.

I must say though, that I really disagree with the idea that in actual practice it makes no significant difference what the blade is made of, and since I raised this topic I've read plenty of articles (usually not suggesting you need something fancy or expensive), saying the same. I'm not educated about this stuff at all, but as one practical example of what I DO know, I'll tell you that since I was a teen until just a few years ago I spent two 10-hour days each year butchering deer with my dad, and one thing I learned a long time ago is that using a few battered-looking knives that were salvaged from an ancient barn in Upstate New York about 60 years ago will reduce the number of required sharpenings in a day to roughly half the number that are needed when using any stainless-steel knife with an "honored" brand name that we've used. That's not a case of being obsessive, that's just recognizing that there are better things to do on a long and tiring day than sharpen knives more often than necessary. We don't apply any science to choosing the "proper" sharpening angle for every different steel as you suggest should be done, but I betcha there aren't too many professional meat cutters using stainless steel either. That's just one down-to-earth example of why I prefer carbon steel, but any other example would also say that I really am only a utilitarian kind of guy when it comes to tools. So if that's an attitude that "cracks you up" I guess that's okay.

Okay, carbon is often “better”,

– Last Updated: Nov-21-08 9:01 AM EST –

I agree. I spent a year as a union apprentice meat cutter in a large facility and ALL of the knives used were supplied by the company. They were made by Dexter/Hyde and were stainless with those big white poly non-slip molded on grips. Literally hundreds came in and went out bi-weekly for sharpening. The alloy in those knives was/is relatively soft and required constant steeling, which everybody learned to accomplish freehand in a frightening, five-second blur. The message I took from that experience is that the skill of the operator, not the quality of the tool, was of primary importance. Believe me, if management thought that better knives would have improved production, we would have had them.

In my own kitchen, I have a good variety of knives, about three of which get the most use. Some are German, some are French, and a few are of U.S. manufacture. I've got two 8" 'chef's' knives, one high-carbon classic French and one stainless French made to a hybrid French-German style design. I think that the stainless blade holds the advantage for edge retention by far. The high-carbon blade will take a finer edge, for sure, but it is distinctly less hard. In practice, the difference between these knives is in the blade design and ease of use (maintenance plays a big part here). The stainless knife wins hands down in the case of the latter.

Guideboatguy, I wasn't singling anybody out. I don't know squat about metallurgy, but maybe I AM a bit a knife weenie, after all. I use the same axe, hatchet and sheath knife that I got when I was a Boy Scout in the late sixties. On my second Victorinox "Tinker", though. Really, those are all I need when in the woods. It's your turn to snicker at me!

the reason
The reason you see SS in production environments, especially commercial kitchens, is that they are cheaper to maintain. Even very high end kitchen knives typically come with a poor grind, and a very highly alloyed steel. Why? Because ppl who drop $150+ on a fancy new Chef’s knife don’t want to see rust spots or a nicked blade after its first use. So they are alloyed and blunt so that they are “user friendly.” First thing a pro chef does when he buys a new Wusthof? Reprofiles the secondary bevel.

Most SS does not hold an edge as well as most carbon steel. This is a generalization, because there are extremes at both ends that may overlap. BUT, when you start to add chromium to the amounts that constitute a “stainless,” there is a definite, very real trade off in edge retention. If you experience otherwise, it could be any number of factors contributing. From bad heat treat, to edge geometry, down to the specific alloys you are comparing.

No, not snickering now
It’s easy for meanings to get lost in these messages, and sometimes things seem more hostile than anybody wants it to be. I never should have answered your post, but as long as I did, I’m glad we had a bit of back-and-forth since.

With meanings getting lost, that’s just like how I never really wanted to imply that carbon steel is the ONLY metal that’s any good, only that it’s what I want in a general-purpose knife or in a hunting knife.

As far as frequent sharpenings go, I knew a guy who worked in a slaugherhouse years ago (I guess we can’t call them by that name anymore - that dates me), and he said the workers would sharpen their knife after every three cuts! No idea what kind of metal was in the blades though.

I mis-spoke earlier too, about paying no attention to sharpening angles. I give it so little thought that it was easy to forget. In actual fact, I do sharpen stainless steel to a significantly blunter edge than I do carbon, because I figured out you have to do that to make the blade function (just like I sharpen an axe to a blunter edge than a knife, and a lawnmower blade to a blunter edge than an axe). I only eyeball that angle in each case though. I’ve never resorted to those special guides guananteed to give the “right” angle for every situation.

I’m glad, too.
A wordsmith, I’m not, but I do have some jerk in me that I can’t always hide.

I’d look on ebay or flea markets for a '50’s-'60’s classic knife from a respected name. No stainless then and those companies had yet to be ruined by the bean-counting B-school crowd. I’m sure you’ll find a quality piece at a bargain price.

Good luck and paddle in peace, -'too.

Carbon Oldie
The sharpest knife I own is one I bought on Ebay and I have reserved it’s use to the butchering of our deer. It is an old carbon steel, double edged, somewhat rounded spear point blade about 6-7". It seems to cut through meat like a hot blade through butter. It is incredibly sharp to say the least! I have other carbon steel butcher knives that take an edge but nothing like that spear point. If only I could find a pocket knife with that kind of steel.


lot of misinformation here
I don’t particularly care who uses what kind of steel, but anyone relying on this thread to learn about knife steels is doing themselves a tremendous disservice.