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Choosing The Best Steel For Knife Making


When crafting anything for a hobby or for a commercial venture, the materials used can make or break the project. Knife making steel is no different. Not only does it need to look good but should also be practical and suitable for its main purpose. Many amateur knife makers can spend a lot of time and money using the wrong types of steel when experimenting, so this article gives you a guide to the best steel for knife making.


Why does the right steel make the difference?

There are pros and cons to different types of steel. Different types of steel are created through different combinations of alloys, which in turn produce different characteristics. Manufacturers give each steel a classification (which involves a coded number) dependent on the recipe used to create that particular steel. This also gives the consumer exact knowledge of what combinations make up the steel and in turn what properties they are likely to give.


What to look for when choosing steel for a knife

There are many properties that one should look for when selecting steel for a knife. In principle, you need the material to have strength and durability in order to resist force and not to deform after several uses if you intend to use the knife for practical purposes. The material should also be corrosive resistant in order that the knife lasts for a good length of time and does not rust and become brittle.

At the same time, the material should have the ability to be sharpened and also to be formed and cut into a specific knife shape.

In order to find a good combination of these different properties, you should look for the following additional alloys (alongside iron and carbon) and choose a good combination depending on your exact requirements:

  • Chromium (makes stainless steels “stainless” or corrosion resistant)
  • Cobalt (adds strength)
  • Manganese (hardens the steel)
  • Molybdenum (adds strength, hardenability and corrosion resistance)
  • Nickel (adds toughness)
  • Tungsten (adds wear resistance)
  • Vanadium (adds hardness, strength and wear resistance)


What are the most prevalent steels used in knife making?

The main types of steel used in knife making are tool steel, stainless steel or carbon steel. 

Tool steel is a particularly hard and sturdy material, making it an ideal knife material. It is very heat resistant and so is ideal for use when making a cutting tool. The disadvantage of tool steel is that it can be corrosive and the finish you can achieve may not be suitable for a kitchen knife or decorative knife.

Stainless steel should be used when creating a knife that requires corrosive resistant properties - for example a kitchen knife.

Carbon steel can be manipulated into a very sharp blade with properties of strength and durability. Again, carbon steel can be corrosive and can become brittle, which makes it harder to work with.


What’s the best steel for knife making?

One of the most commonly used steels for knife making is 1095 steel. It is used primarily because it is made of 0.95% carbon and so its hardness is suitable for knives, and the wear and tear on the knife is minimal due to its robustness.

It is also less fragile than other steels as it contains a very small amount of manganese, which can cause the blade to be brittle if there is too high a concentration of it within the steel.

Again, corrosiveness may be an issue with this type of blade but it retains sharpness and the corrosiveness can be managed through the use of coating and preservation of the edge of the blade.

For hard wearing or regular use knives, you may consider 1070, 1075, 80CrV2, 15N20 or 8670, each of which can withstand heat and are all pretty tough steels in terms of their properties. These metals are generally less expensive than 1095.

If you are looking to create a knife as a showpiece or for display and you don’t intend to use it for practical purposes, then the LC200N steel is perfect. It is very easy to create a sleek, corrosion resistant finish with very few impurities. This ensures that the knife does not contain any pits or imperfections which may taint its appearance.


Further Reading: A Guide To Knife Grind Types


How to choose the best steel for knife making for beginners

As a beginner to the art of knife making, it is often best to experiment with different materials until you find a steel that you are most comfortable with and that offers you the best results for your needs.

Every steel has its pros and cons, but it’s about prioritizing the properties that are most important to you. In general terms, the practical use knife properties are more about the strength, durability and ease of sharpening, whereas the show piece knives are more about how easily the metal can be finished and the lack of impurities that show on the finished steel.


What should you do next?

Once you have decided on the type of steel that is best suited to your knife project, you should purchase it from either a steel wholesaler or, for smaller projects, from a hardware store.

You will also need to consider that your knife requires heat treatment in order to harden the steel for its intended use. At Soul Ceramics, we can advise you on the best solutions for heat treating your steel and ensure that your finished item is of the highest standard.

Please contact us for more information, or view our extensive range of heat treating ovens, perfect for use as a hobby or for more commercial ventures.


Additional resources on knife making