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Blade steels - what's wrong with improvement?

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by Comeuppance, Feb 26, 2014.

  1. Comeuppance

    Comeuppance Fixed Blade EDC Emisssary

    Jan 12, 2013
    I'm a bit of a steel snob.

    I like steels that have high toughness, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance. Luckily for me, more advanced steels seem to become available in knives almost biannually! They keep getting better and with almost unheard of properties.

    And yet, there remains a segment of this little community that seems staunchly opposed to new steels. They'll use phrases like "flavor of the week" to describe them, as if that changes how much better the newer steel is. I don't understand that. It's not like a subscription service that runs out or stops being as good over time. That steel will retain it's properties and continue to be superior to the older steel regardless of how often it is used or how much someone likes an older steel.

    Is it a familiarity thing? I understand if someone gets used to, say, S30V and likes how the steel performs - and I can understand wanting all knives to have whatever favored steel. What is the point, though, in badmouthing newer superior steels?

    Yeah, older steels can still make good knives, but newer steels make better knives. Shouldn't we all want that? Isn't the gradual advancement something we should not only want but expect? Yeah, S30V, VG-10, and 440C used to be some of the best steels around - and now there are better ones. That's good, right? Why do so many people seem so grumpy about new steels? Don't you want a better cutting tool?
  2. 9blades


    Dec 29, 2012
    For a lot of people, me included, new / super steels are wonderful - but not necessary. I enjoy trying new steels and seeing how they preform, but steel doesn't take a front seat in my buying decisions, I'm happy as long as I'm doing better than 440A honestly. Your mileage may very. :)
  3. eschwebach


    Jul 16, 2012
    I am all for better performing steels, however often times they come with a much higher price tag. If the same knife is offered in more than one steel option and the lower priced offering has an adequate steel then I can see why a decision would be made for going with the lesser steel. That being said, why anyone would bad mouth a superior steel is beyond me. That's like bad mouthing a Ferrari because your Ford can get you to all the same places... Seriously makes no sense.
  4. Rennd


    Jan 22, 2014
    I feel it's just because people here don't like change. I've got the same view as you, I always want the new stuff, and I kinda resent the old stuff.

    #217 in RyanW's 2014 Giveaway
  5. Bugout Bill

    Bugout Bill

    Jan 2, 2013
    Some steels don't offer all that dramatic of an advantage over other steels, the steel might be a bad choice for the intended application of the knife.
  6. bpeezer


    Jan 27, 2013
    Newer steels may be an improvement if you compare them on paper, but sometimes it's not true in practice. Production companies can't use the "optimal" heat treats or geometries that really take advantage of the steel's properties. If companies took the time to work out fantastic heat treats and were willing to use really thin blade geometries, I think the "super steels" would get some more love.

    I'd take a well done knife in simple 1095 over a sharpened pry bar in M390 any day of the week.
  7. Okieblade


    Jan 23, 2013
    For me it is just a matter of personal preference. I like VG-10 and prefer to buy blades made from it.

    My most recent purchase is a Russian made Kizlyar Bloke Z, D2 tool steel. Old tech type steel, satin finish. However, it is a hunk of razor sharp tough as a boot blade.

    I am all for the new super steel type stuff. Its just that the older tech type steels work just fine for me.
  8. james terrio

    james terrio Sharpest Knife in the Light Socket

    Apr 15, 2010
    As a maker, I honestly don't worry too much about what steel is "hot" this year; I choose steel to suit the knife's purpose and the user's requirements. It's not efficient for me to make one-offs out of every new steel that comes along just to see if I or someone else will like them, but I do keep an eye on developments in the industry as they appear.

    My personal preference is low-maintenance steel with a balance of good-to-excellent toughness and good-to-excellent edge-holding... so my personal knives and standard offerings tend to be made of CPM-154, Elmax and CPM-3V. On the other hand, I'd be dumb to ignore the market for knives in plain carbon steel, so I make some in O1 and 52100 as well.

    Most of my custom orders are for knives with relatively new steels, but I can still get the classic simpler alloys for my clients who prefer them. The availability of a wide range of steels is good for everyone involved.

    Now if I were running a much larger manufacturing facility instead of a one-man shop, and had to put all my eggs in one or two baskets regarding alloy selection, I might feel differently...
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2014
  9. RemyKaze


    Mar 23, 2012
    Newer steels require less maintenance versus time in use, but when they need to be touched up or sharpened, it is more expensive to do so, imo. I always carry a Rat 2 with my S30V or anything else, because if I get slack and need to sharpen right before work, I know it'll take literally seconds to hone the Rat.

    I'm interested in M390 and will be getting the ZT Emerson. I had a Contego and now have a Gayle Bradley, and I'm not incredibly impressed with M4 steel. I do prefer S30V, but I miss having VG-10, something that I can touch up quickly and still use for days and days.

    If the 440 junk steels represent the soft side of the balance, then many of these new super steels represent the extreme opposite, with all the pros and cons that entails. Fun to have a few, but some of them may be for people who don't put their knife to task constantly and are more concerned about shiny, atom-splitting edges? Just an opinion.
  10. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    I suspect this thread is a take off from the VG-10 thread. I have no issue with the new steels. If you want the latest and greatest, go for it. You do pay for them. The problem with the new steels is that I know deep down it is all about marketing and selling knives and I question the need or even if they are so great.

    How about those wonderful carbon fiber handles? Oh yes... ching ching
  11. marcinek


    Jan 9, 2007
    Theres nothing wrong with improvement, and nobody has "badmouthed" it. If you are a self-confessed steel snob, the new steels and the gradual improvements they bring is great.

    For someone like me, who may not appreciate the subtle improvement that the sexiest new steel brings, much of the buzz seems like marketing. Doesn't motivate me to go get a new knife.
  12. steff27


    Feb 8, 2013
    It seems that almost all modern knives come with thick blades, thick edges and highly abrasion resistant blade steels. What is the purpose of this combination? To me, it seems to be too much driven by what sounds cool, not by performance for actual use cases.

    So if a company sells a high quality folder with a 2.5 mm thick blade and a thin edge with the newest, highly abrasion resistant steel, and ergonomics targeted at cardboard cutting, I'll be all over it. That would make sense.
  13. HwangJino


    Dec 2, 2012
    For me i like carbon and I like my edges thin.

    Steel is important for kitchen knives, for folders, it honestly does not matter, not like I earn a living using folders.
  14. Stays Sharp

    Stays Sharp

    Nov 21, 2013
    Plenty of excellent points on this thread already. As long as we continue to appreciate the older steels (since many are fully capable of getting the job done) then theres nothing wrong to looking forward to newer ones. What I dont like to see are the off comments saying D2 sucks now which isnt true. Theres better out there even much better but D2 and many other older steels still perform. Look at my name lol, I like the increased wear resistance and sharpening is never a problem for me.
  15. Ankerson

    Ankerson Knife and Computer Geek Gold Member

    Nov 2, 2002
    It comes down to wants and needs...

    Also the cost factor and that's huge no matter what some people try and say.

    Performance is a large factor as some of the so called new steels aren't really new, they have just been used in different areas of the steel industry and have been adapted to knife use.

    Now the convincing part is the hard part, especially for those people who are more cost minded.

    The bottom line really is one has to pay for performance and the higher performance costs more than standard or sub standard performance does.

    Steel isn't free and neither is labor, shop materials etc and that is also factored into the final cost of the knives.

    There are no really bad steels, just different and have different areas they are better suited for than some others.

    Another factor is urban legends and most of those are complete BS, but they die hard....

    Any steel, no matter what it is won't perform above it's alloy content all things being equal and assuming a proper heat treatment and made by someone who knows what they are doing.

    There aren't any magic heat treatments that will work miracles above and beyond what the alloy content of the steel is and anyone that says otherwise is fooling themselves because it just won't happen.

    As an example 1095 will never outperform CPM 10V when cutting abrasive materials like cardboard or wild boar hide because the alloy content just isn't there.

    Same goes for 420HC and CPM 110V, same as the last sentence, but in stainless.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2014
  16. Stays Sharp

    Stays Sharp

    Nov 21, 2013
    Great point. Spyderco seems to pay attention to those things from a production standpoint. There are limits on what production companies can do but yes overbuilt gets on my nerves when it takes away what a knife is supposed to do.
  17. chiral.grolim

    chiral.grolim Universal Kydex Sheath Extension Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 2, 2008
    ARE the new steels "better performing" ?

    The assertion has been challenged by a number of experts who value, first and foremost, the achievable apex diameter of the cutting edge (approaching 0.1 um), followed closely by the stability of this apex and the ease of maintaining it during and after use. IF a steel is extremely wear-resistant (high carbide), it may be able to maintain a certain level of sharpness for a longer period of time, but that level may be BELOW what is desired for the application, making it WORSE performing and more expensive to first create and then maintain.

    A "better performing" steel in a knife provides the optimal level of sharpness for a given application for the longest period of time with the lowest cost of maintenance. For some, the "super" steels offer that. For others, they do not.
  18. Comeuppance

    Comeuppance Fixed Blade EDC Emisssary

    Jan 12, 2013

    Well, it is a product, and the sellers are wise to listen to consumers. A large number of consumers want thick and beefy knifes, so that is what gets produced.

    Spyderco makes a lot of relatively thin FFG blades in good steels. The Domino has a 3mm thick blade and CTS-XHP.
  19. dalefuller

    dalefuller Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 2, 2005
    This is me, as well. I don't buy blade steel, I buy the overall knife if it works for me. I really don't care about having the newest because I'm not a tester, a collector, or even a serious addict. I like knives, I use knives, and that's the extent of my interest. I also like what I'm familiar with and what I know from experience. If I like a knife that has a new (to me) steel, I'll buy it and figure out how to maintain the blade. But I'm just as happy or happier with a knife that has a middle-of-the-road old school steel that I already know.
  20. Comeuppance

    Comeuppance Fixed Blade EDC Emisssary

    Jan 12, 2013

    Obviously, different steels and different grinds are necessary to be optimal for different tasks. I wouldn't want to make a chopper out of ZDP189, and I wouldn't want a bushcrafting knife made out of 440A.

    Your post seems to argue against an opinion that nobody has voiced or alluded to: That ALL knives should be made of supersteels regardless of knife design or intended application. Obviously, you choose the right steel for the task.

    For most of us, though, I feel like it's pretty cut and dry for our daily tasks. Give one guy a ZDP Endura and another a VG10 Endura and see who has the sharper knife after a week of EDC cutting. Give a guy a S30V PM2 and another a 204p PM2, 110v Native vs S30V Native, M390 Barrage vs 154cm Barrage, etc.

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