A knife in its simplest description is a cutting edge with a handle. To be good at its job
it must take and hold a sharp edge. For steel to have good edge holding ability it needs to
be able to be hardened and tempered. It is this ability to be hardened that makes knife steel different
from many of the other grades or types of steel. It is also the characteristics of the steel
after hardening which often dictate the quality of the knife. For instance if it is too
brittle it is likely to break very easily even though it may be very hard.
The most important component in knife steel is carbon. Carbon allows steel to be hardened
so that it will hold an edge. So called Carbon Steel is a generic name for many of the
non-stainless knife steels. There are also many tool steels which can also be described as
carbon steel. Tool steels, as the name suggests, are used for the manufacture of tooling for
things such as moulds, punches and dies, etc. Most tool steels include alloys such as
chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, tungsten and cobalt. These alloys give the steel better work
Many carbon and tool steels are excellent for making knives, but usually require greater
care than stainless steel knives to stop them from rusting.
Surgical steel is not a technical term and is used to describe a vast range of qualities and
types of steels. Many of the steels which can be described as surgical steel are not
suitable for knife making.
Stainless steel has at least 13% chromium added to it to make it less susceptible
to rusting. It should be noted that stainless steel suitable for making knives will rust
if exposed to salt water or acids. The addition of nickel to stainless steel gives it much
greater resistance to rust but will not allow it to be hardened. As a result, 18/8*
(18% chromium / 8% nickel) and 18/10** (18% chromium / 10% nickel) stainless steel saucepans
are less susceptible to rust than knives. The only steels which can really be called
non-rusting are the duplex stainless steels such as Sandvik's SAF2507. This however is
quite unsuitable for the making of knives.
The main alloys added to stainless knife steel are:
It assists in the forging and hot rolling components of steel manufacture
It also assists in keeping the steel sound during hot processing
This strengthens the carbides which are the hard edge-holding components of the
This is also a carbide former
GUSTAV EMIL ERN knives are made using steel of
German specification 1.4116 for blades of 2mm thickness and under (filleting, paring,
turning, etc) and specification 1.4110 for blades greater than 2mm (boning, cooks, butchers,
DEWEY knives are produced using the following steels; D2, ATS34, K1073 and German steel 1.4110 and 1.4116.