I’ve always loved being outdoors, camping, climbing, hiking, canoeing, etc. Almost always, there comes a time when this most useful of tools is called upon to take on a task. While reading reviews of different camp/survival knives, I found out there are MANY different types of steels used but most can be classified in two categories. They are Stainless Steels and Carbon Steels. While looking into these I came across something interesting.
Apparently, almost 90% of production knives made are a type of stainless steel. These are great for kitchen cutlery or diving knives, as they resist corrosion really well, but in comparison to carbon steels they are a lot weaker. Stainless is cheaper, less labor intensive, less energy intensive, and thus more profitable to mass produce.
There are a few newer alloys (ATS-34, CPM S30V) that rank with some carbon steels but they are crazy expensive. Bear Grylls’ knife, made by a private knifemaker named Bailey, was made with S30V….its price was $700. Even at that price, the demand was so high that the orders are now backed up over 5 years.
Carbon steels make up about 10% of the market and they are usually always very pricey. The proper heat treatment process takes many cycles, at high temperatures, for long amounts of time. Knives made of these can typically only be bought from private knifemakers.
While carbon steel isn’t as corrosion resistant as stainless, the fact is, ALL steel will corrode without proper care. That being said, as long as you take care of your knife like you do your toothbrush (wash/rinse it off and dry it after use) and throw some lubricant on it, it will be just fine to use the much stronger carbon steel.
Coming from a very hands-on and mechanical background, I decided to try my hand at making a knife myself. The heat treatment for 5160 steel can be accomplished with a charcoal grill, a hairdryer, a bucket of oil, and a magnet. So, for my first one, I’m gonna stick with that steel.
During the process of making a knife, the heat treatment makes or breaks the quality of the steel. If you don’t get it right, it can completely ruin the blades performance. So with picking 5160 steel, I can pretty much guarantee that I can’t screw it up, as its forgiving and simple to heat treat.
If I do well, this could develop into a new hobby that could be profitable as well as fun. Not to mention, I will be able to own one of the best knives available without the multi-hundred dollar price tag.
Here’s a link to everything you’d ever want to know about all the individual types of blade steels and what the pros n cons for each are.
Next, in this series, I’ll start the stock removal on a steel blank of the 5160.