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Knife Toolsteels... What Do We Really Know? An Earth-Returning Counterexample

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Inspired by discussion in another knife thread about esoteric very hard toolsteels cladded with softer ones, and the history, uses, ramifications, and relative advantages and disadvantages of this, I've been thinking all weekend about this fancy steel business. How it is or isn't germane to good kitchen knives--at all pricepoints.

Much of the weekend I was waving a large chainsaw around. I had a truckload of mostly hardwood logs dumped (about 5 cords worth), and I needed to buzz it up into rounds for splitting. Although my Stihl saw had only a 28-inch bar, several of the logs were about 36 inches in diameter. A rough calculation Sunday night discloses that in cutting this load into rounds, I likely cut 250 times all the way through logs averaging 18 inches in diameter. By the time I was through, the chain was just barely noticeably duller than at the start, but the teeth (about 50 ittybitty L-shaped devils) were still cutting very precise chips and chaff. I could probably have made 500 cuts without the blade becoming dull. It remains sharp enough tonight to cut my fingers and chaps.

Now then, for comparison, the masters test for the American Bladesmith Society includes a cutting test through a *softwood* 2x4 with 15 inches of edge. Twice. That's one of the most rigorous edge-retention tests in all of knifedom--7 linear inches of cut. Compared with about 4,500 inches through mostly hardwood (actually, a lot more that that if you calculate the cross-sections).

I'm not 100% sure of the alloy in my Oregon Chain Co. chain, but I know it's not laminated VG10, or something like "SuperChrMog1550SVG". It must be cheap to produce, and I can testify it's easy to sharpen. If I had to bet, it's a steel called L6, or a variant of that steel. It's been around for a very long time, used in fine woodcarving knives, lathe tools, sawmill blades, chisels, you name it. I like many knifemakers have made knives from L6, because it's plentiful and cheap. And cuts and resharpens... like a chainsaw.

This got me thinking about what we (knife nerds and others here) REALLY know about the steels from which knives are made. Is it what we read? Is it what we've been offered to read by those in marketing of blades made of esoteric and proprietary steels? Is it in the anecdotal accounts by other users? Is it our own "hands on" experience with whatever steels are offered in retail blades at any given time? What rigors or systematic cutting tests have we really put our own blades to, and how many different steels/heat treats make up our experience base? What attempts--really--have we made to try the "lesser" steels like L6, or to canvas the field of mundane steels?

What I'm suggesting here is an open-eyed re-examination of the epistemology of sharp, and the role that "fancy" steels have to play, really.

Aloha,
Kaleo

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  1. Probably one place to start would be to look at the steel used by people who cut meat all day long -- butchers or workers in meat packing plants. I'd bet their knives are made of some pretty simple steel. I've seen some really old ones that were "worn" down to a fraction of the original width by years of sharpening.

    As with most things, people are convinced that the more they pay for something the better it is.

    1. As with many things, knives are a two sided coin, and sharpness, the ability to obtain and hold an edge is one side of the coin. I've talked in the past about my grandfather and his old butcher knives, how I remember as a kid watching him grind the edges on a manually operated tredel style stone that was probably 30" in diameter and 3" thick. How he honed the edge and then used the steel and a leather strop in the butcher shop to keep them sharp all day, while cutting meat. I don't recall how wide the blade was when they were new, but now they look like fellet knives from the repeated sharpening. I still have them, although they are never used. They are carbon steel, not stainless, and they are stamped not forged, I know one has Dexter on the wooden handle. These knives were tools of the trade back in a time when few could afford pretence. They were utilitarian, the best steel for the job at hand and the best price possible for the tradesman. A butcher couldn't afford a fancy forged knife with full bolsters and blackwood handles and nickel rivets. They needed knives that were sharp and easy to sharpen so they were always at their peak cutting performance. Can you imagine the plight of a butcher trying to cut a piece of meat with a dull knife as his customer is peering over the counter? I doubt my grandfather was much of a metalurgest, he just bought the most utilitarian knife available that he could afford.

      The other side of this coin is Today's Kitchen, not my grandmother's kitchen, she got the butcher's knives after my grandfather couldn't use them anylonger. But today's upscale kitchen with granite counter tops and touchless faucets, multi thousand dollar ranges and french door refrigerators, Kitchenaid Pro mixers and oh yes, a block full of shiney stainless steel high end knives. I don't believe for the average cook the metalurgy of the blade plays much of a roll, it's just is it easy to maintian and does it look nice. It may also help if it has a mysteries of the Orient kind of name. I don't believe there are many who understand the metalurgy well enough to make a purchasing decision based on that information. Because of my other interests I may know a little but most of it does not apply to knife blades or at least I can't make that connection.

      1. I probably won't be able to address every point you made in a single post. But here are a few of my thoughts.

        - I know the steels I've used extensively reasonably well. A bunch of other steels, I know to some extent through sharpening. Then there's admittedly some hearsay (I try to make it clear when I'm just repeating what I've been told), some conjecture and extrapolation (for example, I've sharpened enough steels that use vanadium to know that it tends to make knives resistant to abrasives and thus harder to sharpen - so when I see a steel that is tempered high and uses a lot of vanadium, I can gather that it will be slow to sharpen even though I haven't used said steel before). This admittedly leads to an imperfect understanding of steel properties. But it's better than nothing.

        - Some of the steels you are thinking of as esoteric may only be foreign. In other words, I may shoot the shat about powdered metal steels (e.g. zdp189, cowry x, sg-2), carbon steels that are allegedly difficult to work with (e.g 52100), and expensive new mystery steels (e.g. whatever the Konosuke HD is made of) - these steels are genuinely esoteric. But if you look at my own knives and many of the ones I recommend, the steels are hitachi white and blue carbon steels. AFAIK, these are more or less traditional carbon steels in Japan. What I love about Japanese knives really boils down to their geometry (though the steel has to support that geometry).... but it makes sense that if you're going to buy a Japanese knife, you might expect it to come in a steel that is less well-known to metal workers on this side of the world.

        - I believe that test for the American Bladesmith society is a test of toughness - you are only allowed to chop, not whittle. Right? If so, that would be a very different test of a steel than sawing through the same block of wood. The challenge is to make a blade that can perform well at the other tests (often requiring a fairly fine edge) but also not chip or crumble with hard impact against wood.

        - It is not only possible but nearly certain that there are tool steels out there that I've never heard of but can make a fine knife. Some of these tool steels may even be quite affordable. But, I'm not so certain that we can extrapolate how a steel will perform as a kitchen knife from how a steel performs as a chainsaw blade. For one, IIRC a chain saw's teeth are sharpened to fairly obtuse angles on one side only - like scissor blades, in a sense. An edge of that shape will tend to be pretty durable - I'm not surprised your chainsaw doesn't dull quickly. For a steel to perform the way I want it to on a knife's edge, it must be able to support an edge of under 30 degrees included and still have good edge retention without getting too chippy. Also has to have a fine grain structure so that it sharpens the way I want it to. Would L6 (or whatever your chainsaw blade is made of) meet these criteria? Truth is I don't know. Some steel qualities are more important for an obtuse edge cutting at high speed while others may be more important for an acute edge cutting at much lower speed. But there are also plenty of steel qualities that both types of edges have in common, ideally.

        That's it for now. See yinz later.
        Rob

        1. Yeah, that's a lot to comment on. My little contribution is that custom kitchen knife makers are interesting to follow. Pierre Rodrigue uses a lot of different steels and they are often in a good position to evaluate what steels work better and make better knives for kitchen use. Harner and Rodrigue use cpm-154 a lot now, but in the past they probably used something else and decided to ditch it for some reason.

          Devin and his son Larrin were long time advocates for AEB-L before anyone was making kitchen knives out of the Swedish razor steel. So I can see your point about path dependency and the need to look at things anew. Their advocacy has led to that steel becoming a favorite for some kitchen knife makers now -- but it took some time and someone willing to start making knives out of it that people could then comment on.

          52100 (old ball bearing steel) isn't a fancy steel and is becoming a favorite it seems with custom knife makers too. Kramers carbon line is out of it, and I am getting two knives custom made out of it.

          The fancy powdered stuff seems to be the rage with big-name knives and SG-2 is all over the place. I bet that passes at some point and they move on to a new technology in 5+ years.

          But aren't there other considerations? I read on zknives that 52100 wasn't available in bar stock, so it seems that other factors can limit how used they are for making knives. Now that it can be obtained in bar stock, people are using it more.

          Just some rambling thoughts.

          1. kaleo, are you deforesting one of the islands by yourself? That sounds like a lot of work, my friend! :-D

            I think I understand the motivation behind your questions. I wish I had a better understanding of why people (& companies) choose to do what they do. Alas, my best realization is simply this:
            People are SO WEIRD!!

            A lot of the "why" behind product decisions comes down to familiarity. Ownership-type mentalities like stability. So you get resistance to new materials, or processes, or "features" if they deviate too far from what's been successful in the past. When new things start to become accepted, the old things are relabled as outdated & the new things become the familiar. Marketing-type mentalities like to make their item stand out, so you get things like less-than-ideal stainless steels being used where carbon steels excel. Or maybe a nice layered and/or hammered effect to stand apart from the crowd.

            Then you start to have technological additions. New tempering methods to existing stainless. VG-10 (just one in a line of VG steels) to replace "high-carbon" stainless. Powdered metalurgy (PM) to replace smelted metals. Ceramics to replace steels all together.

            I know that you are already aware of these cycles & tides of human nature & product development. I guess I'm just editorializing to your questions. Humans have always been fascinated by promise of more. Whether it's a 14th century charlatan selling religous "relics" that he dug up from a common gravesite, or a 19th century travelling barker selling herbed alcohol as a miracle "cure" in a bottle, or a 21st century infomercial promising longer life from a pill, people want to believe they're in on the secret. IMO, that's what drives the plethora of choices we face today in many product lines.

            Not terribly helpful, I know....

            Now, regarding your example of chainsaw vs knife blade to cut wood....
            I think a better analogy might be taking a single itty-bitty L-shaped saw tooth & mounting it onto a steel bar, then taking that new tool & trying to cut thru two 2x4s by hand with it. When you gang up 50 of these teeth in an infinitely continuous line, then add 4-1/2 HP of motive force behind it & 28" of leverage, you've got a lot of little scoops each shaving a thin layer of material from a fresh surface. By comparison, a single narrow edge being swung by an arm may be only generating 0.1 HP (complete WAG here, based on a fit cyclist generating 0.5 HP using the largest muscle groups in the body), cutting across many fibers simultaneously rather than planing material, & hitting different areas of the wood each time. The lack of power & lack of a continual supply of new edges, along with the blunting force of burying the knife's edge with momentum-stopping blows, makes the comparison unbalanced. (Isn't the knife blade then supposed to cut paper? Would a used chainsaw tooth be able to?)

            Do I have a better analogy or test to offer? Sadly, I do not. :-(
            I can think of other scenarios, like using a tailpipe cutter wrapped around a limb. Those edges may not dull as fast, but then you have more edges sharing the cutting work.
            I don't know....

            Maybe I'm just thinking out loud again....

            1 Reply
            1. re: Eiron

              Hi, Eiron:

              I like your insightful musings. I think the psychology of marketing explains a lot. I especially like your "ownership mentalities" reasoning. Thanks. We live in an age where most folks must have new, therefore lose touch with the old, and therefore lose the perspective to judge between the two.

              But I will quibble a bit about the teeth and horsepower distinctions. If 50 teeth together cut 4,500 linear inches of log, I think it's fair to say that each cut 90. Because the teeth alternate L and R, if instead of 50 you had one of each on one chain, it would still cut a *lot* of wood.

              Somewhere in my survivalist/woodsman junk I have a "manual chainsaw". It's a short length of chain with forward- *and* backward-facing teeth, strung up with parachute cord and toggle handles. Doesn't sink through wood like a Stihl running at 12K rpm. But it cuts up to 6" logs and branches surprisingly easy. In both the motorized an manual cases, each tooth is cutting across many fibers simultaneously.

              I'll see if someone can spot-weld me up a one-tooth-knife and see if I can drag it through a 2x4. Should be good for a laugh.

              Aloha,
              Kaleo

            2. Hello Kaleo:

              Do you not consider S30V to be a superior steel for knives? What about 154CM?

              I'm more familiar with woodworking edges and A2 is a good steel for a wood chisel. It's strong, holds an edge, and is easy to sharpen. It doesn't however, see moisture or acidic liquids, so this may rule it out for kitchen use. But it will take a pounding before it dulls.

              Also, woodworking edges are commonly carbide on power equipmet, obviously not on your chainsaw, but I wouldn't use anything else on my table saw. The thing is, the cutting action is so much different that what you get with a kitchen knife. The carbide tips are sharp, but not really all that sharp, they just hold up for ever. And although they are brittle, they impact wood at about 3400 to 5000 rpm, can you cut that fast?

              Not being a metalurgest, I don't know if I could discern a good knife steel from a bad one until the knife became dull. And I know I can't tell the difference between hype and actual benefits.

              3 Replies
              1. re: mikie

                Hi, mikie:

                I haven't worked with S30V, so educate me. I have worked with 154CM, and ATS34, which I believe are the same steel, one Japanese, one American. I have a set of steak knives on the bench right now in some of the last American-made ATS34. I like it quite a bit, but the heat treat is not simple, so I send it out for that. Even foil-wrapped and in a vacuum oven, you have to be careful with how thin your edge is, or you will get stress riser cracks.

                Chainsaw chain not seeing moisture? Newly felled trees are full of water. And the bar oil is acidic. LOL, I don't think the chain is going to have any problems with citrus tomatoes or watermelon!

                I'm going to have to think about whether the cutting action is really much different between the two. I mean, the edges are usually different--the chain teeth are one-sided hollow ground (the "wheel" being a 5/32" round file, and it's typically folded over. But the motion is a drawcut (at least when you use the bottom of the bar), and the teeth *shave* out the wood. If the texture and moisture content of the wood is right and the chain is sharp, the saw throws excelsior-like ribbons.

                Aloha,
                Kaleo

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  "Chainsaw chain not seeing moisture? Newly felled trees are full of water. And the bar oil is acidic. LOL, I don't think the chain is going to have any problems with citrus tomatoes or watermelon!"

                  Hi Kaleo,

                  Well certianly a chain saw chain sees moisture and in fact there are acids, tannins, in most trees, however, the chain is coated in bar oil which not only acts as a lubricant but would protect the chain from rusting. Clean the chain, put it out in the rain and see what you end up with. The wood I work with is already dry, so maybe 5 - 7 % moisture. I'm not sure how well someting that is normally in a dry environment holds up in a wet environment. What I can say with a high level of confidence, if my wife had a non-stainless knife, it would be rusted into oblivian in a matter of weeks. She's been cooking for 50 years and taking care of a knife is not in her bag of tricks, so the need for a stainless steel knife is of the utmost importance. I don't believe this situation is unique, I'm sure the knife nerds are covering their eyes at this point, but I believe in the average household knife abuse is all too common.

                  As much as I'd like to help out with S30V, I'm a woodworker not a knife maker, and although I'm somewhat familiar with steels, my experience is buying chisels, not making them. But most articles I read on making specialized chisels, A2 is sufficient as a wood cutting tool.

                  I'm not sure where this is headed, there is basic tool steel and fancy tool steels, and stainless, but there also seems to be a sidebar on fancy finishes vs. plain finishes on the blade, and what if any purpose does the "fancy" finish serve? It is interesting reading though.

                  1. re: mikie

                    Hi, mikie: "I'm not sure where this is headed..."

                    Me either. My intent in this thread was just to throw out for discussion the fact that the forest of toolsteels is often overlooked for the latest tree, and that what we think excellent edge retention and cutting ability are in relation to kitchen knives can pale when you consider other cutting applications. I mean, 90 cuts through an 18-inch *log*?

                    Drag about the wife not taking care of knives. Maybe you should install one of those finger-pad-lock pistol drawers for your high-carbon knives.

                    Aloha,
                    Kaleo

              2. What I'm suggesting here is an open-eyed re-examination of the epistemology of sharp, and the role that "fancy" steels have to play, really.
                Well the role "fancy" steels play is simple, it's progress. In the infinite strive for "better" people will always keep looking/trying to find "better". Be it cars/buildings/stoves/mouse traps/light bulbs or knives. Sure a knife made from 1020 will cut just as a model T would get you where you are going. Thankfully human nature does strive for better or we would still be driving model T's. And I really don't think a comparison between a chainsaw chain(that's what it is after all) and a knife is very usefull, unless you are willing to show me a chainsaw cut paper thin slices of tomato then cut a log. That would be fair if you could pull it off. And I don't see the connection between butchers and massive amounts of knife knowledge, every butcher shop and large meat packing operations use knife serveces the same as resturants. Maybe half a century ago it was different but not now,
                And for the record i've worked with 01, D2 , A 1&2 and a variety of SS in a T&D shop and I think 01 would make a fine knife, but it will rust so i'd want to add some cr to cut that down a bit oh wait that would be trying to make it better.
                But I really would like someone make a knife out of stellite, that i'd like to try.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Dave5440

                  I just got an O1 core damascus blade in and I have another one coming in a couple weeks. I've heard good things about it and that it is really reactive. I am excited to try it out. The one I have now already looks pretty dark.

                  1. re: smkit

                    What model/make, do you have a link to it, that sounds like a sweet combo.

                  2. re: Dave5440

                    Hi, Dave 5440:

                    I hear you, but I'd say it's more like the "infinite strive for better sales."

                    I'm certainly for progress, provided we can tell the differences between progression, regression and stasis. Let's just say I'm less than sanguine that it's all in a "better" direction when it comes to toolsteels for knives. Regression or stasis has been the unfortunate history of many things IMO, e.g., cookware in general, cell phones (at least for the phone functions).

                    My chainsaw comparison may not be perfect, but it serves the purpose to show that old, pedestrian steels can have prodigious cutting ability--and we're not comparing those to this year's model proprietary alloy. Knives that I have made myself out of L6 have seemed to me to be superior cutters to some fancy $$ steels the names of which get fawning knife magazine press, corporate puffery and buyers' adoration. I have every confidence that a blade of L6 can cut a tomato paper thin, and still cut wood. The things that keep L6 chainsaw teeth from doing so have *nothing* to do with the steel itself. And--here's the salient point--there's nothing super-special about L6, either. It could just as well be 1095 (car springs), 52100 (ball bearings), or 5160 (railroad car coil springs). 440V for that matter. There's less difference in the steels than there is what the maker *does* with it. And technology hasn't exactly been progressive in THAT regard.

                    Analogizing a good knife made out of one of these "plainer" steels to a Model T car is pretty inapt. Most of us think like you, that new is better. We tend to think our knives of recent alloy are better, and hence we value them more than one that might rust if it's abused. Without something to compare it to in our own experience, or repeatable empirical data, all this does is tend to confirm our biases. And that's exactly what the cutlery companies want. Sometimes, guys like Kramer make old "new" (52100) but Ed Fowler's been turning out 52100 blades for decades.

                    Have you ever had a knife made of D2? Not technically stainless, but it keeps up like stainless. Check out Bob Dozier's Philosophy Corner sometime.

                    Stellite's available. Why don't you make yourself/have made a blade of that? How about David Boye's cast dendritic steel (Have Francine etch the blade for you!)? It's been around maybe, what, 30 years now? Give that a try. Just don't assume newer is better, or that it's worth the price. For that matter, ever fool with a microblade of obsidian? Talk about a progressive material!

                    You Take Care,
                    Kaleo

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      Most of us think like you, that new is better
                      That statement is far from correct when it comes to me. In order to get me to replace what works there needs to be a very large improvement, change for the sake of change is pointless. When it comes to alloys there is always a trade off, I'm not saying or implying that using L6(by the way I have no idea about it never come accross it before)01,D2 52100 will not make a fine knife it will and does. I also agree that the market offering is based on profit not perfecting the breed, but that's a trade-off I'm willing to accept.
                      I'm assuming that what you refer to when you say what a "maker does with it" is heat treating, there is a limit to what HT will do to any given steel or alloy and it's found very quickly, but I think when the smaller shops do thier own HT they get better results because they pay far more attention to what they are doing with more precision than the big boys. Dendrities are in all steels, hell even ice cubes have them, controlling the size is the important part. I'm not sure if we are talking about the same stellite but the stuff i've had you couldn't grind, cast to it's final shape.
                      And lastly I didn't try to come off as being combative , if I did my apologies.

                      1. re: Dave5440

                        Hi, Dave5440:

                        No problem. Good to hear it's not all out-with-the-old.

                        What I meant by "what the maker does with it" is the full meal deal--picking a steel, profile, thickness, balance, tapers, heat treat, tempering, finish, edge bevels, final polishes.

                        I don't know if Boye Dendritic Steel is the same or merely like Stellite. But it's cast, so maybe it's close. I don't really care for the cast handles, but Francine's etchings on the flats are really great.

                        Aloha,
                        Kaleo

                  3. What I want to know is how the chainsaw is on slicing ripe tomatoes in the kitchen. Would you mind slicing up a bushel or so in the kitchen and posting pictures?

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: Richard L

                      It works great on the tomtoes, but you wind up having to replace so many cutting boards.

                      1. re: Richard L

                        Hi, Richard:

                        Sure, happy to. But I don't have a camera, so can we do it at your house? That way you can hold the tomatoes still while I make the cuts.

                        Aloha,
                        Kaleo

                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          There's a point here, nevertheless, which is that a 40cc (or whatever) gas motor with umphs of torque is spinning the chain at whatever velocity to cut those logs with power, but very little precision in mind. How can that be remotely comparable to a human arm holding a fine cutting instrument? Let's compare the efficacy of rocket propellant and liquid oxygen in a rocket motor with gasoline in an internal combustion engine... Or materially, why is polypropylene so flimsy in comparison with re-enforced, pre-stressed concrete?

                          The fact that metal, and specifically a form of steel, is used in both cases is meaningless without carefully looking at the application. It's like Cutco's ads for their knives claiming that they use surgical steel - 440A. Gee, that must mean that it's the best steel for cutlery. And how often does the surgeon sharpen and re-use his scalpel? In this day and age, they're used once and thrown out - I wish I could do that with my chef's knives... have a whole drawer full, and grab a new one each time I dice an onion!

                          1. re: applehome

                            Hi, applehome:

                            Not exactly sure what your point is.

                            Mine was that our standards for edge retention and cutting ability are somewhat stilted if we confine them to kitchen knives of the current year's fad steel.

                            Being a knifemaker, I think the performance of the chainsaw toolsteel is *squarely* on this point. If you read the entire thread, you'll find that I have made "fine cutting instruments" out of the same steel, and they compete well with (or exceed) what you order from retail offerings whose word you simply take.

                            Your rhetorical questions lose me. Have you made blades from 440A, 440C or 440V? Not all surgical-grade stainless is toolsteel, is it? What, exactly, makes a blade of D2 a figurative internal combustion engine compared to one of the space shuttle's SSME's? I've carefully looked at the applications, and I see fewer differences than similarities when it comes to toolsteels.

                            BTW, a chainsaw is a fine, precision cutting instrument held and leveraged by a human arm. If you don't think so, you have to meet some of my logger friends. ;)

                            Good luck with those disposable onion knives.

                            Aloha,
                            Kaleo

                            1. re: kaleokahu

                              Not to raise to much of a stink, but scalpels are made of relatively junk steel , the one use thing

                              1. re: Dave5440

                                Hi, Dave 5440:

                                No stink detected here. Did I say anything about scalpels?

                                Cheers,
                                Kaleo

                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  No it was Applehome,

                              2. re: kaleokahu

                                Well, your point is somewhat muddled, as well. Are you saying that your D2 knife is a better kitchen knife than the latest Japanese bifurcated SG-2 core knives? Better than a somewhat more "advanced" than tool steel, VG-10 core? Is the best kitchen knife ever made, made from die steel?

                                I understand your point that people shouldn't fall prey to every new marketing gimmick that comes along. But all advances in steel technology aren't necessarily strictly for marketing purposes. Is there a point of saturation, where even the most talented of chefs can't tell the benefit of a new steel formulation? Yes, almost certainly. I was a "golden-ear audiophile" for many years, spending $1,000 or more on moving coil cartridges to play my direct to disc recordings on tube amplifiers that could heat a room and speakers that needed special placement in special rooms to be optimal. Pretty silly, now that I think about it. But real advances in recording and playback technologies came about because of these audiophiles. They set standards that became essential parts of the new digital paradigm - we all benefit, today, from the higher sampling rates and lower distortions that were part of "pushing the envelope". But of course, Jascha Heifetz was famous for listening to his old monaural records in a day when hi-fidelity stereo was state-of-the-art. What he listened for, what he got out of the recordings, had little to do with the benefits of hi-fidelity recordings.

                                The knifemaking craft is an ancient one. I'm still planning to attend one of Murray Carter's week long classes in Oregon - just have to make it a real priority and make it happen. But I do wonder about the relevance of some of the tests I hear about - things like bending a knife at right angles to test flexibility. How do these tests apply to everyday kitchen knife use? As a true applied art, it's really up to the practicing individuals to bring their own approach - their priorities and views of the art - to their product. It's good to see that your approach is to show that die steel can make a perfectly useable piece of cutlery. That doesn't mean that the research and development going on to formulate new steels is all bogus and meaningless, regardless of the marketing hype.

                                My point, with regard to slicing a tomato, remains. Nothing about the effective use of a steel in a chain saw cutting logs relates to using that steel as a knife to cut tomatoes. The applications are so different, the forces applied, the velocities reached, the control (yes, I've seen some wonderful footage of chain saws in action)... BTW, give me 10 seconds with that chain saw and a stump in sandy dirt - I'll give you the dullest chain saw blade you've ever seen!

                                1. re: applehome

                                  Hi, applehome:

                                  In answer to your "questions", and in order:

                                  Not necessarily.
                                  Not necessarily.
                                  Not necessarily.
                                  Yes.
                                  They apply because they are indices of the bladesmith's competence.

                                  I had no idea knifemaking was an ancient craft. Nice to know.

                                  When you take Carter's class, ask him whether the steel in chainsaw chain relates to using the same steel in a knife.

                                  Kaleo


                                  .

                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                    The issue isn't whether there is any relation between a chainsaw blade and a knife blade. It's whether they are really analogous enough to assume that because a steel is good for one that it is for another. I can think of a few reasons why they wouldn't be.... which isn't the same as saying that no steels would be good for both.

                                    Here's the thing - putting any hype aside, all you have to do to convince me of the virtues of a steel in a chefs knife is to make a knife out of said steel, sharpen it to a fairly low-angle edge, and let me use it long enough to see that its edge retention and toughness and sharpenability are up to par. Those standards alone tend to discount any steel that's tempered too soft since a low angle edge seems to fold over too readily unless a certain degree of hardness is attained. But they leave the door open to a lot of steels I've never tried.

                                    A lot of the steel comparisons on this site and elsewhere have sprung from comparisons of modern and foreign steels used in Japanese mass produced knives to those used in American and German mass-produced knives. There's no illusion there - I really do feel that the Japanese steels and/or tempering of said steels perform better. But I'm not so much disdainful or doubting of the properties of common Western toolsteels in the hands of a skilled custom knifemaker as I am agnostic about their qualities. Anybody who wants to lend me a knife carefully made of D2 or L6 is welcome to do so, and I'll do my best to keep an open mind.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      Hi, cowboy:

                                      That's fair. I'll see what I have to lend. I think I have a large camp knife and a prototype guthook skinner in L6 laying around somewhere. In tulipwood, as I recall.

                                      Kaleo

                        2. kaleo, if I may presume to offer up an alternative analogy, if only to return the discussion to what I think is at the heart of your proposed statements? Please correct me if I mis-state your intention.

                          The way I see kaleo's view is similar to the way I see material use in bicycles. The latest materials are far & away more popular than the one material that's proven itself over decades of use: chrome molybdenum alloyed steel. First it was aluminum (tried as far back as the 1890's, with a brief resurgence in the 1990's as mutated alloys of beryllium & "metal matrix" (ceramic) composites), then it was titanium, & now it's carbon fiber. Wood frames (earliest material used, 1700's?), bamboo frames (also 1890's), & other materials I'm missing have also been used.

                          All of these materials exhibit different properties as a bicycle frame. Some characteristics are desireable, while others are not. And to some, good ol' cromoly deserves to placed in the attic alongside the earliest wooden & un-alloyed aluminum frames.

                          But what if "steel" was just discovered today? It's been said other places before, & I'll repeat it here: if steel was discovered today, it would be considered the next "wonder material"! And I think THAT's what kaleo's trying to get across. Not that there aren't nice qualities to the latest alloying results, but that there are different-but-equally-nice qualities (perhaps even better for our intended purposes?) to the materials that have been used for decades.

                          When I had a custom bicycle made for myself, my first material of choice was cromoly. Not that I believe there's anything magical to its properties, or that I have some mis-placed sense of nostalgia. I simply prefer its characteristics for my intended application better than what the latest sponsored racer is riding.

                          kaleo, am I even close to what you're thinking?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Eiron

                            Hi, Eiron:

                            Closer than close, in fact. Thanks.

                            Kaleo

                          2. I think it is 95% marketing. This is basically one company trying to distinguish their products from their competitors. This is a common practice, especially when you combine 'old-tech' products and luxury goods.

                            Say that you want to start a boutique knife company, and you need to have a price point around $200 in order to be profitable. You can't use the same steel as in a $10 knife, even if it is the best on the market, because no one will pay $200 for a knife when they can get the same steel on a $10 knife. So, you find a different kind of steel, market its 'benefits', and sell away.

                            It's done all the time, especially in luxury goods. You've got to justify the cost somehow, and so you give your customers some techno-babble that only an expert can prove or disprove. Since there aren't many true experts out there, it's easy to fool enough people to make a good business.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: pweller

                              If you know of any $10 knives using top notch steel (that's tempered well), I'm sure many people would love to hear about em... I know Kiwi knives reputedly use decent stuff.

                              Incidentally, I've seen some $30-$50 knives which use some pretty amazing steel, though said knives often have other issues.