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The Best Steel for Survival and EDC Knives

What’s the best steel for knives? A knife needs to be sharp enough to pass through the object which is being sliced or cut. Its ability to penetrate and leave a clean cut is based off the type of alloy used to create it. This means when you are choosing a knife, you should take into consideration the types of steel which it was forged from. Let’s take a look at the various alloys you’ll encounter in survival and EDC knives.

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Everybody should own a quality knife that they keep at their side during just about any day to day outdoor task. A quality knife comes in handy for more than just simple cut and slice purposes but for a wide array of other simple fixes you wouldn’t be able to perform without your trusty blade. Like most edc knife owners I don’t think of it as an attack weapon but rather a tool needed more often when you least expect it. So what metals go into the forging of a knife? What are their purposes? These answers are essential to purchasing a quality blade.

Generally speaking, as you begin your search for an EDC knife or a survival knife, you’ll choose one that falls into one of the four main families of metals. Although there are many others, these are the primary varieties you should pay attention to. There’s tool steel, carbon, stainless steel, and alloy steel.

Alloy SteelTool steel is used in quite a lot of knives on the market and is considered medium to higher end quality but is not nearly as popular as stainless steel. Some of the stainless steel alloys out there are 420, 440, AUS-6, AUS-8, ATS-34 and others. Stainless steel knives are known for a high level of resistance to corrosion.

This is due to a certain amount of chromium which is added to the knives usually around 13%. Carbon knives are strong and durable which make them easy to sharpen. The problem with carbon is that it lacks much resistance to corrosion which is why they are not as popular as they used to be.

Another factor to take into consideration is the way the blade is finished. This can be a coating on the knife or the way the blade is treated.
Usually, you can visually tell how what finish is used on a blade simply by it’s sheen. However, different finishes affect the knife in different ways.

What are the various elements of steel?

Steel is mainly composed of iron. However, there are several more alloys that can be added to the steel that can make it perform differently:

  • Carbon – Most steels have this component, as it is a hardening element. This also increases the strength of your steel; however, if added in isolation, it can decrease your steel’s toughness. Most knives are mixed with .5% of carbon.
  • Chromium – This is added to the steel for corrosion resistance. Simply put, having 13% of this element will make your knife “stainless steel”. Just make sure that your steel does not contain high amounts of this element, as it decreases the steel’s durability.
  • Manganese – This is another important element that can be added to increase the steel’s strength and resistance to wear and tear.
  • Molybdenum – This a silver-gray metal used in steels for the purpose of not just preventing brittleness, but also to maintain its strength even under high temperatures and increased friction. Also, it gives the ability to harden in air while being crafted.
  • Vanadium – Similar to chromium and molybdenum, the addition of this metal contributes to wear resistance and toughness, and is responsible for the blade to be able to take a sharp edge.

What are the qualities of steel?

Depending on the combination of the elements that make up the steel, different characteristics and qualities can be achieved. Thus, the decision for what elements should be in the steel is dependent on the quality of steel that the knife maker wants to achieve, as enumerated below:

  • Strength and hardness – these two qualities are almost similar with each other. Strength refers to the steel’s ability to resist getting deformed while it is being used; on the other hand, hardness refers to the ability of the steel to resist permanent deformity.
  • Toughness – this refers to the steel’s ability to resist damage (such as chipping or cracking) while being used heavily. It also includes the ability of the steel to bend without breaking. Some say that this quality and that of strength and/or hardness are inversely proportional (as the steel has higher strength and hardness, its toughness decreases; and vice versa).
  • Wear resistance – the ability of the steel to resist damage from friction when used under normal circumstances. In a single term, this can refer to the durability of the steel.
  • Corrosion or rust resistance – the ability of the steel to not easily weaken due to exposure to certain elements like rust. Although most people tend to give importance to this attribute as the basis of the steel’s overall quality, having too much of this element in your knife can compromise its overall performance.
  • Initial sharpness – refers to the sharpness of the blade when it is used for the first time.
  • Edge retention – refers to the period of how long the steel can stay sharp without the need for re-sharpening.

The best steel for your knife depends entirely on its function

It is important to know that no single quality of steel is above any other. After all, a good knife should have a balance of these qualities. However, the dominance of a certain quality can determine where the steel should be used and ultimately, its purpose. Imagine these situations:

  1. If you are to use your knife for batoning like chopping wood, you have to choose a steel that can withstand the force needed to drive it. Therefore, you focus your search on a knife whose steel has manganese, which increases strength.
  2. If the knife will be used for food preparation, you will need its steel to be made of something that will not easily rust and corrode due to exposure to liquids such as a steel with higher chromium content.

Choosing the best steel for a knife is as simple as understanding the intended use of the knife. This is the primary determining factor and by doing so, you will already know what quality you should look for and what elements the steel should be made of.


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