I build one of a kind, heirloom quality knives, hatchets, and tools that you can count on to perform for you in your outdoor, craft, and adventure pursuits.
Everyone has some kind of previous experience with knife steel, whether extensive or minimal, good or bad. Some prefer carbon steels over stainless, and so on.
There are three main types of steel available in the knife world: Carbon Steel, Alloy Steel, and High Alloy Or Stainless Steel.
Carbon steels, like 1075, 1080, 1095, and others, are a metallurgically basic steel that offer a quality and practical blade steel.
Alloy steels like O1, 5160, 52100, 80CRV2, and others cover a broad range of steels with the addition of minimal alloying components such as Chromium, Vanadium, Nickel, Tungsten, and others. Alloy steels provide steel options that are more wear resistant than normal carbon steels.
High alloy or stainless steels include AEB-L, S35VN, 440C, and many others. This category of steel has up to 18 percent chromium, and varying amounts of carbon and other alloys. High alloy steels also commonly display high abrasion resistant qualities.
There is a wide range of knife steels available. I have zeroed in on a handful that work well with the design and intended use of my knives.
52100: As my knowledge of metallurgy and bladesmithing grows, I have begun to refine my selection of steel for blades even further. This has led me to zero in on 52100 steel as the primary steel I forge into the blades I sell.
Because 52100 is a hyper-eutectoid steel (carbon content greater than .77%) it is capable of better abrasion resistance then most other high carbon steels. Proper heat treatment creates a tough blade with great edge retention.
This steel has been around for over 100 years, and was originally developed for bearings. This is a high wear and high pressure application. 52100 contains .1 % carbon, and about 1.5% chromium.
5160: For a long time this steel has been the go-to for heavy use blades and chopping knives. 5160 is a tough alloy steel with about .60 percent carbon. The chromium content of about .80 percent allows the steel to undergo forging and proper heat treatment with a resulting small grain size, adding to the toughness of this steel. I like to use 5160 in large chopping blades or knives subject to higher stress.
1095 High Carbon Steel: 1095 is what is known as a hyper eutectoid steel. This means it has an extra amount of carbon in the makeup of the steel, which precipitates iron carbides. This combined with a quality heat treat regimen provides good edge retention while retaining "sharpenability". 1095 is a popular steel among outdoorsman everywhere. My main use for 1095 these days is to combine it with 15N20 steel in Damascus (pattern welded) blades.
15N20: Essentially 1080 steel with 1.5% - 2% Nickel content, I routinely use this steel in my pattern welded blades. It is the steel that shows up as the silver or light colored steel in the finished blade. A good blade steel, the nickel content adds a measure of toughness to the steel.
O1 Tool Steel: A high carbon steel that is correctly classified as an alloy steel because of its minimal alloying elements of manganese, chromium, tungsten and molybdenum, O1 is a popular steel in bushcraft and general outdoor use knives. It is a bit tougher and more abrasion resistant than regular carbon steels like 1080 and 1095. O1 contains about .95 percent carbon. I don't use O1 as much these days, in favor of 52100. This is because 52100 has a composition that works well for forging the high performance knives I make, and seems to be more ubiquitous and therefore more cost effective than O1.
80CRV2: A tough alloy steel with about .80 percent carbon, some chromium and vanadium, 80CRV2 is a great option for tough blades with good edge retention.
Carbon and alloy steels are an excellent option for many knives. They do require a bit more attention to prevent corrosion if used in wet applications. In my experience, simply wiping the blade clean and dry after use is adequate to prevent rusting.
In cases of extended storage or wet climates, wiping on a layer of oil is recommended. Additionally, it is not advisable to store your knife in its leather sheath as the tannins can react with the steel and cause corrosion.
Carbon and alloy steels will develop a patina with use, which shows up as light blue or purple colors to a soft grey, depending on the particular steel and the food oils and acids it comes in contact with. The patina does not make the blade rust proof, but does slow corrosion down once the patina is established.
Stainless blades are prized for their corrosion resistance, but this does not mean they can never rust. In extreme conditions such as prolonged exposure in salt water environments, corrosion is possible. In the majority of cases, simply wiping the moisture off your stainless blade is all that is necessary.
Your knife will be shipped with a working edge that is capable of shaving hair off the arm.
What is the best knife sharpener?
We recommend maintaining your edge with stropping or honing. This can be done with a leather strop and fine polishing compound, or a fine arkansas stone, very fine diamond hone, or kitchen knife steel. This touches up the existing edge without removing any significant amount of steel. Maintaining your edge in this manner will give you better cutting performance, a longer edge life, and longer blade life over all.
In most cases, sharpening that involves actually removing steel from the edge is not necessary except after prolonged use. When it becomes necessary to sharpen or re-profile the edge, I prefer natural India stones.
I use a variety of handle options including micarta, G10, natural wood, and antler.
Micarta is made of layers of canvas, linen, or paper, impregnated with a phenolic resin. It is waterproof, dense and durable, making it a good handle material. We primarily use canvas and linen micarta, which actually becomes more "grippy" when wet, and more grippy throughout the life of the handle. Maintenance is as simple as washing with detergent when needed and drying with a cloth.
G10 is similar to micarta, but is made of layers of fiberglass fabric in an epoxy resin. G10 is lighter in weight compared to micarta, and is available in a wide range of color options and combinations. It also waterproof, requires minimal maintenance and can be washed clean and dried off.
Natural Wood is unsurpassed in its intrinsic beauty and organic qualities. Some of my favorites include Cocobolo, Zircote, Bocote, Desert Ironwood, Mesquite, and Walnut. Some of these are particularly dense and some have a high natural oil content, making them especially good for handles.
I use either linseed oil, tung oil, or Danish oil product on my knife handles, applying several coats during the finishing stages of the knife.
Maintenance for wood handles involves cleaning and drying the handle, and applying a quality wood oil sealant product like the ones mentioned. The necessity of this will be determined mostly by use and the environment.
Elk and Deer antler make a beautiful, durable handle. Where either moisture resistance or drying out is a concern, we recommend applying a thin coat of natural beeswax to your antler handle after carefully warming the handle to facilitate application.
Copyright © 2022 Fire Creek Forge - All Rights Reserved.