Carbon . . .
Carbon is the most important hardening element, and why knifemakers look for a high carbon steel. However, any more carbon than is absolutely needed for hardness, will make the steel more brittle.
Carbon steel hunting knives are usually the choice of knife enthusiasts who want tough, hard, wear and break resistance blades.
Carbon steel blades can easily be touched up with a knife steel or other type of sharpening rod. Carbon steel just plain makes a better blade, but it needs a little more care. Knives need to be really hard, which means that the knife steel needs to have some carbon in it.
1095 is the most popular knife steel. It is a simple steel consisting of .95% carbon, and .4% manganese. Other 10 series steels are used for knifemaking such as 1084, 1070, 1060, and 1050 etc. Because you are decreasing in carbon content, you are also decreasing in wear resistance. At the same time, you are increasing in toughness. As such, some of the lower carbon content designations are more commonly used for swords.
O-1 steel is another high carbon steel which gives razor sharp edges but dulls quicker than A2 Steel. O-1, like A2 has a 1% carbon content It has 1.35% manganese, .5% chromium, .35% silicon, and .5% tungsten. O1 steel is more forgiving to those who are not as accomplished in getting a decent edge. In summary, it is easier/faster to hone to a razor sharp edge than some of the other choices, but does not stand up to abuse as well. 0-1 is very popular knife steel with forgers and bladesmiths. It is tough, although not as tough as 5160.
L-6 is very similar to O-1. It is basically band saw steel. It is possibly the very best knife steel if maintenance is not an issue. It rusts very easily, but holds an edge very well. It is also very tough, and is a favorite of forgers.
W-2 is reasonably tough and holds an edge well because of its .25% vanadium. It also has .25% manganese, and silicon.
A2 steel is almost a stainless steel. At (5%) it does not have quite enough chromium. It has 1% carbon, .6% Manganese, 1% molybdenum, and .2% Vanadium. It is not prone to rust. A2 steel is popular for combat knives because of its toughness. The toughness of the edge of the A2 steel is improved by cryogenically treating the blades at -320 degrees Fahrenheit. A2 steel is much harder than 01 carbon steel and although more difficult to sharpen, it keeps an edge longer. It performs best somewhere between 30 and 35 degrees. The problem with A2 steel is that it tends to fracture more easily when the bevel is ground less than 30 degrees. A2 is tougher than D2 and M2, but has less wear resistance.
M2 Steel is a fine-grained molybdenum/tungsten high-speed tool steel. It has .85% carbon, .25% manganese, 4.2% chromium, .30% silicon, 5% molybdenum, 6.35% tungsten, and 1.9% vanadium. It is an excellent choice for high temperature knife steel applications. For example, the annealing temperature of M2 steel is approximately 1000° F. It is slightly tougher and more wear resistant than D2, however, M2 rusts more easily.
"D" series steels are classed as cold work tool steels. D2 steel is a premium tool steel. With 1.5% carbon content It is better at holding an edge than less exotic stainless steels. D2 has a fairly high chromium content (11.5%) and is sometimes referred to as a "semi-stainless". It is a well respected, air hardened, high carbon, high chromium tool steel. It has 1% molybdenum, and .9% vanadium. It possesses extremely high wear resistance properties. D2 steel is one of the toughest knife blades you can get, and is a favorite of the best custom knifemakers. Anyone who has ever used a good D2 steel blade in the field, raves about the steels cutting ability, durability, and edge holding properties. Simply put, D2 steel can produce one of the best blade stocks available for a working knife.
5160 steel is a common spring steel. It is basically 1060 with 1% of chromium added to make it deep hardening. It is used in swords, axes or other high-impact tools. 5160 Steel is popular now for a variety of knife styles, but is usually used for bigger blades that need more toughness. It is quick and easy to sharpen, and, when resistance to lateral forces comes into play, 5160 is a Champion.
50100-B is the AISI designation of the same steel as 0170-6. The B designates vanadium has been added. This steel is a good chrome-vanadium alloy that is similar in properties to 0-1, but it is much less expensive. It is essentially 52100 with 1/3 less chromium.
52100 is often compared to 5160. It has a little more carbon content than 5160, and thus holds an edge better. It isn't as tough though. The tradeoff is in wear resistance. Many hunting knives are now being made from this steel.
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