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ARCHIVE PHOTOS OF VARIOUS KNIVES I MADE TO DATE
20. SHARPENING A SCANDI GRIND KNIFE - Video by Ray Mears
Can I please ask you to bear in mind that the articles shown here have been put together over several years. Therefore, as I learned and progressed, their relevance appertains to when I wrote them, albeit that some aspects may still remain valid and noteworthy.
Although I tend to be set in my ways in certain aspects of life, I haven't yet lost the love for leaning and discovering new, more practical ways that help me improve and become a better knife maker. In practical terms I consider myself rather adaptable and flexible in thought and deed, so while I might have held some firm belief many moons ago, I'll have no qualms about changing my view upon having learned differently. Ways of discovering a better way of doing things don't fall upon me from above all in one lump. That sort of thing only happened to me during my teenage years, which is why I knew everything then!
Through these same articles and everything else that is on my website, I'm opening myself to new learning experiences. I trust therefore, that you take everything I've written in the spirit of shared learning and hopefully derive some joy and benefit in the shared process. If there's something not quite right, needs updating or more information is needed, then please don't hesitate to contact me and I'll do my best to sort things out.
0-1 is perhaps the most forgiving of any knife quality steel other than the very simple alloy types, and produces a blade of excellent quality for most normal use. It can be heat treated very easily. Further references? Well, the ole' master, Cooper, used it for many years and folks do love his blades because they're tough. Awhile back, one of the best of the blade smiths said that well treated 0-1 would out cut any Damascus, and no one argued with him. Edge holding is exceptional. 0-1 is precision ground unless you're lucky enough to stumble across some mill bar. Goof up the heat treat and 0-1 will let you try again as often as you like, as long as you don't overheat the metal. Tough on grinding belts.
0-6 is the next step up from 0-1 easy heat treat but pure hell to grind. It's significantly tougher, with finer crystalline structure and hard graphitic particles that resist wear. Stock is both hot rolled and precision ground. Hot rolled prices are reasonable. Very tough to grind. Edges are incredible, lasting even longer than the best Damascus and even 0-1. Has an odd, rather orange spark.
W-1, W-2, and the series of 10-- steels from 1045 through 1095 are the ultimate in simplicity and very shallow hardening so they may be used to make a selectively hardened edge as one sees on old Japanese swords. Toughness is outstanding, with these alloys being used for grader blade edges, truck springs and files. Uses up grinding belts at quite a rapid rate. Edges are acceptable with 1045, good with 1060, nice with 1084, and excellent with 1095, W-1 or W-2. Those last two are often referred to as O-F, old file. It is very easy to get the higher carbon end of this series way too hard to make a good knife.
5160 is a common spring steel, basically 1060 with one per-cent of chromium added to make it deep hardening. (It may still be selectively drawn with a softer back, if desired.) An excellent steel for swords, or any other blade that will have to take some battering. The choice of Jim Hrisoulas who makes some of the finest working swords in the business. Long blades are best around the mid 50's on the Rockwell scale, while small, working blades can be put into service at a full 60 RC. Forged blades with a well packed edge seem to cut forever! Rough on grinding belts. Jokingly called O-C-S, old chevy spring.
52100 is a ball bearing steel, generally not found in useful grinding sizes, but terrific in edge holding and toughness. 52100 is 5160 with an attitude, more alloy and more carbon that makes it harder and tougher. Like 5160, throws a brilliant yellow spark. Ed Fowler has developed a superior heat treating technique for this steel.
L-6 is the band or circular saw blade steel used in most lumber mills and downright hard to find in any other form. Hardens in oil to about RC 57 and takes a fine edge for most cutting, particularly where the edge might be steeled back into shape. Outstanding where flexibility is needed but rusts easily, like virtually all of the simple carbon steels. L-7 is the same stuff with a little more carbon.
A-2 is an exceptional steel, with fine wear-resisting qualities plus excellent resistance to annealing and warping. Grinding is noticeably harder than 0-1 but not extremely difficult. Sawing is tougher and relates to the five percent of chrome in this steels chemical make up. Really nice to finish with the grinder and very little grain appearing in buffing. Excellent flexibility. Phil Hartsfield get incredible cutting ability out of this steel. Several other of the A series will also make fine blades.
D-2 offers another air hardening tool steel, but with 12% chrome and excellent, if not superb, wear resistance. The resistance also holds true in both sawing and grinding, even while the steel is fully annealed. While using belts up at a faster rate than average, D-2 is not particularly hard to grind with fresh belts. Using old belts causes enough heat to work harden the steel. D-2 anneals at somewhat higher temperature than A-2 and will not take a true, mirror polish. Definitely a steel for the advanced craftsman. It's major drawback is the orange peel appearance of the surface when finished to a high gloss. One knife maker is often quoted as saying that D-2 takes a lousy edge and holds it forever. However, the man who really knows what he's talking about and uses D2 almost exclusively is Bob Dozier and he says; "D2 Steel is one of the most outstanding knife steels available today. It is a high carbon, high chrome tool steel which is often used for the steel cutting dies in tool and die shops. With 1.5% Carbon, 1% Molybdenum, 12% Chrome, and 1% Vanadium, this air hardening steel (at 60-61Rc.) takes a razor edge, and holds it! Often found as surplus wood plainer blades. D-4 and D-7 are also good cutlery alloys, but darn hard to find in the right sizes. Air hardening steels can work harden while you're grinding them if you get the stock too hot. This doesn't mean much on the grinder, but when you try to file a guard notch, the file will just slide.
M-2 is a high temperature steel made for lath cutting tools, which has darn little to do with knives, but allows you to really cook the blade in finishing after heat treat without annealing it. M-2 is perhaps a bit better in edge holding than D-2. It is also rather brittle and not recommended for large knives.
440C was the first generally accepted knife makers' stainless and remains quite popular, particularly since the sub-zero process was developed to add toughness. On the grinder, it's gummy and gets hot fast, but it cuts a lot faster and easier than any of the carbon steels. Your belts will cut about 2 to 3 times as much 440-C than 0-1. Using hand hacksaws on it will wear out a lot of blades in a hurry. But with the proper care, good heat treating and finishing, 440C produces an excellent, serviceable and durable knife, even for the new knife maker. Anneals at very low temperature. Please note that 440A and 440B are similar alloys, often confused with 440C, but not worth a damn for knife making use. Commercial knife companies often mark blades 440 when they're one of the less desirable versions, giving the real stuff a bad name. 440C is also available in more sizes and in more places than just about any stainless alloy suitable for knives. It is also essential to remember that collectors hate to see one of their prizes turn brown in the sheath, and 440C handles corrosion resistance very well. While the variation, 440-V doesn't seem to get quite as hard, but holds an edge for much longer and is much more difficult to grind.
154 CM was considered by many to be super-steel, if you can find some of the old production stock. The new batches are not manufactured to the standards that we've come to expect for knife steel. While excellent in use, 154 CM eats up the finest hacksaw blades in one across-the-bar cut of 1-1/2". It's machining and grinding qualities are similar to 440C and won't win it any awards for ease in working. In use though, this alloy has a definite advantage in both hardness and toughness over 440C. 154 CM is not an accepted standard grade designation, rather a manufacturers trade name.
ATS-34 Japanese made stainless considered the equal of 154 CM. Import restrictions have been eased somewhat, although they were forced to raise the price by 50%. Cleaner than the 154 CM. (154 CM is no longer used in government specified applications and is not the vacuum melt product that we once appreciated.) ATS-34 is virtually the exact same alloy as 154 CM, minus 0.04% of one of the less essential elements. ATS-34 is double vacuum melted and very clean. It also comes with a hard, black skin that will put a shine on your grinding belt before you know it. We recommend knocking the skin off with old belts before tapering the tang or Vee grinding. One fellow tried to take the skin off with an industrial motor driven wire brush wheel. All he did was polish it. We now stock a belt the is specifically designed to remove this scale. ATS-34 is a trade name. The three, 154 CM, ATS-34 and 440-C, all have a small, reddish spark that has a distinct, but hard to see carbon fork. ATS-34 is also a trade name. That super hard black skin on some of these steels, as well as forging scale, can be "pickled" to remove it. Buy a gallon of inexpensive white vinegar, and leave the steel in it overnight. Works like magic. If it doesn't work, or makes the shop smell like a salad, blame Doug Brack, who gave me this hint.
AEBL seems to be about 440B. Extremely easy to grind, in fact, I think I may have set a world record with it a few years back, over a hundred blades from bar stock to 220 grit within eight hours. Heat treat like 440C. Edge holding is best when heat treating includes a freeze cycle. Very easy to polish and buff. Very nice choice for miniatures, kitchen knives, etc. AEBL has several quirky habits in grinding that make it difficult to use on thicker or larger knives. Makes nice kitchen knives. "Hoss" uses this in his beautiful stainless Damascus and reports that it holds up very well.
420 modified stainless, has been successfully used by some commercial knife producers, but availability is not practical for the hobby knife maker since darn few of us order steel in mill rolls.
VASCO WEAR is rather expensive but very, very good in edge holding. Resists grinding very well too! You'll swear your belts have all gone dull when you try it. Do everything you have to before heat treating, cause you sure aren't going to be able to do much afterward. Priced like lobster tails, when you can find it. Try Vasco-Pacific in the Los Angeles area. Vasco - Pacific uses their own series of names for their alloys.
DAMASCUS steel is such a widely made product that it is impossible to make too many general statements about it, other than it seems to catch collectors better than any other type. Each smith does his in a slightly different way, ranging from the fellow who toughs it out, starting with three layers, to the guy who welds a 300 layer sandwich of shim stock into a billet with one hit in a 40 ton press. They're all pretty. Reese Weiland suggests that the last etch of a Damascus blade be done with phosphoric acid, which will sort of, parkerize the metal and help protect it. He said that you have to play around with the concentration of the acid and immersion times a bit, depending on the steel you're using. This will also work on most carbon steel blades. If a Damascus blade has been hardened with a softer section at the spine or guard, you will get a much better looking etch if you use muriatic acid first, to get the depth you want, and then ferric chloride for adding colour.
STELLITE 6-K fits into the same category as Vasco Wear in the wear resistance area, but doesn't need heat treating since there is no iron in it at all. The trick is exceptionally hard particles embedded in a rather soft alloy. Very flexible and easy to bend. Virtually cannot be brought to a mirror finish. Stellite blades are very much in demand by some collectors. The alloy best suited for knives now must be ordered from Canada and costs about a hundred bucks a pound. Part of Stellite's toughness comes from the rolling process used to form the bars. Cast Stellite is not nearly as tough.
TITANIUM is only a marginally acceptable metal for a knife blade. It cannot be hardened much past the mid 40's of the Rockwell C scale, and that's spring, or throwing knife territory. Aside from that, I'm sure that there will soon be collectable titanium knives on many custom makers tables, designed to catch collectors, and not for cutting.
Copyright ©1997 By Blades 'N' Stuff - ALL RIGHTS
Besides using ball and roller
bearings, races/balls/rollers, it can be obtained in bar stock.
Heat treatment recommended by Crucible Specialty Metals:
I've always envied people who could sharpen tools to perfection. I tried for quite some time on and off, but found it very difficult, tedious and frustrating to do. I found all those simple 'swipe through' gadgets quite satisfactory for many years, but as I got more involved with knife making, they no longer sufficed because I got hung up with wanting all my knives to be shaving sharp! Therefore, I had no alternative at the time but to force myself to learn and do it properly.
All my initial efforts were based on ignorance, believing that the more I practised the better I'll get. All I did was to make matters worse because my equipment and techniques were wrong and I kept on failing miserably! I began to shy away from sharpening anything unless I could use a gadget of some sort. I kept trying different things and discovering the odd bit of kit that worked for me, until I can now say that at the time of writing this I'm nearly there in terms of producing shaving sharp edges consistently, and nearly there with having the right gear and being effective/efficient in utilising it. It's still a labourious and tedious affair, that's for sure! Maybe I'll get to like it in time. I have one or two ideas I want to try out to make my task a bit easier, but for now I'm pleased to have got this far. At least now I partly enjoy the process and I find it very absorbing. On the downside, the back of my left hand is nearly bereft of hair as that's how I test if I got the blade sharp enough!
Maybe I'm overly fussy, but I'll not consider any knife of mine finished and fit for purpose unless it's shaving sharp. To get most blades to that state it takes me from between 1 or 2 hours - so patience and perseverance is a must.
At time of writing, the tools I use are as shown in this picture:
1. Own made Grind type checker and setter
2. Coarse Diamond stone.
3. Medium Diamond stone
4. Fine Diamond stone
5. Japanese Combination Water stone - 600 / 1000
6. Ex - Oil Stone
2,3,4,and 5 only used with water.
1 and 6 used dry and/or with water as they're Carborundum stones.
I normally start the process with swiping the blade through my homemade grind checker if I'm not sure of the grind. A few swipes through this little gadget and I'm able to see exactly whether it's a hollow or convex based grind.
The close up of this little tool shows how I slotted two small stones side by side in a block of wood. The slot is slightly wider at the top and the stones are not fixed in, but held in place by stretched Bicycle rubber tubing along the bottom half of the stones. The top of the stones extend about half way out from the block. What happens is that when I swipe the blade between the stones, the top part opens up more than the bottom part (which flex a little also because of the rubber backing) and thus creates a natural V.
I also use this to take out a secondary bevel by running the blade through a few times. I use it wet or dry depending on how much I need to score or take off the existing bevel.
In effect, the proper sharpening process is not until the very end as what needs to be done first is to try and set the correct angle of the grind as near as possible to the desired final shape. I find that the three grades of Diamond stones are great for this, not just because they're so effective, but at the beginning at least, I hold the stone in my right hand and move it across the blade so I can see better what I'm doing. I'm also far more in control as I can change from a flat rub to a rocking motion at will. It's at the finishing stages that I lay the stone flat and move the blade over it. I go through all three Diamond stones until I'm satisfied I can move on to the final sharpening phase.
For the final phase I use a 600/1000 grade Japanese Water stone, which I would have left soaking in water for some time before I needed it. It is now that I keep the stone flat and run the blade over it, first on the coarse side (dark brown), then on the fine side (light brown). It's not easy to explain the process of working with a Water stone, but it's very far removed from working with Carborundum stones. The whole process is smoother and best of all you're not left with any scratches on the blade. As if by magic, the blade is sharpened and polished at the same time. The stone is on the soft side and it's very easy to dig into it with the blade, but it's very efficient and the results are outstanding.
Stone number 6 is an oil stone, or it was, once. I de-greased it and now use it mainly dry to check for raised/hollows as it marks the blade well but not too deeply. I also use it frequently while working with my leather knives as I find the slightly serrated edge such a stone produces gives me more bite when cutting leather.
Now take a look at the damaged knife edge below and to what level the blade was finished by the Water stone in the photo below it.. At this stage the blade was not yet polished on the buffer, but by the Water stone alone.
The knife in question was one of five prototypes that I rushed off that ended up severely tested in the field in temperatures down to -40 degrees! As can be seen the knife got a bit of a battering! The knife had a small secondary bevel originally, but was re-ground by hand to a flat V. As it turned out, it wasn't such a good idea on such a deep and shallow set grind of 13mm because there wasn't enough substance to back up the fine cutting edge.
This was a very important lesson for me. Not just about the grind technicalities, but also about one's reliance on just the one small knife in extreme conditions. Anyway, as a consequence, the second batch had a grind of 8mm making for a steeper angle and were thus better able to cope with tougher tasks and/or misuse. But, even so, one can't expect that the one small knife to be better than having a two knife Puukko and Leuku combo. In my view, small knives for small jobs and big knives for bigger jobs and until someone can convince me otherwise, I'll stick to this principal!
16th March 2007
Addendum: Since the above article I've progressed to using the EdgePro system for sharpening knives that have a secondary bevel and for Scandi type grinds I now use a range of Japanese and Whetstones.
Unwittingly, I often fall into the 'shaving sharp' trap because almost every time I see an advert for a knife it's nearly always claimed that it is shaving sharp (most are anything but!). It naturally follows that I'm suckered into the same frame of mind and I too strive to make my knives shaving sharp otherwise my knives won't be as desirable as the hyped up blunt ones!
Maybe I'm getting too old, too grumpy, too cynical or whatever! But, I do find it a bit silly when some people go on a bit too much about having their knives shaving sharp. Yes, ideally one should use the sharpest knife possible, but then how sharp is sharp?
I don't need a knife to shave with, I get by with the ready made razors I can buy from the Supermarket. Seriously though, isn't it enough to have the knife sharp enough to do the job in hand? So what if it's not shaving sharp?
Let me put it this way. Are all the knives in your household's kitchen drawer shaving sharp? I doubt it very much and some are as dull as spoons! And yet, they do their respective jobs well enough, especially if they've been properly designed. I've a set of Miracle Blades III and they make light work of anything associated with food preparation; they're not shaving sharp of course, but their overall design, and the edge in particular, is such that they cut extremely well. They're made in China of all places, not a place many knife enthusiast associate with fine cutting tools!
I have yet to make use of my shaving sharp bushcraft knives in our kitchen, but then they're not really designed for that are they. The odd thing is that in spite of having quite a few well designed, beautiful and shaving sharp knives in my collection, I have a tendency to reach out for a couple of ordinary knives to use on a regular basis, like my laminated Mora when I go fishing and the Opinels when at home and garden. On my Key ring I carry a small S.A.K, complete with corkscrew for wine cork popping emergencies!
I get the impression that in the UK the favoured grind seems to be flat sided V grind, or as some people call it, the Scandi grind. It's reputed to be easier to sharpen in the field, but that depends on the user surely?! I don't have a preference towards a particular grind as I'm quite happy with a Scandi, Convex or Hollow grinds; but then I've learned to to sharpen all of these type of grinds and appreciate each one's attributes and usefulness in any given situation. Experienced outdoorsmen make hand sharpening look easy, but in reality it's not all that easy. It's a skill and it has to be learned either by doing, assuming you get the basics right, or better still, having someone show you how to do it. Sharpening is not something that can be hurried, so if you haven't got the patience you'll just have to make do with an edge less than shaving sharp or get someone else to do it for you.
Cutting edges come in a lot of different 'flavours' and the reason for that is that just as there isn't a perfect single knife to satisfy every requirement, there isn't a perfect cutting edge to cope with every conceivable situation either. I can go on forever extolling the virtues of one grind as opposed to another, while at the same time there'll be someone else who can counteract my statements, and in all probability, justifiably so. I have my opinions and my preferences, but I'm also very adaptable and very receptive to the opinions and preferences of others too. I like diversity and originality, in thought and practice and I would never be so dogmatic as to insist that my way is best (hell, I'm no politician).
What knife is best for you? What grind is best for you? How sharp do you want your knife to be? You may still be aspiring to own such and such a knife from a well know maker as used by some well known personality hoping that as if by some miracle that knife will be ever so sharp and stay that way for ever more without some considerable effort from you. Will you ever be satisfied; maybe, then most probably not entirely as in many things in life it's all down to your expectations or, perhaps the expectations of others who might have influenced you, sublimely even, in some way or other. We tend to look at trends, what our peers are doing and what the so called experts are favouring at the time. That's all well and good, I do that as well. But then you never really know how many different knives those same people have and actually use. Lets take Ray Mears as a prime example. If you watched his programs you'll have noticed that he uses a number of different knives as well as his Woodlore. So why doesn't he just use the Woodlore all of the time then? The simple answer is that there's no such thing as just the one type of knife capable of doing all kinds of jobs and therefore the more diverse the circumstances, the more type of knives one needs to employ.
At the time of writing this, I like to work with Damascus, but I've checked out other steels obviously so as to expand on what I can make. The more technical research I did the more I got confused and just couldn't make any decisions as to what other steel I ought to be working with in addition to the nice Damascus steel I'm getting from the USA. Apart from having to consider the type of steels I would like to be working with, I was trying very hard to determine what type of grind I should opt for to satisfy most UK end users. My research indicated that generally speaking variations of the hollow grind with a secondary bevel was most commonly in use. The convex grind seemed popular as was the flat sided with secondary micro grind. The so called Scandi grind was not universally popular, but as it is very popular in the UK and Scandinavia I decided to concentrate on this type of grind for the main type of knives I intend to be working with in the long term. That's not to say I'll not be working with other type of grinds, but I'll let circumstances dictate my needs.
What are you going to base your decisions on? My recommendations perhaps? I'm bound to be biased even if I were never to recommended any of my knives to you. Think about it, why would I (or anyone else for that matter) recommend something to you that I myself have no experience of or faith in?! In all honesty therefore, I'm prejudiced by what I like to produce and it would be daft of me to recommend anything that is not similar to my own preferences or experience. I build for myself to suit my needs and if your needs are similar to mine, then theoretically at least, we should both be happy. The element of compromise when making choices is ever present and with knives even more so if you're going to limit yourself to just the one knife. But if you can at least base your decision on facts as opposed to hype and make as sure as you can that you're really getting a knife (in all its entirety) to suit you and your requirements, then the rest is not as relevant or important as some people with an out and out commercial interest would have you believe...
16th March 2007
This is quite an extensive article, which I found very interesting indeed.
1st June 2007
SCANDI GRIND KNIFE SHARPENING VIDEO BY RAY MEARS
Bill, a friend of mine, brought me a lovely old 13" Whitby 'Original Buffalo Skinner' asking me to see what I can do with it for him. When I inspected it it was in original condition, but in a bit of a sorry state generally, except that the blade never seemed to have been sharpened, so there were no horrible big scratch marks. The knife had sentimental value for him, so I suggested that I don't alter anything and renovate it sympathetically for him, which I did.
I liked Bill's knife so much, I asked him to let me have it in exchange for any knife of mine, knowing he loved Damascus and I flashed a big Harlequin Bowie under his nose - but he wouldn't have it! So I decided to hunt a small and a big Original Skinner down for myself off eBay of course.
I found both a small and a large one from the USA and duly paid for them. The small one came first and as it was described in 'Good condition', I was horrified to see that it had a badly scarred blade from having been badly sharpened. Just take a look at the two photos to see what I mean!
There's no reason whatsoever for anyone to mess up their knives like this no matter how old or inexpensive it is! At best he/she must have used Carborundum stones, at worst a File - with as much dexterity and finesse as I don't know what... At first impression one could easily attribute such scarring to the poor quality of the steel, but not in this case. The steel on these knives is pretty good actually and made in Solingen, Germany.
There's no way I can just tidy the knife up and leave it at that, I've no choice but to work on the blade and yet try to preserve all the markings and original profile. This won't be a 5 minute job, more like a few hours on and off. Still, I'll derive great satisfaction if I can manage to make it come up good as near as per original that I was led to believe I was buying.
The moral of this story is twofold. No matter what knife you have, if you haven't got a clue about how to sharpen your knife, get someone else who knows what they're doing to do it for you. If you aren't ham-fisted and got adequate patience, why not avail yourself of the information I have on this page and follow the advice so you can learn to do it yourself. I'm not saying it's easy, but it's not that hard either. My advice if you haven't got someone to show you, is to read up and get the stones you need. Then, raid the knife drawer in the kitchen and have a go at a couple of blunt knives, which I'm fairly sure you're bound to have. If you're so bad at it and mess things up, it's no big deal - get one of those 'pull-through' cheap sharpeners and sort the kitchen knives you messed up on that way - the missus will think you're a genius anyway!
Don't give up completely, re-read the information and get one of the Gadgets as recommended by the experts and not the sales hype...
I'll post the photos of the Skinner once I finish working on it...
You ought to look at the article that this link will take you to if you're not too sure about what type of steel your next knife should be made of...
- the carrying and use of in a public place as it appertains to the United Kingdom?
Well, you ought to know the basics at least...
British Blades have a F.A.Q. on the subject and you can view it here:
I strive to make knives that not only look good, but they must also be fully 'fit for the purpose intended'. I am naturally biased towards believing that any knife I make is presentable and functional.
I've had some knives field tested and although I was quite satisfied with the results, the matter was a rather private affair, albeit carried out by experts in the Bushcraft/Survival sector.
The main aim of testing is for me to find out whether my various knife design concepts and materials used meet the needs of the end user in a hands-on real world scenario. The tougher and more variable the environment, the better I stand to benefit in terms of learning about what works and what doesn't. Armed with appropriate feedback I can then make the necessary adjustments to refine a particular knife and make it better suited to its primary conceptual design purpose.
My decision to use high end quality steel for my Talisman and Guardian knife blades, namely Damascus and Bearing steel, should have given me a material advantage. However, my enthusiasm for these fine knife making steels did not appear to be shared by as many people as I had anticipated. I like to be different and innovative, but not to the extent that I exclude myself from the niche sector I'm hoping to serve. Although I had doubts as to whether I was doing the right thing or not, I still wanted to carry on because I'm not too good at conforming! I just needed to persevere...
During June, the opportunity arose for me to have my Talisman and Guardian Bearing steel knives tested by Tony Collins, someone who knows his onions and yet never owned or worked with a Bearing steel bladed knife. I didn't hesitate to make him one of each. My thinking at the time was that whatever will be will be. If I'm vindicated all well and good; if I'm demolished, I'll pack it up!
Well, as things turned out I needn't have worried as the test results were excellent, so I'm obviously on the right track...
Most people are quite happy pursuing their hobby at a basic level and still derive a lot of pleasure from it. Some however, are overly keen and want to know all the detail and will go to great lengths to make their hobby 'complete' in every which way possible. It takes all sorts and I fall somewhere in between because I enjoy my hobby at all levels and am also happy to gain knowledge if it will help me understand relevant aspects and/or help me improve what I do.
A particular subject that seems to be popular with knife buffs is the hardness of a blade and, for a while, I too was overly concerned about it. Quoting from an article above: "Hardness - The final hardness of steel is determined using a Rockwell Test and the result is displayed in HRC - for the example level of your average butchers knife is 55 HRC. When a knife is labelled as 58-60HRC, it is best to take the mean of 59HRC e.g. as it is rare to find the majority of blades being exactly 58 or 60 consistently."
Technically speaking, I should view the subject of Blade hardness as relevant to me, and it is to a certain extent. But somehow I can't get excited about it because, in my view at least, it's how the blade performs the task it was designed for that matters and not what it's HRC is as such. I would have thought that any blade that has a suitable grind within the 54 - 63 HRC range should be capable of cutting well and be sharpened by the user without any problems. Makers who state their knife blades' HRC are in the absolute minority, and some don't even state what steel their blades are made from! It's this sort of thing that made me take myself and my knife making activities less serious. But, I'm an open minded sort of chap and will never sneer another person's point of view.
The optimum or the maximum of hardness for a particular steel. is pre-determined by the bladesmith appropriate to the end use he intends that his blades are going to be used for. The knife blades I work with, normally anyway, are rated at 57-59 hrc by my makers. I didn't decide that they should make my blades at this hardness; I relied on them to tell me their recommendations once I told them what the finished knives will be used for. What's important to me is that the HRC is compatible with the blade's intended end use.
I discussed the matter of HRC with my blade makers, as one does, and learned something in the process, as one ought to. This HRC business is not as straightforward as it seems, because while testing a knife steel like Bearing steel would give a fairly accurate reading, testing Damascus steel can lead to inconsistent results depending on the steel mix. If the test point went between the layers of steel or might have been on some nickel which is softer than carbon steel, the readings may not always be the same. Therefore, when it comes to knife blades one has to be reasonable and accept that the HRC testing process is more of a guide, albeit within fairly fine tolerances, rather than an absolute point of reference that would make a knife worthless if deviated from plus /minus a digit or two.
In the case of Damascus steel, a skilled bladesmith circumvents this little problem by adhering to appropriate charts to set hardness. In the case of the Damascus blades made for me in the USA, my blade maker told me that they're hardened at about 1500 degrees F or when the steel goes non-magnetic, then immersed in oil and then I tempered twice at 375 to 400 degrees F for two hours. I'm glad he told me all that, at least now I know and I feel so much better for it!
All I can say is that I've come to trust my blade makers, not just because they're genuinely nice people, but also because the blades that they provide me with have withstood the best test of all - in the field under real life conditions performing the tasks they were designed for...
Damascus blades are as easily sharpened as any other knife steels. However, when sharpening Damascus blades the following has to be borne in mind:
'Damascus' steel is made up of several layers of folded steel. The Damascus pattern is obtained by a chemical etching process that highlights the folds in the steel, hence the various Damascus patterning. This pattern, be it Bird's eye, Tight twist, Random etc., covers the whole of the blade, including the grind down to the cutting edge.
Most knife folk in the UK prefer to have the whole of the Damascus pattern all over the blade, but in some countries they prefer to polish it so it's hardly visible. The dilemma for those who want to retain the whole of the Damascus pattern is when the blade needs sharpening. No matter how careful one is, the pattern along the cutting edge will be affected. The more aggressive the sharpening process, the more one is likely to 'rub away' the existing visible Damascus pattern. Eventually, depending how it is carried out, continued sharpening will remove the Damascus pattern to the extent that the end result will be a plain steel surface with no Damascus pattern markings whatsoever.
This doesn't mean that the Blade is not real Damascus or it's not any good no more, it's just that the 'ridges' that were brought about by chemical etching, which produce the original patterning, have been flattened off and the whole lot blended in. The knife is just as good, and some say even better, as it ever was; albeit that the blade now has two contrasting areas as can be seen in the photo (The sharpened edge finish shown was achieved with a 6000 water stone and not yet polished).
One has either to accept how the knife now looks and not worry about it. Or, if badly marked, uneven or scratched, have the knife re-etched. Very much depends on what the knife is used for, if at all!
When I started owning Damascus knives I was reluctant to use them; for let's be honest, they do look nice! But, the knives I make up are meant to be used and I have since got over the initial trepidation of not using my Damascus knives like I would any other knife.
I'm very careful how I sharpen my knives, but even so, when it comes to working with Damascus knives I too end up with a plain shiny non-Damascus finish, especially where the edge is Convex or a Straight Vee. I like the contrast actually, but then I could always re-etch the blade if I wanted to... A good mate of mine, who actually uses his knives, swears by a plain shiny edge on his Damascus knives.
Basically. in my view at least, the difference between a standard Damasked cutting edge and a polished edge is related to the way the blades cuts. A Damasked edge has tiny serrations and bites in well as it cuts, but it drags a bit because of the inherent undulations. With a smooth cutting edge the blade doesn't drag and tends to cut cleaner. It's really a matter of personal preference as the difference in cutting performance in actual use is hardly noticeable in most instances. I use both types of cutting edges and am happy with both.
I would always recommend using Japanese Waterstones when sharpening knives. A 250/1000 and a 1000/6000 combo stones would give you a fairly scratch free (yes, really) shaving sharp mirror finish no problem. For the fussy, further stropping or buffing will give an even better edge...
Bushcraft/Hunting/Field type knife?
A tough question to answer because there are several good steels that are currently used to make very good usable knife blades from. Speaking from personal experiences I keep an open mind and my leaning towards a type of steel over another is down to personal preferences a good knife, whatever the steel it's made of is a good knife regardless. My preferences tend to be influenced by my own personal research and practical usage. I like to know a bit about a particular steel and make comparisons between the various compositions and intended end use. Although I then form my own opinion, I don't ignore the fact that quality blade manufacturers are in a better position than me to ascertain the merits and viability of the steels they use. However, in certain market niches trends and/or traditions often exert undue influence, which results in a degree of obstinacy towards accepting new concepts regardless of added benefits.
There are a multitude of steel types used in the production of 'cutting' tools. From these, some steels in particular have lent themselves ideally suited to make knives from. Open any Kitchen knife drawer and it's obvious that the standard fare is Carbon or Stainless steel bladed knives. But, for most of us sporting outdoor types the humble kitchen knife will not do however good or sharp it is. We specialise and every bit of kit we use has to be designed for the job intended, with some people going mad for the latest trendy gear costing an arm and a leg. I see absolutely no problem with that at all because I'm sure it's part and parcel of the whole experience and for many, myself included, very enjoyable it can be too.
Anyway, no outdoors man worth his salt would be without a knife of some sort. Regardless of the knife's type, shape or looks, if the stuff that the blade is made from cannot take a good edge and hold it, then what's the point of carrying such a useless piece of kit? I get to see cheap good knives as well as expensive bad knives. So what's the best steel to ensure you have a knife that will perform as intended assuming that it is reasonably well designed? The following list is merely my view and as things change, we must be able to change with them - so nothing is absolute and final!
Generally speaking, the preference in the UK seems to be for 01 tool steel, from which many a good quality knife is made. I have two main reservations about 01 tool steel, the quality of the finished knife blade can be variable, so it's very important to source blades from a trusted source and, even the best of knives must be looked after properly lest the blade marks badly and/or rust takes a good hold.
A few knives are made from 420 and 440 series of stainless steel and without doubt, some knife blades made from this can be pretty good. Cost is low on average so stainless steel knives are ideal for the occasional user who might not be too fussed about caring for his knife. Having said that, even 'stainless steel' can go rusty if utterly neglected.
Pardon my ignorance, but if you said to me that I only had one choice of steel blade to take with me on a desert island, it would have to be made from RWL-34 powder steel. In my view at least, the ideal knife steel for the outdoors. Not easy to come by and tends to be expensive. But, for your money you're getting a precision compounded steel that performs brilliantly and is stainless as well. Difficult to get a bad RWL-34 blade because the whole process is so controlled and the hardening process has to be done by a specialised centre where quality control is consistently assured.
Blades in Bearing steel are favourites of mine as they're very tough and in practice have performed very well under some extreme conditions. Although not stainless, the blades on test did not stain or rust, which surprised me a little because the conditions were very damp indeed! Anyway, it therefore follows that looking after this steel is a tad easier than 01 tool steel, but still needs looking after nevertheless.
Damascus steel can make for a very nice knife which could be comparable to 01 tool steel if it's of good enough quality. Unfortunately the composition of Damascus steel varies a lot and it's not that easy for the inexperienced to tell the good from the bad. With Damascus you'll have to trust your source or you'll end up with a knife that will disappoint you greatly. Damascus must be looked after diligently or you could end up with a mess of a blade. For the most part cheap Damascus is just that, cheap!
There are other steels, namely D2, Sandvik 12c27, AEB-L, UHB20c, 26c etc, which are very popular over on the Continent. Of late I've been tending to look more at Laminated steel from Scandinavia to work with and will be getting some soon enough. Yes, I do have my preferences like Damascus, Bearing Steel, RWL-34 and lamintaed steel, but that's not to say that I'll not be at all unhappy working with or owning any knife made from the many other steels available, in simple or mixed form.
I don't carry just the one type of knife, I chop and change according to where I'm going and what I'm doing. On a day to day basis I carry a Victorinox knife on the Keychain and vary often, an Opinel 8, either in Carbon or Inox version. So when it comes down to it I'm not really all that fussed as to what steel my knife is made from as long as it does the job. I've had a lot of knives in my lifetime and many have been lost or simple discarded. The knives I own now are of known and unknown steels in varies shapes and sizes and I like them all for one reason or another; maybe that's because I'm a knife enthusiast anyway. More importantly I'll be happy to make use of every one of them if the opportunity demanded it. I don't believe that the one knife to do all jobs exists; and so it is with steels. So there you go, it's OK to have preferences. But, it's just as important to keep an open mind and enjoy the endless possibilities of types of knife designs and the steels they're made from...
While I was quite pleased with having progressed to using whetstones quite effectively and efficiently, the more knives I have to sharpen, the more of a chore it has become. A frozen right shoulder and lumbar and cervical spondylosis don't help either! I'm a patient man, but I won't manage spending all day, on and off, sharpening by hand. A hobby is supposed to be enjoyable, not an exercise on inflicting pain on oneself!
The obvious thing for me to do was to seek out a suitable sharpening system. I did quite a lot of research before I committed myself to buying my first 'sharpening gadget'. This was the Knife Wizard Electric Knife Sharpener (KE280). In principle it was a damn good knife sharpener, but not for knives thicker than about 2.5mm. The slot that takes the blade was too narrow for just about all of my knives. As I bought this conditionally I got a refund, so nothing was lost - although I was disappointed.
My next Gadget was the V-Sharp Knife Sharpener as shown in the middle of the picture. There are similar sharpeners under different names. Not quite what I needed, but it was OK for some knives as long as one doesn't mind seeing their knives shrinking with each sharpening . I kept this one as it wasn't expensive and it does come in handy every so often for knives I'm not too fussy about.
My thoughts turned to the Lansky and Gatco systems, as well as the EdgePro. It was the EdgePro I wanted really, but I was trying to save money and hoped that the Lansky De Lux system would do me. It certainly didn't and no sooner had I tried it I put it back in the box and sold it on eBay! The Gatco seemed a better proposition, more substantial, but still not quite right for my needs.
By now I was wishing that I had gone for the EdgePro from the start. But if I had I might be still wondering whether I did the right thing. And anyway, I haven't physically used an EdgePro, so there was no guarantee that by getting the EdgePro system it was going to meet my sharpening requirements. I ordered the EdgePro Apex 3 kit from the USA and it cost me $200 plus £35 handling/custom's charges. By this stage I didn't care anymore as long as it did the job. Here are a couple of pictures showing the EdgePro Pro (right) and the Apex (left) systems.
My Apex 3 came with full instructions and a DVD, which I watched straight away. The build of the system is really superb; it looks and feels right. I put mine together in a few minutes and had a go. WOW!!! To say I'm chuffed to bits is an understatement - at last my search is over. I'm so impressed that I've decided to get the Pro version for myself and a number of other Apex 3 kits because I'm sure some of my knife enthusiasts pals will want one. I know it's not the cheapest knife sharpening system there is, but it's certainly worth every penny as in this instance, you definitely get what you pay for. As Darryl Young said, "This will be the last sharpening system you will ever have to purchase..." I'll just have to agree!
Throughout this website I've never been hesitant to state my preferences, whether it's with regard to knife steels, handle materials and now knife sharpeners. That's not to say that I'm always right, but rather right for me. I can't help being enthusiastic and wanting to share my experience about something I know to be good. I found the EdgePro the best system for my needs. Having said that, what suits my needs might well not suit everyone else's needs. Many are happy with a simple Carborundum, Ceramic, Whetstone or Diamond stones. A lot of folk, it seems, are tending to opt for a graded system packaged for convenience and ease of use. Putting my preferences aside, if you asked me what really is the best sharpening system you can get, I'll have to say - the one that will suits your circumstances best and does the job to your satisfaction. So for me, it's the EdgePro for a relatively easily achieved scary sharp edge.. But I must state very clearly that the EdgePro system is best for use on a secondary bevel. I haven't found the EdgePro to be suitable for sharpening a Scandi grind, at least not my sizeable ones. It might on a slim Mora type knife with its smallish Scandi grind, but check it out for yourself would be best.
ANY MORE 'EdgePro' SHARPENING SYSTEMS
LET ME ASSURE YOU THAT I'M NOT GIVING UP STOCKING THE EDGEPRO SHARPENING SYSTEM BECAUSE THE SYSTEM IS NO GOOD; QUITE THE CONTRARY!
THERE ARE TWO MAIN REASONS WHY I'M NOT GOING TO CONTINUE STOCKING THE EDGEPRO SYSTEM:
1. As good as the system is, it's not exactly a cheap item to buy. My original intention was to buy enough units to get a good discount and pass on the savings to fellow enthusiasts. However, I ended up having funding the exercise, which I simply could not afford to do due to the very slow turnover.
2. The system is now being upgraded, but at a cost. As everyone must be aware by now, the '£' is faring very badly against the '$' making the unit end price even more expensive.
I've made my decision based on my circumstances. Anyone interested in acquiring such a system should consider the cost benefit for themselves and decide accordingly.
I shall continue to use the system because I haven't found a better system for the money and I still use mine regularly. It is excellent for sharpening knives with a secondary bevel. It is fair to say however, that I also use other more basic sharpening methods, such as various sizes of Japanese Whetstones and Ceramic stones and even Carborundum stones at times!
As for the EdgePro system, I'm still very happy to recommend and I do so without hesitation! So much so that I'm leaving the links and and customer comments in place...
See how it works here: http://www.edgeproinc.com/sharpeningtips.html
The instructions are comprehensive as you get the booklet and the DVD.
Anybody who is into knives must know about the Falkniven F1 knife and many, I'm sure, unless they already have bought one, would quite like to own one. Albeit that I've got plenty of knives, I too have considered buying one as I'm forever coming across folk on the net raving on about it. As a knife enthusiast, I'm just as prone to anyone else to get excited about a knife that seems to stand out. Some knives just seem to stand out for some reason or other, especially if someone in the Bushcraft world who is for real or perceived to be a bit of an expert speaks well of a particular knife. The question that you must ask yourself before acquiring one of these knives is - Can you live with one? I don't have a problem with a knife having a Convex grind, but judging by the correspondence on knife forums etc., many people can't or have problems maintaining a knife with a Convex grind. It's easy enough to like and live with one aspect of a particular knife and yet dislike or are unable to live with another. Now you either don't get such a knife or, get one and alter it to suit your needs. Here follows my account of how I dealt with an F1, which needed some serious remedial work to rectify damage that had been done to the grind at some stage in its life.
On Tuesday 3rd November 2009, an F1 was delivered to me via RMSD. This knife was originally meant for me to sort it out as the cutting edge was a bit messed up through various attempts at trying to sharpen it. Not having had an F1 and knowing it had a convex grind, I was somewhat reluctant to have a go at it lest I messed it up further or made it sharp, but changed the grind from convex to scandi in the process. I don't mind messing up my own knives, but not what might well be the pride and joy of someone else's! As the gentleman liked my work, I made him an offer in that I take the F1 in part trade for one of my Bushmaster knives. That way, if I owned the F1, I could do what had to be done and if I messed up, so what!?
On examination of the knife, I noticed that the blade configuration was quite thick on the back and tapering smoothly, in a slightly convex way, down to the to the top of the what might be considered an established grind line. One can easily imagine that with such a blade configuration, including a full convex grind, the knife will easily tackle most light to medium field work no problem. The only part I can't say I liked much was the handle.
Anyway, my main concern was the damage to the edge and how best to sort it out with my limited resources. The photo on the left doesn't really show the extent of the damage. Not having actually ever seen an F1, I had no idea of what the edge should look like. The profile that the knife now had was more of a scandi grind type rather than a convex grind. Bearing in mind that the belly of the blade wasn't that thick, I wouldn't want too deep a grind lest the edge folded too easily with not having much metal supporting it. In view of this, I felt that the obvious thing for me to do was to opt for a scandi grind and see what happens with regards to its final depth and angle.
When I get a damaged grind to work on I always make it a point to start with the most damaged side and let that dictate the working angle and depth of the grind. As the damage was deep in places and the edge needs re-profiling, I decided that I'll use my Edge Pro system. The sequence would entail starting with the course stone, followed by medium, then fine and finishing with the ultra fine stone. After which, I'd polish the blade with suitable buffing pastes. Before I started I marked along the full length of the grind with a permanent pen so I can see where the stone was touching as I moved it to and fro. I then set the approximate angle to match what was already established and moved the the stone a few times over the edge and noted where the ink was being removed or not. I set the rod angle at 13 degrees initially, but in order to make sure that I take out all the gouges, I needed to go down to 11 degrees.
The photo on the left shows the blade after I finished with using the course stone on both sides. The nicks have gone and I was left with a scandi grind some 4mm deep at a combined angle of 22 degrees, which should cut easily enough and still deal with most light to middle weight Bushcraft tasks.
The Edge Pro system is normally brilliant at enabling me to repair/re-profile a grind. However, with the thick to thin profile of the blade, the F1 proved difficult to work with as I had a job trying to hold it flat while I moved the arm holding the Whetstone over the thin wedge of the blade. It took me about an hour working away with the course stone to set the new profile and do away with most of the obvious gouges. Another half hour or so, going from medium, to fine and then ultra fine and sometimes going back a step, got me to a fairly smooth fine edge which was pretty sharp. I then buffed the blade up with course and medium grades of pastes to take out the remaining finer scratches. As I did this, some other minor imperfections showed up along the grind, so I went back to the medium stone on the EdgePro and carried on from there.
In all, I spent about two hours working away on the knife and although I can't say it's as good as I'd like it to be, I had enough by then and promised myself that I'll have another go at it when I get some spare more time and feel in a sharpening mood. The knife is fine really, it's just that I'm being a bit fussy and would like to have both sides of the grind as near as I can get them to being the same size.
Well, I hope I haven't put you off buying the F1 as I think it's a decent enough knife for the money. If I were to get around to actually using the knife, I'd change the handle for sure. Just for the hell of it I might just get me another one that still has the original scandi grind as I feel I might be better able to appreciate the original concept design behind this knife. Having said that, even if I don't become altogether enlightened, I'll still have a very popular nice knife in my collection, especially if I get around to customising it...
23/11/09 - Further to the above F1 story, this is what the original owner had to say about the Bushmaster knife he got off me:
Just a quick note to say that I have received the Bushmaster knife safely and thank you. I am absolutely delighted, the Knife and sheath are top quality. The black Buffalo horn handle with the red liner and mosaic pins look fantastic, the sheath is very sturdy and a fantastic fit, but the knife itself is a Ďbeautyí; great shape, weight and balance, with a really nice finish. I canít wait to give it a good field test, although to honest it looks to nice to take it outside! J
SINCE ARTICLE #4
1. EdgePro System. 2. Four grades of Whetstones for the EdgePro. 3. Marker Pens. 4. Two sided Ceramic whetstone 1200/6000. 5. Two sided Japanese Waterstones 1200/6000. 6. Two sided Japanese Waterstones 600/1200. 7. Coarse Carborundum whetstone 400. 8. Ceramic steel. 9. Tungsten Carbide steel. 10. Nagura stones. 11. Course flattening stone. 12. Soapy water bottle. 13. Water container to soak stones in. You'll notice the absence of Diamond stones because I don't use them that much now and then only for knives with a hardness of 59 - 60rc +.
As can be seen from the photo above, technically I haven't really progressed that much, except that I now have the EdgePro system. Where I made progress in is my hands-on experience and understanding of what works and what doesn't. Just as with knives, my view is that there's no such thing as one sharpening tool for all eventualities. The EdgePro system, for example, is very good for sharpening a range of knives, but situations arise when it's not the best tool for the job in hand.
I rely heavily on Japanese whetstone as they give me the best finish. The trick is to keep them as flat as you can, hence the indispensable coarse flattening stone. The Nagura stones are great for making a slurry, especially on the 6000 grit stone.
The items in the above photo where laid out in preparation of sharpening three knives. Two of mine - a Robert Mattson and a Super Bushmaster - and a knife that was sent to me to sort out. The photos below illustrate the various stages of the sharpening process.
This knife is in quite a state on both sides with scratches and grooving all along the blade and grind itself. The unevenness on the grind can be seen quite clearly on the right photo. My plan was to use the EdgePro system to reset the correct angle and smooth out the grind at the same time. I would then finish off on the Japanese whetstones using 600, 1200 and 6000 grit stones.
Here you can see all three knives with lots of slurry on them as this is the 6000 grit stone stage. On the right are the knives having been cleaned off and will be left to dry before going on to get polished and buffed up. Before my two knives get to the hand sharpening stage, they would have had a three day soak in oil and a few more days drying out during which I oil wet sand them several times. Therefore, by this stage they're quite impervious to water.
These last two pictures show the knives after the blades have been polished and the handles buffed up with hard Carnauba wax. All they need now is another final few polishes by hand before being sent of to their owners.
I suppose that apart from having the correct tools and the confidence to use them correctly, one must have patience and a certain feel to do a good job of sharpening. I started work on the above knives at 11.30am and stopped at 2.30pm once I was satisfied that all three knives were nearly shaving sharp. The following day it took me another hour to get them to shaving sharp, polished and buffed with hard wax. It will take me another hour or so to finish the knives to the best possible level that I can get them.
I'm often contacted for advice on knife sharpening and in most cases the problem is the use of wrong sharpening tools. In all cases I always recommend the use of Japanese Waterstones or similar. There's no need to spend a fortune on such stones as double sided ones with a 600/1200 and 1200/6000 grit can be had quite cheaply from places like Axminster tools. Along with these it's best to get a Nagura stone, a stand to hold the stones securely and a coarse Flattening stone.
I won't kid anybody, I tend to put off sharpening for as long as I can! Two reasons; first is that I'm not the most patient of people; secondly my back and neck hurt like mad by the time I'm finished. So I really must get myself in the right mood and have some extra painkillers handy before I get down to some serious sharpening. If you ask me if it's all worth it, I'll answer yes, definitely! I love it when I get a knife sharp enough to shave with...
You can do lots of online research about Damascus steel for yourself, but for our purpose all you need to know is that Damascus steel is made up of several raw layers of different steels in a variety of combinations through pattern welding or crucible forging. As for the actual Damascus patterning that sets it apart from plain steels, this is achieved through acid etching - end of technical spiel!
What is more important for the likes of me and you is to be very aware that the quality of Damascus steel varies in quality from excellent to very poor. One can't just judge by sight whether a particular Damascus blade will make for a fine durable working knife or whether it's only fit for use as a decorative collector's piece.
Quality Damascus stock is only obtained from a quality assured source. It is wrong to assume that Damascus from one country will be all excellent and from another one all rubbish! This is just my opinion for what it's worth as I can't claim to be an expert on Damascus. However, having bought and used quite a few blades to date from different sources, in different countries, I've learned a few (expensive) lessons the hard way!
One thing for sure, buying a Damascus knife solely on the basis that it looks pretty is one way to waste money. All Damascus looks pretty, but some is only good enough to make letter openers with! As with any knife, not only is it important that the blade can take a good edge, but to be fit for the purpose it needs to be able to retain the edge for quite some time rather then have the edge fold over after a couple of cuts.
When it comes to spending good money on a knife, I always advice that one must have a very good idea of what the knife will end up being mostly used for. It's even more pertinent that before buying any Damascus bladed knife, its intended use is considered properly. Basically there are three 'end use' categories. Mainly ornamental; Irregular light use; Full on working knife. Once you know what end use you'll be putting the knife for you can specify this to the Dealer/Maker. A genuine Dealer/Maker will do his best to keep you right.
Like all carbon based steel, Damascus steel bladed knives need to be looked after properly or they'll stain and/or rust badly if neglected. There's a stainless Damascus steel and it's called 'Damasteel' and it's very expensive!
It also worth noting that the typical Damascus pattern is achieved through acid etching and when a Damascus blade is sharpened, the sharpened edge will end up plain and shiny. The knife can be re-etched of course but it's not something to be done in a hurry or without undue care. One good thing about sharpening a quality Damascus blade is that due to the different steels making up the blade, the cutting edge will have tiny serrations that seem to help the knife bite in and cut very well indeed.
With so much information available on the Web, I suggest you do some research of your own about Damascus. Hype and myths apart, you should learn something and thus bet better able to make an informed decision before you decide to buy a nice Damascus bladed knife. In my view at least, there just isn't a knife steel that comes anywhere near to being so beautiful as Damascus steel.
NB: Beware of knives that are etched in such a way as to make them look like real Damascus. If in doubt ask questions and proceed on the basis of 'Buyer beware'.
Please note that this article about Knife Information is not originated by me. I merely borrowed the written content (with full permission of course) from Mike of http://www.cartercrafts.com/knifeinfo To see the full detailed original article, complete with graphics and pictures, go to Mike's site and check it out. There's a lot more info on there too. Mike knows his stuff and then some and he's happy to share it all!
Here I will try to answer some basic questions about knifes and knife making.
Parts of a knife & Knife Terms
Balance - Refers to how the weight of the knife is distributed along it's length. Generally a knife will balance at the guard or at the forward edge of the handle. A chopping knife may intentionally be made with the balance point farther back in order to distribute more of the weight in the blade. Distributing more weight in the handle make for a "quick" and more maneuverable blade.
Blade - Everything in front of the handle or guard. Blade length is measured from the tip to the guard halfway up the blade.
Blood Groove - A groove or recess cut into the sides of the blade. A common misconception is that the purpose is allow blood to drain down the blade or to prevent suction when withdrawing the knife from an animal or enemy. See "Fuller" for the actual function.
Bolster - A piece between the blade and the handle. Primarily a decorative piece, it also serves to help balance the knife. In some cases the bolster may be shaped in such a way as to also serve as a guard.
Butt Cap - A piece attached to the end of the handle. Usually made of steel or brass, it's primary purpose is to help balance the knife although it can sometimes also be used as a striking surface.
Choil - A recessed portion of the blade just in front of the guard or handle. This allows sharpening the entire length of the cutting edge. The choil can sometimes also be used to "choke up" on the knife by placing your forefinger in the choice for more control of the knife.
Clip - The downswept portion on the leading top edge of some blades. Sometimes called a false edge, it may, or may not be sharped. Typically found on Bowie style knifes, the main purpose it so bring the blade to more of a point of penetration.
Edge - The cutting edge of the blade.
Fuller - Sometimes mistaken called a "Blood Groove", a fuller is a groove or recessed area on the sides of the blade. The purpose is to stiffen and lighten the blade.
Grind - The part of the blade that has been ground to a cutting edge.
Guard - Separates the blade from the handle. The purpose is to keep your fingers from sliding onto the blade. In the case of a fighting knife, it may also serve to prevent your opponent's blade from striking your hand.
Handle - The grip portion of the knife. Handles are typically 3 1/2 - 5 inches long on a fixed blade knife to allow a full grip. Handles can be made from a wide variety of materials and attached in a variety of ways.
Hilt - Everything behind the blade.
Pins - Used to attach or secure the handle to the knife.
Primary Bevel - This is the angle ground from the spine or flat portion of the blade down toward the cutting edge. There may, or may not, be a secondary bevel right at the cutting edge.
Ricasso - The unground portion of the blade between the cutting edge and the guard. This maintains this portion at maximum thickness for strength. This is also where the makers mark is usually found.
Secondary Bevel - The angled grind that leads directly to the actual cutting edge. The reason for grinding a secondary bevel is to thin the steel at the cutting edge for a finer, sharper edge without weakening the blade by thinning a larger portion of the blade.
Spine - the unsharpened top edge of the blade.
Swedge - Similar to a clip or false edge, it is a ground portion on the top edge of the blade.
Blade and Knife Shapes & Blade Grinds
There are several basic types of grinds use on knife blades. Some styles are better suited for specific purposes than others and people will argue all day about why their preference is the best. The truth is that if one style was the best for everything there wouldn't be any other styles.
Knives are used for a variety of jobs and most types of grinds will perform suitably for most tasks. Some may perform a specific task a little better than another but basically they will all cut provided they are kept sharp.
There are many ways that a knife blade can be ground but most knifemakers today use belt grinders for speed, consistency and efficiency.
Here are some common types of grinds. Bear mind that this illustrates the primary bevel, or shape, of the knife and the illustrations are exaggerated. In most cases there will be a small secondary bevel right at the cutting edge (not show in this illustration) which will be a more acute angle.
I will go into a little detail about each style:
A flat grind is accomplished by grinding the blade flat against a platen or disc. This creates a constant taper from the blade edge to the blade spine.
In some cases there will be a secondary bevel at the cutting edge and sometimes not. If there is not a secondary bevel, the blade is sharpened by simply laying the blade flat against a honing stone and honing the entire surface from the edge to the spine.
Pros: Relatively easy to sharpen since you don't have to worry about the correct angle. Sturdy blade but it can be thin toward the edge.
Cons: The wedge shape can create a lot of cutting resistance as the blade must displace and push aside a lot of material as it cuts. As material is removed from the edge with use and repeated sharpening you keep moving into thicker and thicker steel as you move up the blade which changes the geometry of the cutting edge.
A convex grind gradually tapers to the edge in a gentle arc. Although there are several ways to create a convex grind, a common method is to grind on the unsupported "slack" part of the grinding belt. The belt will give a little and conform to the convex shape.
A convex grind usually will not have a secondary bevel as the primary bevel simply carries all the way to the edge.
Pros: Sometimes referred to as an axe grind, it is well suited to heavy chopping. Relatively easy to sharpen depending on the type of steel.
Cons: Not a good slicing blade. More cutting resistance.
My preferred grind for most blades as I feel it offers many advantages over other types of grinds.
A hollow grind is created by grinding against a wheel. The blade grind takes on the curvature of the wheel.
Pros: The primary advantage of hollow grinds is that the blade's cutting area is thinner. This creates less resistance as the blade has to move less material during the cut. Being thinner also makes it easier to sharpen and it provides more consistent blade thickness as you move up the blade from wear and repeated sharpenings.
Cons: Being thinner takes away some overall strength making hollow grinds not the best choice for heavy chopping.
A saber grind, sometimes called a "scandi" grind, is very similar to a flat grind but it does not go all the way to the spine.
Pros and Cons are pretty much the same as a flat grind.
In my opinion, this grind is almost useless as a knife blade and I honestly don't know why people choose to grind a knife this way. But, they are certainly out there for whatever reason.
Pros: Can't really think of any. Might be good for splitting wood.
Cons: Makes a lousy knife edge in my opinion.
It should be noted that in many cases, a blade has both a primary and secondary bevel in the grind.
The secondary bevel is the actual cutting edge and it will usually be at a more acute angle than the primary bevel.
So which grind is the best? You could ask a dozen experts and get a dozen different answers. Some grinds are better for specific purposes. Bushcrafters who do a lot splitting and shaving wood wood for fires seem to prefer scandi, convex or flat grinds. Hollow grinds are superior for slicing as the higher wedge tends to separate the material you are cutting and expose the cutting edge to fresh material.
In the real world, a knife is often called upon to do whatever task is at hand rather than carrying a specific knife for every application. Most any sharp grind will perform most tasks. Some may perform in a specific task a little better or more efficiently than others.
Some grinds are a bit stronger and a bit more resistant to chipping or breaking due to having more "meat" near the edge. But like everything in knifemaking, there is always a trade off. One consideration is over long periods of use and repeated sharpenings, the edge geometry will change. Every time you sharpen your knife you remove a little metal and you start moving up the blade. With most grinds, you immediately start getting into thicker and thicker steel as you go up the blade and thus dramatically change the angle of the edge bevel. This would be more noticeable with a convex grind and less of an issue with a hollow grind.
My personal preference is the hollow grind. I simply feel it cuts more efficiently and maintains it's geometry better over the long haul. But then I do not generally chop wood with my knife, that's what axes and hatchets are for. I will occasionally split wood for a fire (cutting with the grain of the wood rather than against it) and a hollow grind works fine for that.
Handle Types for Fixed Blade Knives
There are basically 4 types of knife handles and they refer to how the handle is attached to the knife "tang".
A full tang handle is where the knife steel runs the entire length and width of the handle. This is by far the strongest type of knife as it has more steel the length of the knife. It is also the heaviest style of knife for the same reason. Is that much strength needed in a knife? Not really. A well constructed hidden tang or push tang knife is plenty strong enough for almost anything you would do with a knife. It's really more a matter of esthetics and personal preference.
The handles are slabs of material attached the side of the tang but not completely encasing the tang. The handle slabs are usually attached with pins or screws that run into, or all the way through, the tang. Epoxy cement is often used along with the pins to attach the handle slabs, or "scales" as they are sometime called. This not only provides added strength but is assures a water tight seal between the tang and the handle material.
Sometimes liners of brass, nickel silver or colored vulcanized fiber material are placed between the handle slab and the tang. This is done for decorative purposes and really has no functional purpose.
Some people use only epoxy cement to attach the handle slabs. Personally, I don't think epoxy alone is adequate and I would not be confident that the handles wouldn't pop off. However, you should be aware that there are methods of installing slabs with hidden pins that extend into the handle slab and the tang but do not go all the way through the handle slab. Just because you don't see pins doesn't necessarily mean they are not there. Be sure to ask how the handles are attached if it isn't obvious.
In a hidden tang knife, a narrow tang goes all the way through the handle lengthwise but is entirely encased within the handle. The handle is usually secured by threading the end of the tang and screwing on a butt cap or a nut. This is a very strong and secure type of handle in a well constructed knife.
A push tang is similar to a hidden tang except that it does not run the length of the handle. Sometimes the handle is simply glued onto the tang. A more secure method of attaching the handle is to glue it AND insert a pin through the handle and the tang which will prevent the handle from coming off if the glue should fail.
Slab handles, or "scales", are basically the same type of handles as used on a full tang knife. The difference is how they are attached to different types of knives. On a full tang fixed blade knife, the handle slabs, or "scales", are generally attached with pins that go all the way through both handle slabs and the tang. On a folding knife, the pins would go through one handle slab and one side of the knife frame or liner.
I know, I said there were 4 basic types of knife handles but then I list 5. Well, a sub-hilt is a unique style of handle although it can also be a full tang, hidden tang or even a push tang handle. A sub-hilt is simply a secondary "guard" that would typically be between your first two fingers when gripping the knife.
Aside from offering a more positive grip, the added "guard" provides some leverage when pulling the knife back toward you.
I won't go into a lot of technical discussion about steel here. If you really want to get into the technical details of blade steel there is tons of information available on the Internet and knife forums so I won't spend the time copying it here. You can also find some more in-depth information about steel on my website here: More Steel Information
There is also a tremendous amount of discussion and debate over which steel is the "best". Every year or two someone comes out with what is touted to be the latest greatest super steel that will take a razor sharp edge and hold it forever, won't break or chip, last for eternity, and maybe even walk your dog if you ask it nicely. Just as I am not convinced that chamois obtained super powers when they named it "Sham-Wow", I don't buy into all of the hype about super knife steels.
There are a lot of very good, even great, knife steels available. There have been advancements in steel technology that lends itself very well to cutlery. Does that mean that the old 1095 or 01 carbon steels used decades ago by knifemakers like Bill Moran, Bo Randall or Bill Scagel are suddenly inferior and useless? Of course not. Thousands of hunters and soldiers who have used those knives for a lifetime can attest to that.
In the simplest terms, steel is simply iron with carbon added. Modern steels are usually an alloy made up several elements such as chromium, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, phosphorus, silicon, sulfur, tungsten, and vanadium. Each of these elements in specific amounts provides certain characteristics and makes for a specific type of steel.
You should be aware that there is carbon steel and stainless steel. Stainless steel also contains varying amounts carbon (which what makes the steel hard) and is sometimes referred to as high carbon steel. What makes it "stainless" is that it contains at least 10% chromium. Some stainless steels, such as 440C stainless, contain as much as 17% chromium along with 1% carbon. You should also be aware that ALL steel WILL RUST if not kept clean and dry. Yes, even "stainless" will stain and rust. Stainless is stain and rust resistant but not rustproof.
I happen to think that 440C stainless steel has been proven to be one of the best all around cutlery steels available. 440C will take a very good edge and hold it well yet is not difficult to sharpen when needed. It is very resistant to corrosion and is one of the toughest steels available in terms of resisting breakage. It also takes a great polish and looks great.
Be aware that there are different grades of 440 stainless steel and they are very different steels. 440A and 440B are considerably "softer" and less durable steels than 440C. If a knife is simply marked "440 Stainless" or "Surgical Steel" it is most likely 440A or 440B. The more expensive and higher quality 440C will almost always be marked or advertised as 440C.
That is not to say that 440A or 440B are bad steels. 440a is the most corrosion resistant of the 440 series steels and is a good choice for a diving knife or one that will be exposed to a lot of salt water. 440B has been used by Randall knives for years and they have certainly earned a reputation of great knives. Many factory knives are made from 440B stainless steel.
Any of many good cutlery and tool steels will make a great knife and perform very well provided that the knife has been constructed well and the blade has been properly heat treated (hardened) and tempered. Proper heat treatment is absolutely critical in a knife and each type of steel has a very specific procedure for hardening and tempering. It can literally make or break the knife
Another note about hardening steel; there is a misconception among many that the harder the steel, the better. I have read many postings where someone was touting how great a particular steel was because they could get it extremely hard, sometimes up to Rockwell 62 or higher. As steel becomes harder, it also become brittle and very hard to sharpen. I believe that the optimum hardness for a knife is around 57 Rockwell. A good steel at this hardness will take and hold a good edge, be flexible enough to resist breaking or chipping, and be relatively easy to sharpen when needed.
I also want to talk a minute about sharpness. Many people want their knives "razor sharp". Do you plan to shave with your Bowie knife? Think about a razor blade. Yes, it is very, very sharp. It is also very, very thin, will break easily and dulls after cutting whiskers a few times. Is that really what you want in your knife? I grind my knives to a "working edge". It will be very sharp, but at angle that also provides strength and durability. A large knife generally with be made from thicker steel. You simply cannot grind as fine an edge on 1/4 inch thick steel as you can on a blade 1/16 inch thick. Bigger, heavier knives are usually called upon to do heavier work and therefore need a stronger, more durable edge.
A good knife is always a balance between hardness, toughness, durability and sharpness.
Carter Knives - Steel:
I will make a knife from whatever steel a customer wants and is willing to pay for. Some of the "super steels" can be very expensive. A bar of CPM S90V steel costs me 4 times as much as an equal size bar of 440C stainless steel. 440C is well proven to be an excellent knife steel over many years of field use. So, is CPM S90V so much better that it is worth paying 4 times the price? To some, yes, and to others, no.
My personal preference and recommendations are:
I have also used some Sandvik Swedish steel with very good results.
I feel the need to spend a minute on Damascus steel. "Damascus" has in modern times become a very general term applied to any layered steel. The name Damascus originally comes from cutlery steel made in the vicinity of Damascus, Syria as early as 900 AD by master cutlers using unknown materials and methods. What we generally call Damascus today is layers of different types of steel forge welded together and usually folded several times to achieve many layers. This may be many layers of high quality steel masterfully forged by an expert or it may be layers of whatever somebody had handy and decided to try forge welding. The point is that "Damascus" has become a general term and not all Damascus is the same just as "steel" refers to many different types and quality steels.
One last note about steel. I often hear stories about some knifemaker who makes "great" knives from old truck springs, saw blades, files, or even, as one person told me, engine blocks (which happen to be cast iron, not steel). There is a nostalgic and romantic attraction for many who picture the smithy hammering a masterpiece from an old leaf spring. In fact, many such materials were good steel and many good knives have been forged from springs and files. BUT, in many cases you are dealing with unknown steels. If you are not certain what the components of the steel are, there is no way you are going to be able to optimally heat treat it. Also unknown is the purity of the material and the stresses it has already endured since it was manufactured. In my opinion, it is better to use a known steel, of known composition and properties, and manufactured for a specific use in a controlled environment.
Mirror polished means that the blade has been sanded and buffed to a high shine, removing all scratches and sanding marks. Some steels takes a better mirror finish than others. 440C stainless steel takes a great shine while D2 tool steel remains a little cloudy even when mirror polished.
Mirror polishing seems to be another one of those love it or hate it things. Not many knifemakers do it as it is a very labor intensive and dangerous process. The buffing wheel is actually the most dangerous piece of equipment in a knife shop. A buffing wheel can snatch a knife blade out of your hand and throw it back at you very quickly with deadly force.
Mirror polishing does provide several advantages. The super smooth surface greatly reduces cutting resistance. It also much easier to keep clean as it tends to shed dirt, water and corrosives. Collectors will generally argue that it increases the value of a knife.
Hand Sanded or Satin
The finish is sanded smooth with finer and finer grits of sandpaper. How smooth depends on how fine one goes with the sandpaper. Sanding to 2000 grit provides an almost mirror finish while 120 to 600 grit makes more of a sating finish. Another popular method today is the use of "Scotch Brite" belts and wheels. This is the same fibrous material as used in pot scrubbers and it makes a nice satin finish.
Bead blasted blades are actually blasted with abrasive material under high pressure in a special blasting cabinet. There are many types of abrasives ranging from sand to ground up walnut shells. A bead blasted finish is a bit rougher than a hand sanded or satin finish and is typically a non-glare surface. Some prefer it because it helps hide scratches and surface imperfections. However, the tiny pits created by the bead blasting can trap corrosive dirt particles.
There are numerous types of coatings that can be applied to blades and varying opinions about how well they stay applied. I do not coat blades.
Knife blades are typically ground from steel anywhere from 1/16 inch thick for a small pocket knife up to 3/8 inch for a large fixed blade knife. Blade thickness is another trade-off. Thin cuts better, thick is stronger (and heavier). Again, it's a matter of striking a balance and personal preference.
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A VIDEO BY RAY MEARS
A good video to watch and learn from if you're new at or simply not quite got the right knack of sharpening your Scandi grind type knife.
One thing worth knowing that if you just can't get on with sharpening a full zero ground Scandi grind knife you can always add a secondary bevel assuming you can sharpen such a knife. That said, I strongly suggest you persevere with learning and perfecting sharpening the full on Scandi grind if you can as you can really an excellent scary sharp cutting edge that way.
Paul (aka Frenchy)
REMOVAL METHOD INCLUDING APPLYING A SCANDI GRIND
Phase 1: At the forming and grinding phase, the Damasteel is in the 'as bought' raw stage and therefore hardly any patterning is visible as a consequence.
Phase two: Once the forming and grinding is done, being Damasteel, the blade is sent off for specialist heat and cryogenic treatment.
Phase three: When I get the blade back, it's in quite a messy state and must now be cleaned and put through various grades of belts to make it as smooth as possible in readiness for the etching process.
Phase four: Degrease the blade and through the use of acid start to etch the blade to bring out the Damascene patterning to the required contrast.
Phase five: Blade is ready to for use, with only some final polishing to be done at the end of the knife build process.