If you’re looking to create your own steel knives, you’ve definitely been looking up differences in steel types – only to be met by a mass of confusing numbers and letters that mean nothing to you.
And there’s no shame in that! It’s easy to get lost in the sea of steel grades, which is why we’ve put together a brief, yet thorough guide to choosing the right steel for DIY knifemaking.
What is steel?
Steel is, in fact, not a metal. You won’t find it on the periodic table as it is an alloy containing iron and carbon in varying quantities. However, it is one of the strongest, most durable materials we know of, which is why it’s utilised in almost everything we use today. For example, Sheffield Gauge Plate use steel to manufacture high-quality ground flat stock and tool steel.
Before we discuss steel grades, we must look at steel types. These are simplified into four category types classified by their makeup and physical properties.
- Carbon Steel
- Alloy Steel
- Stainless Steel
- Tool Steel
Choosing the most suitable type of steel for your knife ultimately depends on the knife’s intended purpose. For example, if you’re looking to build an outdoors tactical knife, you should opt for tool steel. This is because tool steels have a higher carbon content than their counterparts, making the steel more rigid and durable for heavy-duty tasks.
According to the World Steel Association, there are over 3,500 different steel grades, each with varying physical, chemical and environmental properties.
When it comes to making DIY knives, there is a list of essential qualities you should focus on when choosing the most suitable steel. These include:
- Wear resistance
- Corrosion resistance
- Edge holding capability
During the production process, elements such as Cobalt and Tungsten are added to the alloy to improve the quality of the above factors. So, for example, if you wanted to create a stronger type of steel, you would add more Cobalt to the mix, increasing the overall strength. Or, if it’s more important that your steel is resistant to corrosion, you add Chromium, which makes a steel ‘stainless.’
Choosing the correct steel for your DIY Knifemaking
Before looking into steel grades and types, it is crucial that you have a clear idea of your new knife’s purpose. For example, are you making a kitchen knife that you will use every day? Or perhaps you’re making an outdoors knife that needs to be weather resistant?
A helpful tip is to go through the list of steel properties listed above and prioritise them based on the purpose of the knife you are making. You can then use this order to find the correct grade of steel with the most applicable properties.
Kitchen knives are repetitively washed and dried, and used every day. For this purpose, your best bet is to use a steel grade with a high Chromium content, such as 420, 440, or 316. These are ‘stainless’ steel grades that are resistant to corrosion and wear, making them ideal for repeated use in the kitchen.
Tool knives and pocket knives require careful consideration. In an ideal world, they would have all the qualities we previously mentioned; however, there is a trade-off with the properties across all steel grades. As previously mentioned, it is imperative to prioritize your requirements in a knife before choosing the materials. For example, A2 is incredibly tough, but the hardness value is low, D2 isn’t as tough, but it will hold its edge better and is more resistant to corrosion, and M2 is somewhat brittle but will hold its edge perfectly. Choosing the best ‘all-rounder’ can’t be done as there is always a trade-off between properties.
Outdoor knives will go through a lot, so you should opt for a steel grade with a high level of durability. The W2 steel is the preferred grade here as it is one of the toughest and most durable options on the market. D2 is also another option due to its ability to resist corrosion, but it isn’t as tough as the W2.
To make your personalized knife, you must first prioritize the qualities you require for the knife you are building and use these qualities to determine the appropriate steel grade. Then, once you have found the perfect steel, you can craft your own knife explicitly tailored to your needs and uses. So have fun, and get crafting! DIY knifemaking might be right for you.