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I Forge Iron

Stainless steel knife blades

Rich Hale

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Now and then in this section I see information passed down once again about how stainless steel cannot match the awesome carbon steel in a knife blade. Let me offer some thoughts:


Unless the maker of any knife blade has a shop testing protocol that will assure they are getting the heat treat proper for that individual steel it simply does not matter wot the formula is on the steel. 

And this applies to mystery steels also. If the maker is a bladesmith with background to determine if the steel is worthy of the efforts needed to make a blade they can indeed make a fine knife. 


A few things that are strongly in favor of high carbon for a blade are that someone with ability to manage a fire, forge with a minimum of heats and not over heat or forge too cool can craft a blank that may become a knife. 

Some of the common, simple HC steels can be hardened and tempered in most home shops to get the most from them. All of these things stack the odds in favor of a blade that works as intended if the smith works as they should. And of course any omissions in the process will not work out well. 


Stainless is different for a few reasons: I only know of one that can be forged without cracking in the process,,There may be more. The same one may be hardened and tempered in some home shops,,I say some as it is a knowledge thing. i am not going to make this a tutorial. 

So most high carbon stainless steels that are right for knives require a hardening process that is atmospherically controlled and done at rather exacting temps that are hard to reach and hold for the time necessary in a home forge. 


I put this in print to say simply this: A blade of any material may be a wonderful thing or scrap metal in spite of how it looks or feels when it comes to its intended ability to cut, slice, chop etc.

In fact I am not sure that experience and time in the shop is critical to producing a good working blade. Keeping the metals properties intact during shaping by any means,,and the entire heat treat process and follow up testing. And of course applying the correct edge geometry and support is the heart of the matter. I don't care if it is a first blade or a bazzilionth one. If it is done right it will be right. And I say that without regard for fit, finish etc. that are important to some of us. 

So when I hear that any steel has a bad reputation for blades my first thought is that if it is a steel that can be done well,,,it has not been. When I hear that someone has a preference for a particular kind of steel I think of how nice it is they have found a steel that has been properly prepared in all the ways that make that happen. And I say all of this without regard to who the maker is. home shop or commercial, if it is right it's right. 

I hope that anyone that makes knives and reads this will follow testing protocols and see how their work holds up to simple shot tests. Harden a blade sized piece of steel and break it safely; Look at the grain structure, and again this is not a training paper. then make a blade form same steel and do all of the steps in heat treat, Fashion a blade and test it,,bend test, cutting tests, chopping tests,,etc. No need to spend a lot of time on fittings and handles,,just something that makes it usable for this testing.  

Remember when you change steels do this all again, and if you record all the data you can likely repeat the result in the future if you know wot the steel was. 

It is a rather easy for most folks to fashion a knife in a home shop. Some folks can heat treat that blade correctly. I was not the person. I had to spend a lot of time learning wot needed done and the steps involved. 

If you want to make knives,,,make them, test them,,, make more etc. If you wish to make them your way and disregard all of wot I have posted here then by all means do so,,Your shop your rules.

There is information on this site about steels and heat treat, Use it if you wish.

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Thanks Rich, though I dont and havent used stainless for anything, I have ben considering mixing a large amount of leftover stainless chips from my shop at school in with some leftover cable and 108x steel bits and doing a melt once I finally finish my new forge. I wonder how it will come out or if it will work at all....

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