We have been selling knives for many years now and have learned that there are countless issues that we knife lovers enjoy debateing.  We have also learned that one fact is not in dispute.

A great knife starts with the steel used to make the blade.

For any tool that is designed to cut to be really great for the task the maker must start with good steel.  Sure great steel can end up as a poor cutting tool.  Poor design, poor selection of steel for the intended use, poor materials used with the blade such as handle back springs or pins all can lead to a very bad result after a start with excellent steel.

Do I have to be a steel expert to select a good knife?

There are many top quality knives in production and even custom made knives available now for which the research and design have been done for us already.  For our discussion here we will just stick with production knives.  Buck Knives Inc., Gerber, Case, Cold Steel, SOG Specialty Knives, Kershaw, and Columbia River are just a few makers who do a great deal of design and research before a knife is produced. 

A buyer needs to decide "what will I use this tool for?"

A great example is the Gerber LMF II Survival Knife. The knife is designed for Military/Survival use.  It was introduced just a few years ago after a lot of research.  Once it made it to the field further testing and field reports caused Gerber to make a change in the blade steel to 420HC (High Carbon).  Gerber felt that the properties of 420HC was better suited to the demands placed on this top quality knife.  Were the first Gerber LMF II knives no good?  Not at all.  They were made with excellent 12C27 Stainless.  The change was an upgrade that Gerber felt made the knife perform even better.

Buck Knives also caused a debate when they changed from ATS-34 Stainless Steel, as their premium steel, to 154CM Stainless Steel.  Many users of ATS-34 even now remain convinced that the ATS-34 they own is the best by far.  Facts are pretty hard to dispute but here the real story is drawing a pretty fine line.  ATS-34 is made very close to the same as 154CM.  Both have the same amount of Carbon at 1.05.  Equal amounts of Chromium too with 14.00 in each.  They also share the same amount of Molybdnum at 4.00.  They only differ slightly in the amount of Maganeses with ATS-34 containing 0.50 and 154CM listed as having 0.40.  They even rate the same 58-60 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale.  However, ATS-34 contains 0.03 Phosphorous and 0.02 Sulpha.  Very scant amounts but still gives 154CM the claim to being a more pure steel.  

If you are wanting a top quality folding hunter like the Buck Alpha Dorado Hunter made now with 154CM stainless steel is an excellent choice.  If you own one that was made a few years ago with ATS-34 it is still an outstanding knife that will last a lifetime and provide excellent performance.  This is mostly because Buck Knives made the knife very well in the first place. 

How hard should good steel be?

Steel hardness is a very important part of the basic design of the knife.  Want to use your knife as a camp chore knife?  Chop wood, meat, clear brush, and even pound with the butt end.  These are chores that might best be addressed with a steel that is not a 60 or higher rated steel.

The builders ships today learn much from the past and the famous sinking of the H.M.S. Tiatanic teaches lessons even today.  The H.M.S. Titanic was made with the best ship building steel available.  The rivets holding the steel plate to the shell were  considered to be "Unbreakable".  Testing showed that to break the rivets with a blow from an iceburg would require that the steel be down in temperature as low as Liquid Nitrogenn.  The discovery of the Titanic wreck have allowed researchers to discover that the "Unbreakable Rivets" did in fact pop out.  In the building process the rivets were heated so they could be riveted into place by hand or by hydraulic riveter.  This heating clearly affected the strength of the rivets and provided the weak link allowing the great ship to split open and sink.

That was a long story to make a short example.  Steel used for chores that require it to flex more need to be less brittle.  In knife making this just means a super hard steel can actually be too hard.  Most makers draw the line at about a 60 Rockwell Hardness Rating.  

Picking a maker or specific knife 

It can drive a person crazy comparing knives within the same maker line.  Once you start looking at all the different makers too it becomes easy to lose track of the features and what is most important to you.  Of course the best solution is to have several knives and most people do own more than just one knife.  You have kitchen knives, butterknives, fishing fillet knives, pocket knives, fixed blade hunting knives, and maybe even a folding blade hunter (Buck 110). 

I think the best approach is to first decide how much you want to spend on a knife.  The old adage of "Buy quality and only cry once" comes to mind.  Years ago I bought a Buck 102 Woodsman.  To be honest I really can not recall what I paid for it.  But I do know that in those days $20.00 was a lot of money to me.  It was not the most expensive knife to be had but it was about the best I could afford.  I still carry and use that same old Buck knife every deer season.  There were many cheap knock offs around and some just plain junk made who knows where.  I continue to believe one should buy the best they can afford.  If you can afford $500.00 for a knife then that is the range you should be looking in.  You will never reqrete it but you might very well rue the day you tried to save a few dollars.  

Next think, "what will I do with the knife?". Clearly if you are looking for a knife to carry in your pocket for all the everyday cutting chores that arise you might not want to select a SOG Super Bowie Fixed Blade  knife at over 12" overall length.  That big SOG Bowie is a great knife for sure.  But a Case XX Amber Bone Trapper fits a lot better in your pants pocket than the Bowie. 

Browse the makers who have a reputation of producing quality knives.  There are branded knives coming out of China now that are of excellent quality.  Some makers are doing very well at maintaining the quality of their knives being produced overseas.  Unfortunately, it is very easy to run into very poorly made knives even with some name brand makers.  So, it is just as important to only purchase from a trusted dealer.  Know who you are buying from and ensure they have a fair return policy.  This is even more important with buying online.

 With internet sites abounding it is easy to search and find many knives that normally would not be available to you in your location.  Not everyone lives in New York City where just about everything can be had.  But even big cities do not offer everything all the time.  The viturally unlimited supplies that you can reach on the internet is a great tool for shopping.  But those same massive numbers can be overwhelming. 

So, again. Find a dealer you can trust. No dealer, or dedicated knife nut can know everything. However, a dealer can be your most valuable asset when looking for that new knife.      

If this was any help or you have other questions or comments please let us know. Email us at foxqualityknives@aol.com  

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