11

I have a lot of knives that are 20-30 years old, and I've never spent more than $100 on any knife.

Have there been appreciable advances in the steels or treatments applied to mainstream knives over this period? I.e., are there knives available today under $100 that would perform noticeably better than anything I might have bought for that price a generation ago?

I know that a lot of differences in blades amount to tradeoffs between durability, flexibility, corrosion resistance, etc. So an "advance" would be something like, "significantly better in at least one measure without sacrificing performance in any other measure."

  • Materials have not changed. We have ceramic knives now but I don't think that is your question. – paparazzo Jan 15 '17 at 7:46
  • @Paparazzi – Right, and I'm also not referring to any of the exotic steels (powdered metallurgy, carbonless steels, etc.). I think my price limit excludes those. – feetwet Jan 15 '17 at 14:41
  • It is a bit far to move this question as you have some excellent answers. On outdoors I took it as pocket knives. If you meant kitchen knives cooking.stackexchange.com might have been a better fit. – paparazzo Jan 18 '17 at 18:43
  • @Paparazzi – Yes, I meant pocket and outdoor knives, not (just) kitchen knives. – feetwet Jan 18 '17 at 18:45
  • I think you got some excellent generic answers that still apply to pocket and outdoors. The major change is your $100 price point. As I stated you cannot hardly get a Benchmade for less than $100 where in kitchen you can get come pretty nice knives under $100. – paparazzo Jan 18 '17 at 18:59
6

This is debatable.

In the last few decades there have certainly been a steady stream of new steels introduced into knifemaking, however there are very few steels which are designed specifically for this job and most have some other primary industrial purpose, knifemakers just have to evaluate which of the steels available is most appropriate for the job.

It is also worth mentioning that simple carbon steels are more than adequate for most knives and the quality of design and manufacture is much more important.

Having said that stainless steels tend to be less effective knife steels, with the obvious exception that they are more corrosion resistant, so in this respect there is more scope for improvement. In particular stainless steels tend to be more difficult to sharpen for a given hardness which is why chisels etc tend to be plain carbon steel.

Historically the single biggest improvement was the advent of industrial mass production of steel as opposed to the various carburisation/decarburisation batch processes which were used before which depended greatly on the quality of the ore used and the skill of the smelter. Now you can buy a good quality tool steel with known and consistent properties off the shelf. So a lot of the more exotic processes like folding and pattern welding are more about getting a consistent product from variable raw materials than having much performance benefit purely in themselves.

There is also undoubtedly a certain amount of marketing hype and snake-oil in some of the super steels and expensive production knives.

There is also the fact that in certain sectors of the market achieving very high hardness is desirable from a marketing perspective as blades stay sharp longer, even if they are very difficult to sharpen and for inexperienced users edge retention will be seen as plus while they might blame themselves for an inability to sharpen them effectively.

From personal experience simple carbon steels are as good as anything as long as they are properly heat treated and designed although most bulk manufacturers tend to prefer stainless for cosmetic reasons. I would also say that once you get to the mid-range of the knife market it is often better to get a knife from a small artisan maker as you are then at least paying for a bit of craftsmanship and individuality.

Different knife makers and enthusiasts will have their own personal preferences for steels and heat treatments and in real terms it is quite difficult to get a 100% objective assessment of whether one steel is better than another. Often it is a case of balancing various conflicting requirements against each other and many of the newer commercial steel grades are designed to get a very specific set of performance requirements for a particular application.

4

For knife it is not just a question of steel. Big part of it is heat treatment and that is usually a thing where price rises.

I have seen steels like S30V, 154CM, D2 in knifes for less than $100. If you go to websites like aliexpress that do direct sales from Asia you can score some good knives for less than $50. But you have to know what to look for.

Carbon steel like 1095 is popular because it takes very fine edge and last decent amount. But again heat treatment for this steel is very important. There is manufacturers targeting military and they usually only use 1095. And almost all EDCs in the 1095 are under $100.

The purity of steel has improved through the CPM process. Basically the steel is call the powder steel since it is made from something that looks like very fine sand.

Here is website with very long list of steel types: http://www.bladehq.com/cat--Steel-Types--332 Is good as reference if you research a knife and want to find out more about the properties of the steel.

Over the years I kept an eye on CPM 3V steel. It is tool steel used in large machine hammers. It keeps very good edge and is externally tough. I started seeing the steel in more affordable knives. I have knives that cost me from $120 to $1400 from it. And the edge retention on each is pretty much the same. So that is the one I would highly recommend if you are planing on getting good knife with something "new" in the area of steel.

The old steel types like the 400 series (440C 420 etc) are very good from the past. They are not so good these days. This type of steel is being purchased from china and has a lot of contaminates in it, so the properties of knife go down the hill with it. But if you manage to get knife that has American or even European version of that steel it makes for a pretty good knife that is very affordable.

1

Basic materials have not changed that I am aware of.

The basics are carbon steel and stainless steel. All steel has carbon but they seem to use carbon steel to designate it is not stainless steel. Stainless steel resists corrosion (rust). Low carbon is softer (less brittle).

The alloys are pretty standard. knife-blade-materials

The number of knives over $100 has increased. Benchmade has very few knifes that retail for less than $100.

If your knives are sharp they should perform like current knifes.

Not steel but ceramics are getting more popular. They hold an edge but are brittle. Limited number of ceramic pocket knives. Mainly used in the kitchen for vegetables.

CCB

  • What does CCB mean? – feetwet Jan 18 '17 at 19:01
  • It was just a mistake from the start of a real revision that got saved by accident. I would rather not edit and make it an active answer. I think you have answers better than mine. – paparazzo Jan 18 '17 at 19:03

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