Knives of Steel: The Blends
When we only carried a few commercial lines of knives, talking about knife steel was pretty straightforward, but then we met Dan McLeod of Fixed Star Forge and knife steel got a whole lot more interesting!
These are the steels in the knives that we carry (or have carried in the past) with a bit about their composition and relative traits that make them worthy for their culinary tasks.
This is the stainless steel used in Wusthof and Victorinox knives. It's a "German" steel, though it is also made by a few manufacturers in the UK, France and Finland. When forged and hardened by Wusthof, it has a Rockwell of 58, making it both a workhorse and an 'easy keeper'. When stamped and sharpened at Victorinox, this steel has a Rockwell of 56, so quite a bit softer than Wusthof, which means it will require sharpening more often, but will share the stain resistance and overall toughness.
Carbon 0.45-0.55%; Chrome 14.0 - 15.0%; Molybdenum 0.5 - 0.8%; Vanadium 0.2 - 0.3%; Manganese 1.00%; Silica 0.5 - 1.0%; Phosphorous 0.00-0.04%; Sulfur 0.00 - 0.015%
VG-Max is Shun's proprietary steel used as the cutting core in their Classic and Classic Blonde knives. Blades made from this steel are both stainless (more than 13% chrome) and high carbon, which is somewhat of an oxymoron in the knife making world. Shun describes VG-MAX as "the newest in the line of VG super steels and is proprietary to Shun. This steel builds on the highly successful VG10 formula by increasing ingredients that take this advanced steel to the “MAX.” VG-MAX™ includes more carbon to improve strength and durability. It has additional chromium for wear and corrosion resistance. Increased tungsten enables the steel to be very fine-grained so the edge can be extremely sharp. Molybdenum improves corrosion resistance and strength. Vanadium improves impact resistance and enables the steel to form vanadium carbides, which enhance cutting performance." In their 2020 catalog, Shun stated that they target all steels to be hardened to a Rockwell of 61 (but in the range of 59.5 to 62). The following year, this was revised to say that steels were hardened to 60 (but in the range of 58.5 to 61).
Carbon 1.10%; Chrome 16.0%; Molybdenum 1.5%; Tungsten 3.0%; Vanadium 3.0%; Cobalt 2.5%
One of the two steels used in Shun's Dual Core, full damascus blades. Like VG-Max, VG-10 is a high carbon, stainless steel knife. Shun described VG-10 as "a complicated blend. In addition to iron and carbon, it contains chromium, manganese, molybdenum, silicon, and vanadium. Most of these elements improve desirable blade characteristics such as wear resistance, corrosion resistance, hardness, and toughness. Vanadium helps make sure the steel’s texture is fine, which is important for Shun’s extremely sharp, long-lasting edge" In their 2020 catalog, Shun stated that they target all steels to be hardened to a Rockwell of 61 (but in the range of 59.5 to 62). The following year, this was revised to say that steels were hardened to 60 (but in the range of 58.5 to 61).
Carbon 0.95-1.05%; Chrome 14.5-15.5%; Molybdenum 0.9 - 1.2%; Vanadium 0.10-0.30%; Cobalt 1.3-1.5%; Manganese; Phosphorous 0.03%
The other of the two steels used in Shun's Dual Core, full damascus blades. Shun describes VG_2 as "a fine grained, high-carbon, high chromium Japanese stainless steel that takes and holds a very sharp edge". In their 2020 catalog, Shun stated that they target all steels to be hardened to a Rockwell of 61 (but in the range of 59.5 to 62). The following year, this was revised to say that steels were hardened to 60 (but in the range of 58.5 to 61).
Carbon 0.60-0.70%; Chrome 13.0-15.0%; Molybdenum 0.1 - 0.2%; Nickel 0.00-0.25%; Copper 0.00-0.25%
Found in Shun's (now discontinued) meat cleaver and flexible filet knife, this steel is described by Shun as "a Japanese high-carbon, low chromium (for enhanced sharpenability) stainless steel that has proven to provide an excellent balance between toughness and strength, edge holding and corrosion resistance" In their 2020 catalog, Shun stated that they target all steels to be hardened to a Rockwell of 61 (but in the range of 59.5 to 62). The following year, this was revised to say that steels were hardened to 60 (but in the range of 58.5 to 61).
Carbon 0.70 - 0.75%; Chrome 13.0-14.5%; Molybdenum 0.10-0.30%; Vanadium 0.20-0.26%; Nickel 0.49%; Manganese 0.5%; Silica 1.00%; Sulfur 0.03% ;Phosphorous 0.04%
This is the stainless steel used in the Global Classic line. It is hardened within a range of 56-58 Rockwell
Carbon 0.75-1.05%; Chromium 17.3%; Molybdenum 1.12%; Tungsten 0.00-0.14%; Vanadium 0.14%; Nickel 0.18%; Manganese 0.4%; Silica 0.48%; Copper 0.0235%; Phosphorous 0.026- 0.040%; Sulfur 0.004-0.035%
This is a Swedish steel, known for its use in razors and scalpels and beloved by knife makers for its purity. It's a high carbon steel, and is decidedly NOT stainless, so it will require a bit more maintenance than, say, a Wusthof, but the ability of this steel to take and retain a fine edge without being overly brittle (even at significantly higher Rockwell values), make this an excellent steel for kitchen knives. This steel can be hardened to a range of Rockwell values (mostly in the low to mid 60's), and for the knives coming from Fixed Star Forge with this steel, we estimate the Rockwell to be around 63.
Carbon 1.22-1.29%; Chrome 0.2 - 0.4%; Manganese 0.3 - 0.5%; Silica 0.15 - 0.3%; Phosphorous 0.00-0.02%; Sulfur 0.00 - 0.010%
Hitachi Blue Paper #2
This is a Japanese steel, so named because of the blue-gray patina that will develop over time. Blue steel is very prone to rusting if not cared for properly, so it may not be the best choice for novice cooks, but for those willing to keep up with the maintenance, knives made from Hitachi Blue will become fast favorites. Hitachi Blue was developed as a tool and knife steel, which means it's designed to be tough even at high hardness. Fixed Star Forge hardens this steel to a Rockell of 63. It's also worth noting that this steel is very difficult to get in the US, so we're thrilled that Dan is sharing some of his stash with us!
Carbon 1.05-1.15%; Chrome 0.2 - 0.5%; Tungsten 1.0-1.5%; Manganese 0.2 - 0.3%; Silica 0.1 - 0.2%; Sulfur 0.004% ;Phosphorous 0.025%
New Jersey Steel Barron's W2
Once incredibly rare, New Jersey Steel Barron's W2 has been brought out of retirement and is now a very popular steel for kitchen knives, machine dies and hand tools. Bladesmiths love the differential hardening of this steel which means the cutting edge can be hardened to significantly higher rockwell values than the spine, resulting in a gorgeous visual edge effect known as "Hamon" treasured by sword makers. This is yet another steel that balances high hardness with toughness. Fixed Star Forge aims to harden their W2 to a Rockwell of 63.
Carbon 0.916%; Chrome 0.069%; Vanadium 0.165%; Manganese 0.215%; Silica 0.295%
Also a high carbon, stainless steel, 440C was once considered a premium material for kitchen knives, but has since become relatively common in more budget friendly brands. Like X50CrMoV15 (used in Wusthof and Victorinox), this steel can be hardened to a variety of Rockwell values. Lower priced 440C blades have typically been hardened to a Rockwell of 56, but Cudaway hardens this steel to a Rockwell of 62 in their premium cutlery.
Carbon 0.95-1.20%; Chrome 16.0-18.0%; Molybdenum 0.75%; Manganese 1.00%; Silica 1.00%; Phosphorous 0.04%; Sulfur 0.03% ;
- Jennifer Flight