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Choosing the Right Steel for Your Knife

Discussion in 'Steel, Hardware, & Handle Material' started by Mythtaken, Feb 17, 2011.

  1. Mythtaken

    Mythtaken Staff Member CKM Staff

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    Getting started making knives can be a bit daunting. Learning new terms, tools, and techniques can be be confusing. Even choosing the steel to use for your knives can leave you scratching your head.

    If you're starting out with forging and want to recycle old junk into new knives, the choice is a little easier. You start with some of the standard items like leaf springs, old files or hammers, railroad spikes. They're all good candidates for making knives from.

    But if you want to purchase steel, especially for stock removal, the choices can be confounding. Low carbon steel, high carbon steel, tool steel, stainless, alloys, hot-rolled, cold-rolled, damascus, damasteel; it's a maze of numbers and codes.
     
  2. poppa bear

    poppa bear Member

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    I've started out with a 2 foot section of 1015 3/4 inch rebar in my brick forge.
     
  3. dancom

    dancom Dust Maker Best Shop Tool

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    Hi Poppa,

    Unfortunately, 1015 has only about 0.15% carbon and won't harden enough to make a durable knife. It's the carbon in the steel that allows it to harden. Typically you'd like about 0.6% carbon or better to make a good knife. 1084 is about 0.84% carbon and 1095 is about 0.95% carbon. These are very good for making knives. I'd recommend getting some 1084 or O1 to get started with. O1 is a common tool steel that can be found at metal suppliers like Metal Supermarket. O1 and 1084 are predictable and relatively easy to heat treat with a forge, a magnet and a pot of canola oil.

    You'll be happier when your hard work has made something that does what you want it to do, and holds up well.

    Dan
     
  4. poppa bear

    poppa bear Member

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    I understand that (not the magnet part thou) but for practice and not having to put out money for steel, I figured it was a good compromise.

    I just ask at construction sites if they have any cutoffs they want to get rid off. It also helps because I'm using a wood burning forge ATM so it's a lot easier to heat up and form. Anyone I make a knife for I let them know in advance that it's low carbon steel so it's for decorative purpose mainly.

    But thank you for the input Dan as I will be looking for some in the very near future.
     
  5. dancom

    dancom Dust Maker Best Shop Tool

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    That's cool. You can smith up something ornamental.

    The magnet can be used to determine the steel temperature. Once the hot steel no longer sticks to the magnet it's about 770°C (1420°F). Give it an extra shot of heat and then quench immediately to harden.

    Good luck & have a super weekend!
    (Go Eskimos)

    Dan
     
  6. poppa bear

    poppa bear Member

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    Awesome had no idea about that, Notre notes made in the notebook I've been using.
     
  7. John Noon

    John Noon Well-Known Member

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    rail road spikes are low carbon as well even the ones marked HC(high Carbon). The HC is only in relationship to the low carbon steel spikes. Get a beginners book on metallurgy or metallurgy for welders. covers the basics for knife making and will either put you to sleep or it will be interesting and you can get more, online stuff for the most part is not to bad.

    Old wore out saw blades from a lumber mill and planners blades can be repurposed as well.
     
  8. Yamroll

    Yamroll New Member

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    I would always recommend starting with something like O1 or 1084, if at all possible. I'm by no means an experienced knifemaker, but I feel like I've learned more about heat treat and temper because I have been able to research how the steel I am working with will respond to different things. These steels are very forgiving (and cheap), and there is a ton of information out there about their qualities, which you can then tweak and and apply to future knives in ways you can't if you're not quite sure what you're working with.
     
    dancom likes this.
  9. John Noon

    John Noon Well-Known Member

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    For temperatures of steel people like to use the non contact type guns, not sure of maximum rating off hand but one thing to know is they will read different temperatures depending on if steel is shiny or black.

    They are calibrated against a black surface so it is best too use on similar surface.

    I personally have a contact type that is good up to white hot and sees orange hot on many occasions and has held up well.
     

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