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OAUSA Net - November 19, 2020 - Edged Implements (Knives, Axes, Hatchets, Shovels, Etc.)

Posted: Sun Nov 15, 2020 5:41 am
by DaveK

Our net tonight was cancelled. It seems that Amateur Radio gremlins successfully attacked the IRLP node at our Keller Peak repeater and took it down. Since our speaker is located in Portland, the only way to connect everyone depended on IRLP. The good news however, is that we have rescheduled the net for January 14, 2021.


Part of your essential outdoor gear should be edged implements (such as knives), whether in your vehicle, in your emergency supplies, your bug out bag, or what you always carry on your person. Edged implements go beyond just knives however, and include hatchets, axes, shovels, machetes, saws, multi-tools, and even such things as chain saws. The importance of these essential components goes well beyond just the mere fact of having them. Knowing what to buy and how to maintain their quality are critical to being well prepared. And, of course, buy American.

Although the net will primarily focus on knives, we will cover some others as well. Our guest for this net will be Daniel Humphries, KI7NAI, an engineer with an impressive wealth of knowledge on this subject. Post your questions or comments here and join us on the net.

Re: OAUSA Net - November 19, 2020 - Edged Implements (Knives, Axes, Hatchets, Shovels, Etc.)

Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:35 pm
Hardness and toughness

Hardness refers to a material's ability to resist deformation, in the knife industry (as well as any other metal working industry) hardness is measured using a rockwell hardness tester, a special tool that uses a diamond tool of a specific geometry that is forced into the metal with a specific force, the depth of the resulting indentation determines the hardness. For knife blades hardness is typically expressed in HRC or Rockwell C. Normally cutlery falls in the range of 50-65HRC depending on the material and the intended use.

Ductility is a material's ability to deform under stress, a ductile material will bend before breaking. In knife blades ductility isn't necessarily desirable, but it's often referred to when comparing steels because ductility relates to toughness. Toughness is a combination of ductility and strength, it is normally measured with a Charpy notch test where a sample of a specified geometry is impacted with a specific weight dropped from a specific height and the energy absorbed in the impact is recorded as the toughness. For blades this is normally 20-85 Ft Lb depending on the material and the intended use.

Hardness and toughness are a tradeoff, harder materials have lower toughness and tougher materials have lower hardness. Compare a glass bottle to a plastic bottle, the glass bottle is very hard but will easily crack if impacted, the plastic bottle is very soft, but will resist impacts.

Ultimately hardness determines wear resistance, which is the ability to cut through abrasive things without dulling. Knife steels have been developed to maintain high toughness at high hardness.

Re: OAUSA Net - November 19, 2020 - Edged Implements (Knives, Axes, Hatchets, Shovels, Etc.)

Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:36 pm
In the last 2 decades Powder Metals have grown popular, with improvements in manufacturing processes the cost has dropped considerably and superior alloys have been developed. At this point anybody who is a knife enthusiast most likely owns one or several knives with a powder metal blade.


The goal of powder metal is to provide a finer and more consistent grain structure. Because the metal is powdered and sintered the grain growth is limited by the physical boundary of the powder sphere. Highly alloyed steels can be produced with even distribution of small carbides, if the same alloy were produced with conventional manufacturing processes the carbide grains would grow together and become un-workable.

Powder metal has tangibly superior characteristics compared to traditional steels, it can be heat treated harder for better wear resistance without sacrificing toughness. Theoretically the fine grain structure of powder metals allows for sharper edges as the small carbides are less likely to tear out during sharpening. In the real world, your mileage may vary.

Re: OAUSA Net - November 19, 2020 - Edged Implements (Knives, Axes, Hatchets, Shovels, Etc.)

Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:37 pm
Steel comparison

Metallurgy is a very complicated topic, comparing one steel to another can be very confusing. Reputable knife manufacturers will provide some guidelines for comparing one steel to another. Spyderco has a fairly comprehensive comparison tool on their website: this tool allows you to compare the percentages of certain elements within the alloy.


Generally speaking the following assumptions can be made when comparing one steel to another
Carbon: The higher the carbon content the harder the steel can be heat treated
Chromium: Chromium increases toughness and wear resistance, as well as gives the steel stain resistant properties, steels with more than 13% chromium are considered stainless
Cobalt: Increases hardness and strength
Manganese: increases hardness, makes the steel more stable in quench, increases wear resistance and tensile strength
molybdenum: increases hardness and high temperature strength, improves machinability, improves corrosion resistance, is a carbide former
Nickel: increases ductility and toughness
Niobium: Is a grain refiner, carbide former, improves strength and toughness.
Nitrogen: Can replace carbon in steels, increases stain resistance
Phosphorous: Considered an impurity in steel, can cause brittleness
Silicon: Can increase toughness and hardness, helps to remove impurities from steel
Sulfur: Considered an impurity in steel, in small amounts can improve machinability
Tungsten: Forms carbides and promotes wear resistance
Vanadium: Helps control grain growth, increases toughness and strength

There are lots of blade steels to choose from, an incomplete list includes:
Tool Steels often preferred by custom knife makers due to simpler heat treatment requirements.
1. A2 - A good all around tool steel, stain resistant but not quite stainless, wear resistance is good but not quite as good as D2
2. D2 - The standard material for metal working dies, better wear resistance than A2, but not quite as tough, somewhat corrosion resistant, but not stainless.
3. O1 - Comparable to A2 in terms of toughness and wear resistance, not as stain resistant as A2.
4. M4 - High wear resistance, can be more challenging to heat treat.
5. W1 - Common steel found in metal working files, hobbyists and beginning knife makers prefer this steel because it's easy to find and not difficult to heat treat.

I consider these every day carry steels, good knives can be found with these steels for <$100.
1. CPM 154, 154CM, ATS-34 - Essentially the same 3 steels, good corrosion resistance, good edge retention, fairly easy to sharpen.
2. 12C27m, 13C26, 14C28N - These Sandvik steels were developed specifically for use as razor blades, they have excellent edge retention and are easy to sharpen, 14C28N has nitrogen added for corrosion resistance. These steels are used by Victorinox (swiss army knife) Mora and Kershaw.
3. 440C - This was considered the best blade steel in the 70's and 80's, it's still pretty good, very stain resistant, good edge retention, can be difficult to sharpen.
4. 420HC - Low cost, stainless, good corrosion resistance, easy to sharpen, doesn't stay sharp as long as more expensive steels.
5. 8Cr14MoV - This is the "best" Chinese blade steel, it has good corrosion resistance, is easy to sharpen and holds an edge well, when it holds an edge well. Quality is hit or miss, I've had some import knives that stay sharp as long as knives that cost 3-4X as much, others dull if you look at them funny.

High end "super steel"
1. CPM S30V - was considered the best high end steel about 10 years ago, powdered metal, good edge retention, difficult to sharpen, depending on heat treat and geometry can be prone to edge chipping.
2. CPM S35VN - An incremental improvement over S30V, less prone to edge chipping, stainless, good edge retention. My current favorite knife has a S35VN blade.
3. CPM S110V - One of the toughest and most wear resistant steels available according to the data sheets, I have found that S110V is very difficult to sharpen, the one knife I owned with an S110V blade didn't stay sharp very long. A good heat treat is needed for this steel to perform well.
4. CPM 20CV, CTS 204P, M390 - Currently considered the best stainless blade steels, all three steels have essentially the same composition, but from 3 different manufacturers. In my experience Bohler Uddeholm has a superior powdered metal process and makes a slightly better blade steel, but all 3 steels hold an edge longer than any other steel I've used, they are all difficult to sharpen.
7. Elmax - This steel is somwhere between S35VN and M390, it has really good edge retention but is easier to sharpen than M390.

Specialty steels
1. CPM 3v - Ultra high toughness, ideal for machetes and other large chopping blades, not stain resistant.
7. 52100 - Commonly used in ball bearings, good blend of toughness and wear resistance, somewhat stain resistant but not stainless.

Please share your experiences with any of these steels or others I haven't listed.

Re: OAUSA Net - November 19, 2020 - Edged Implements (Knives, Axes, Hatchets, Shovels, Etc.)

Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:42 pm
Excessively hard, wear resistant steels can be very difficult to sharpen with common honing stones. Most of the powder metals will require diamond hones to sharpen

Because of the difficulty sharpening high hardness steels great care should be taken to sharpen the blade with precise angles so you're only removing the minimal amount of material necessary. There are a number of sharpening systems, most of them are not inexpensive, Wicked edge, Edge Pro, Lansky, and others make sharpening systems for home sharpening with a very short learning curve.

Wicked Edge
Edge Pro

A DIY version can be made inexpensively, this version uses automotive finishing sandpapers as an abrasive.

Re: OAUSA Net - November 19, 2020 - Edged Implements (Knives, Axes, Hatchets, Shovels, Etc.)

Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:44 pm
Crock sticks are a simple sharpening system using ceramic rods that are set at a specific angle, with a little practice these sharpening systems can provide very sharp edges


The Spyderco Sharpmaker is another take on the crock sticks, it's a little more versatile for sharpening serrated blades, fish hooks and other unusual geometry.
Spyderco Sharpmaker

Natural stones and waterstones have been used for centuries, they are still very useful for sharpening most steels, but require considerably more skill. Stones are almost always used in a progression from coarse to fine regardless of the sharpening system used. Large bench stones, especially high quality Japanese waterstones can cost hundreds of dollars, much smaller stones are often used with sharpening systems, although the initial investment is high to pay for the sharpening mechanism, in the long run the cost savings of smaller stones or alternative abrasives makes the cost more comparable.

Re: OAUSA Net - November 19, 2020 - Edged Implements (Knives, Axes, Hatchets, Shovels, Etc.)

Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:45 pm
Freehand sharpening

Sharpening freehand is a skill every knife enthusiast should strive to learn. I have found using a the sharpie trick has helped me to build muscle memory to sharpen more efficiently.

Regardless of the sharpening method used the progression from dull to sharp should always include forming a wire edge or burr, once the burr is formed the two bevels have completely intersected and the burr can be polished away. Certain steels are easier to form a wire edge on, some steels will develop a very pronounced burr, coarse grained, high hardness steels may need magnification to see the burr form.

Re: OAUSA Net - November 19, 2020 - Edged Implements (Knives, Axes, Hatchets, Shovels, Etc.)

Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:46 pm
The work sharp electric sharpener is supposed to be user friendly
Work Sharp

A paper wheel is another option

Paper Wheel

Grinding wheels and other powered sharpeners require a lot of skill to use, it's easy to destroy a blade either by removing too much material or by overheating the blade when using powered equipment. Hand sharpening is recommended for anybody who isn't a professional.

Re: OAUSA Net - November 19, 2020 - Edged Implements (Knives, Axes, Hatchets, Shovels, Etc.)

Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:48 pm
The two most common blade geometries are flat ground (or variations of a flat grind) and hollow ground. How the blade geometry is formed plays an important role in how much the blade cost and the materials used.

Flat grinding is used for most high end blades with powdered metal steels.

Hollow grinding is a faster process that grinds both sides of the blade simultaneously. It's not very easy to see what's going on in this video but I'll discus in detail how the machine works during the net.

Flat ground blades are very strong, there is a lot of material supporting the edge, as the blade cuts into the material it is gradually wedged apart. A hollow ground blade creates a very thin cutting edge, these blades can perform very well, but the hollow grind can very abruptly wedge into a material when making deep cuts.

Scandi grinds found on Mora knives is a variation of a flat grind, the full flat grind found on many spyderco knives is another variation of a flat grind. Chris Reeves uses a proprietary process to form a very shallow hollow grind, it's nearly a flat grind with a very slight concavity that cuts very well. Many of the traditional slip joint folders were originally manufactured with a flat grind, as factories grew and demand increased some of the more recent models have moved to hollow ground blades, especially brands like Schrade, Old Timer, Uncle Henry, that have gone out of business and the names and trademarks were bought by Chinese factories.

My favorite grind depends on the usage, for an everyday carry knife I like a hollow ground blade, I find they cut through thin materials like packing tape, envelopes and cardboard easily. For camping or other outdoor activities where I might be cutting into something with considerable force I like a flat ground blade. I'm not a huge fan of serrated blades because of the difficulty sharpening the serrations, that said when the serrations are sharp, they do cut extraordinarily well.

Re: OAUSA Net - November 19, 2020 - Edged Implements (Knives, Axes, Hatchets, Shovels, Etc.)

Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:51 pm
handle materials

Kershaw Leek with steel handle


Lionsteel SR1 with Titanium Handle


Swiss Army Classic with Aluminum Handle


Spyderco Tenacious with G10 handle

carbon fiber

Zero Tolerance 0770 with carbon fiber handle

Esse Izula with aftermarket Micarta handle


Benchmade Griptillian with FRN handle


Buck 110 with wood handle

Case Peanut with bone handle