Blade Steel: Science of Blades

When choosing the best knife for your situation you should pay particular attention to the type of steel as well as the edge and even blade shape. Your steel is a critical element of how that blade is going to keep an edge and perform in the situations you need it for. Steel is an alloy (combination of at least one metal and a nonmetal combined) of carbon and iron that is enriched with other elements to improve certain characteristics dependent upon the application desired.

Carbon Steel vs Stainless Steel

Carbon Steel

Very little Chromium

More likely to rust

Harder, retains sharpness better

Best for outdoor applications

Stainless Steel

At least 10.5% Chromium

Rust resistant

Softer, harder keeping an edge

Best for kitchen application

Let’s Talk Hardness Here…

Hardness or (HRC) refers the steels resistance to heat, stress and other forces regularly being applied to knives. The ability for the steel to retain its original shape is measured by the Rockwell C scale. A blade must have the hardness of at least 52 to be able to be considered usable. General knife steel falls in between 58 & 62 HRC range.

Keep in mind… the harder the knife steel, the more challenging it will be to sharpen.

  • 52-54: Soft, but decent quality.
  • 54-56: General hardness for kitchen knives. Easy to sharpen, but requires regular sharpening.
  • 56-58: Typical for premium kitchen knives. Stays sharp longer and easy to sharpen.
  • 58-60: Usual hardness for pocket knives such as Spyderco and Cold Steel, or premium Japanese kitchen knives. Retain sharpness for much longer, can be difficult to sharpen.
  • 60-62: Blades with this hardness remain sharp for extended periods of time, but can be a challenge to sharpen. They often become brittle.

Typical Steel Types

1065 Steel
(Not a stainless steel)
– tough steel, medium edge durability, resistant to wear and easy to sharpen.
Popular for swords and large knives.
54 – 60 HRC

440 Steel
(Stainless Steel)
– resistant to corrosion, high strength, great edge retention.
58 HRC

(Not a stainless steel)
– very durable, long lasting edge retention, great hardness.
55 -62 HRC

Steel Elements and Key Features
















Hardness, Edge Retention

Corrosion Resistance, Hardness



Hardenability, Wear Resistance


Hardenability, Strength, Wear Resistance

Hardenability, Strength

Toughness, Wear Resistance, Corrosion Resistance

Toughness, Wear Resistance


Hardness, Corrosion Resistance

Hardness, Corrosion Resistance

A premium steel doesn’t necessarily denote a better blade. Just like a lower grade steel does not always mean a low quality blade.

Test your knife for your purpose. Don’t worry about all the science!

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