GUNS Magazine June 2013 Digital Edition - Page 56

“A Pat coVert knife is only as good as the steel it’s made from.” I don’t know the sage who first passed on this pearl of wisdom but it’s certainly one of the truest truisms of the edged tool world. Just over 20 years ago, there weren’t many steels to choose from. Just a batch of carbon “tool steels” and a handful of stainless ones, and hardly anyone knew them by their trade name. That all changed when the modern tactical knife movement took bloom in the early 1990s—spurred on by the first Gulf War—and all of a sudden the name ATS-34 meant something. Up until that point this steel was only found on elite customs, mostly of the gent’s folder ilk, but this Japanese steel, made to emulate a hard-to-come-by American made 154CM, would be the springboard for a plethora of modern exotics available today and even helped revive the steel it was meant to replace. By the close of the 1990s the competition among custom knifemakers had heated up to a frenzy, and manufacturers were battling for market share, too. BG-42, rediscovered native ball-bearing steel came in vogue for several years but was soon dethroned by a series of new exotic “powdered steels.” Ironically, at the same time some of our troops in the Middle East were finding advantages to the old carbon steels, sparking a renewed interest in these time-proven throwbacks. Add to that the flow of foreign steels entering the fray and you end up with a dizzying array of steel choices today. Before ATS-34 stainless steel entered the market, most manufactured and custom knives were using the 400 series alloys, particularly 440C. These are still the most widely used factory stainless steels today. When heat-treated properly 440C is a very viable stainless steel and several of the top German manufacturers still use it in their premium knives. It is affordable and can easily be sharpened on a standard Arkansas stone. ATS-34, 154CM, and BG-42 were all considered improvements over 440 series steels, thus easily took root in custom and better manufactured knives in the late 1990s. The term “stainless steel” is somewhat of a misnomer. Even the best stainless steels contain carbon and will corrode in the wrong circumstances, such as in salt-water environments. Is there anything such thing as 100-percent stainless steel? In fact there is. Spyderco offers knives with a hydrogen-based steel, dubbed H-1, which is manufactured in Japan. The company has had such success with this steel in their Salt series knives that they buy up most of the manufacturer’s annual production. If you want true stainless steel in your knife at an affordable price, check out the Spyderco Salts. Most of the innovation in new exotic steels can be found in the powdered variety. Crucible Industries pioneered the process of making proprietary knife steels in the USA and two of their products, S30V and its successor S3VVN, are popular among both custom knifemakers and manufacturers alike. Chris Reeve, owner of Chris Reeve Knives, worked closely BUT ARE YOU CHOOSING THE RIGHT STEEL FOR YOU? Easy sharpening carbon steel is still the popular favorite among traditional pocketknife users. Shown here is Great Eastern Cutlery’s Northfield Sunfish. American made 440C stainless steel has been around for decades in knives like the Puma Prince (top) and Buck 110 (bottom). 56 W W W. G U N S M AG A Z I N E . C O M • J U N E 2 0 1 3

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