Date Published: 2015-04-27

Types of Blade Steel

By Adelia Ladson

When choosing a blade, consider the purpose you need it for and the tasks you need it to perform. Blades are made of steel but there is a variety of different "recipes" to the way the ingredients of steel are mixed together to create the desired steel grade. And it is the combinations of the ingredients in your blade that will make it the most effective for what you need.
There are several ingredients used in the making of steel with the most important one being carbon. All steel will have some percentage of carbon in it because it is a hardening element and will reduce the wear over time of a blade. When Manganese and vanadium are added, they also make the blade harder.
Chromium is used to increase the strength of a blade and also as an anti-corrosion ingredient. You will find that your stainless steel knives are the best at staying rust free with little amount of maintenance because they have the highest chromium content. Copper is also used to combat corrosion.
Other ingredients include silicon, cobalt and phosphorus to improve strength; Nickel to add toughness; sulfur to increase machinability; and tungsten to increase wear resistance.
The categories of steel which most blades fall into are stainless steel, high carbon steel and Damascus steel. When looking for the knife or sword that is perfect for you, make sure you include in your decision the type of steel that will best suit your needs. Here is a break-down of the qualities each type of steel has.

Samurai Sword This stainless steel samurai sword is a great showpiece.
Samurai Sword This stainless steel samurai sword is a great showpiece.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is the most rust resistant of the three types because it has a minimum of 12% chromium in it which is an anti-corrosive ingredient. The more rust-resistant your blade is, the less you have to worry about the maintenance of it. As always, though, if you abuse your knife or sword, it will eventually rust. Stainless steel is great for diving knives because of their exposure to the corrosive properties of saltwater. Also, as you know, kitchen knives are made of stainless steel, as well as, utensils. Although, stainless steel blades can be sharpened, they don't hold an edge as well as blades of other materials, but they are a great cost effective choice for a good pocket knife. If you are looking for a display sword, only, stainless steel is an excellent choice as it will look pristine for just about forever.

Survival Knife This survival knife has a high carbon steel blade.
Survival Knife This survival knife has a high carbon steel blade.

High Carbon Steel

Like it's named, this type of steel has a much higher content of carbon than stainless. The more carbon added, the harder the blade and the less wear over time a blade will sustain. Blades made of high carbon steel can be sharpened to a nice edge and will keep a sharp edge longer but extra maintenance needs to be taken into consideration. You have to take care of them by making sure they are wiped clean after use and kept in a relatively humidity-free environment. Regular coats of a light oil like sewing machine or gun oil can be applied to prevent moisture from damaging the blade. Professional grade kitchen knives are made out of high carbon steel, as well as, a variety of fixed blade and pocket knives. Functional swords are also made out of this type of steel but, once again, must be maintained to keep them rust-free.

Damascus Folding Knife Damascus steel gives an elegant look to a blade.
Damascus Folding Knife Damascus steel gives an elegant look to a blade.

Damascus Steel

The Cadillac of steel, Damascus, traces its roots back thousands of years to India. It has a signature "flowing water" pattern that gives your blade an elegant look and it is considered a precious metal. This is obtained by a swordsmith or knifesmith carefully crafting the blade. Because it has a high percentage of carbon, this steel is very hard, yet it is also flexible, which makes it perfect for making swords. It can be sharpened to a razor-edge and will hold its edge longer than other blades. Of all the types of steel, however, it does require the most care to keep it in pristine and serviceable shape, so, it also needs to be wiped down after use and coated with a light oil on a regular basis. Damascus steel is used to craft high-end, heirloom quality knives and swords.

Depending on what you're are looking for, either a sword or a knife, do consider what you need it for and what you expect out of the blade. This is a very important consideration to assure you get many years of use out of it. Finally, simply treating your edged weapons with respect and care will easily keep them looking and performing like brand new for many years to come.

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