Best way to learn for beginners

OzarkKnife

Member
As I said in my introduction, I havent been collecting for long and only have about twenty knives, but I am wanting to learn more about details and what knives are made of. I get the catalogs from SMKW and a few others and see the different stainless steel blades like 7Cr17, 7Cr17MoV, 8Cr13, etc. and wonder what these are? What's the difference in each one, etc.
I know I can probably find this on the web if I look hard enough, but is there a particular site or book on knives that you all would recommend for beginners? Maybe something that gives the ins and outs on the guts and makings of a knife that wont go over the head?
 

John Wilson

Well-Known Member
Ozark, are you looking for books that focus on collecting? Or knife making?

This site is made up of about 99% makers, so that’s what almost all of then posts here are geared towards. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a great place for collectors, just that what you’ll hear / see here is geared around making knives versus collecting.
 

OzarkKnife

Member
First, I appreciate the help I am getting! ;)

John, I am wanting to learn about knives. Not knife making, but what makes them up, the details and the intricacies. I don't understand the various numbers and letters of stainless steel blades and tangs and that kind of stuff. I guess the mechanical lingo and what makes them. Not making a knife physically, but what you need to make a knife. What are the different stainless steel numbers? What makes them different? What makes them unique to each knife?
Did I clarify that better. I knew what I wanted to say, just not sure if I come across right.
 

OzarkKnife

Member
John,
As an example, I am looking at a pocket knife that has a 440A stainless steel blade with full tang and a black G-10 handle. That blows right by me. I am ignorant to why there are so many stainless steel blades. 440A, VG-10, 1075 high carbon, CPM-S30V, etc., etc.
To the beginner eye, like me, a blade looks like a blade. What are all of these different blades and how do you know what to use them for?
 

chrisstaniar

Well-Known Member
In a nutshell, the steels have different numbers because of different combinations of chemicals/elements in the steel. The best way to learn about that would be to google one that you are interested in and you will find the makeup. There are far too many to go into detail on each one here.

Makers use different steels based on the look they want for the knife (damascus or a metal that may develop a patina), intended use of the knife, rust resistance (stainless vs high carbon, maker's preference, etc. There is also a difference between high carbon steels and stainless steels. That would be another good one to google.
 

J. Doyle

Dealer - Purveyor
A good way to learn is little by little....ask specific questions of makers that should have specific answers. They more detailed you can be in your questions, the more specific a maker can be in his response....hopefully.

In very general terms, there are far fewer right/wrong reasons a maker does something or chooses something and far more instances of preference of attempting to achieve a specific goal.

I hope that makes sense. It might seem simple or obvious but its one of the best ways to learn.
 

OzarkKnife

Member
Thanks a lot, everyone! I read my catalogs and watch Cutlery Corner and the spec talk goes right by me. I know what bolsters are and jigging, some of the knife styles (peanut, trapper, stockman, etc.). More of the basic stuff, but some of the deeper spec talk is pretty detailed.
 

tkroenlein

Well-Known Member
Well...here's a primer on steel types. Keep in mind, there are not always hard and fast rules, as application of a steel kind of defines what kind of steel it is as much as what it was designed, marketed, and named for.

Simple high carbon. These steels basically contain 3 major elements; iron, carbon, and manganese. Carbon strengthens iron, manganese facilitates the union of those two elements. Common examples: 1075, 1080, 1084, 1095.

Low alloy steels. These are simple high carbon steels with the significant addition of one or more alloying elements in relatively small quantities to enhance strength, toughness, wear resistance, and hardenability. Chromium is a common addition, but pretty much any of the common alloying elements used to include vanadium, tungsten, molybdenum, and nickel. The key thing that sets low alloy steels apart from tool steels is the small amount of alloying elements leads to small amounts of carbides formation. Common examples are 80CrV2, 5160, and 52100.

Tool Steels. Now, the water gets significantly muddy starting right here. But, generally speaking, the thing that defines a "tool steel" is significant amount of carbides. You start with the basic iron, carbon, and manganese, but then you add in relatively high amounts of chromium, vanadium, tungsten, in addition to higher amounts of carbon. So instead of just steel, the result is steel + carbides. Carbide is much harder than steel, so wear resistance is increased. That is to say that the steel is less easily abraded based on the relative percentage of carbide to steel. Some tool steels are nearing the 30% carbide range, with mind blowing wear resistance, but that comes at a cost-they are generally very brittle. Common examples used in knives: D2, A2, CPM3V. There are lots, lots, more.

Stainless steel. Stainless steels are really kind of all over the place for alloying. There are some "musts" though. There must be enough free chromium to impart stainless properties to the steel. This is a condition that only exists in the final hardened and tempered condition. You can have a high percentage of chromium in the alloy, but if that chromium is tied up in carbide, you have a tool steel and not a stainless steel. Lower the carbon content, then that chromium becomes available to resist corrosion. As such, many stainless steels have relatively low carbon content and high chromium content to achieve that property. Common examples: 440C, 420HC, AEB-L, CPM/154CM, 14C27N, S30V, S35VN, Elmax, 7Cr17MoV, 8Cr13.

ETA: I really hope this helps and not hurts. Due to naming conventions, you can't count on the numbers to telegraph the chemistry.
 

John Wilson

Well-Known Member
Edit: tkroenlein posted while I was, and his explanation of steel is light years ahead of mine... so take this as a hopefully helpful generalization at best.)

Ozark, I get where you're coming from. You're going about it the best way possible, it's just going to take time to absorb it all.

Now, here's where you'll likely end up scratching your head- steel. From a maker's perspective, steel is a just a recipe. Think of steel like making a homemade dough. Basic steels are flour, salt, butter, and some yeast. But maybe you want biscuits instead of sandwich bread, so you substitute baking powder for the yeast. Same basic stuff, but a biscuit serves a slightly different purpose than a loaf of bread. That's steel in a nutshell. The number, or name, of the steel is just a name for a recipe. Choose the recipe that fits the desired outcome. That's the knifemaker's perspective.

However, that is not how a lot of collectors treat steel. The latest and greatest "super steels" are all the rage... until the next latest and greatest steel comes along. The end user will probably never experience a dime's bit of difference, but when's that ever gotten in the way of good marketing buzz?

So from a collector's standpoint, if you want to get into the game of flipping knives for a few bucks profit, then pay attention to the steels that are "hot" at any given moment. But if you're collecting for your own use, then let me be the first to tell you that of all the things that go into making a good knife, the specific type of steel is probably not in the top ten considerations.

A good starting point would be to toss out some specific knives you're interested in and research the pros and cons of it. Sooner or later you'll have a pretty good working knowledge of what is important to you personally.

Following the threads on this site when makers post knives is a great source of info. "Oh, so that's what micarta / G10 / Ironwood / Koa is...." and "Oh, so that's damascus". You'll learn through osmosis. And this is a fantastic group of folks on this site. Ask questions.
 

tkroenlein

Well-Known Member
Edit: tkroenlein posted while I was, and his explanation of steel is light years ahead of mine... so take this as a hopefully helpful generalization at best.)

Ozark, I get where you're coming from. You're going about it the best way possible, it's just going to take time to absorb it all.

Now, here's where you'll likely end up scratching your head- steel. From a maker's perspective, steel is a just a recipe. Think of steel like making a homemade dough. Basic steels are flour, salt, butter, and some yeast. But maybe you want biscuits instead of sandwich bread, so you substitute baking powder for the yeast. Same basic stuff, but a biscuit serves a slightly different purpose than a loaf of bread. That's steel in a nutshell. The number, or name, of the steel is just a name for a recipe. Choose the recipe that fits the desired outcome. That's the knifemaker's perspective.

However, that is not how a lot of collectors treat steel. The latest and greatest "super steels" are all the rage... until the next latest and greatest steel comes along. The end user will probably never experience a dime's bit of difference, but when's that ever gotten in the way of good marketing buzz?

So from a collector's standpoint, if you want to get into the game of flipping knives for a few bucks profit, then pay attention to the steels that are "hot" at any given moment. But if you're collecting for your own use, then let me be the first to tell you that of all the things that go into making a good knife, the specific type of steel is probably not in the top ten considerations.

A good starting point would be to toss out some specific knives you're interested in and research the pros and cons of it. Sooner or later you'll have a pretty good working knowledge of what is important to you personally.

Following the threads on this site when makers post knives is a great source of info. "Oh, so that's what micarta / G10 / Ironwood / Koa is...." and "Oh, so that's damascus". You'll learn through osmosis. And this is a fantastic group of folks on this site. Ask questions.
Yup. ^
 

Chris Railey

KNIFE MAKER
Good for you for wanting to learn about steel. Knowing about steel types and general knife construction will really help you when buying knives. For instance, one current trending thing is Damascus knives. So much so that unscrupulous people have started selling "Damascus" knives made from unhardenable steel for cheap prices. By learning you will know that when someone selling a "Damascus" knife does not list the steel it is made from, they are selling junk, period.
 

MarcWeitz

Well-Known Member
Searching this forum for it's contributors like Ed Caffrey is the best place for getting insight and practical info ....Chris Railey gave you a link to Kevin Cashen's site. He's put out some great CDs..from there you'd be able to better understand what's up with steel. I'm still learning and hope to always keep learning - so I'm thinking of picking up Larrin Thomas's book...

Jay Fisher (https://www.jayfisher.com) is prolific and has tons of info on his website - he's obsessive about the matter...from the basic steels to complex...
 

John Wilson

Well-Known Member
Another thing. “Knives” in general is a huge topic. I think the way to get the most practical knowledge in the fastest way is to focus on sub-genres.

For example: Bushcraft is huge right now and what those folks want in a knife is vastly different from what Bowie knife collectors value. Kitchen knife collectors are almost a sub-cult where performance is king. Tactical is where the steel nerds seem to be congregating the most.

That’s just a 50 thousand foot overview, but you get the point. As a collector, it’s always good to get into the community that those knives appeal to.
 

OzarkKnife

Member
I appreciate all of these responses and advice! Sometimes, while watching "Cutlery Corner," Todd Boone will rattle off a bunch of specs about a knife and I am sitting there like "Uh,huh :confused:...(stares at the sceen)....I like how it looks though." :D
And, as I have eluded to before, my catalogs have all of the detailed specs and I try to take from it what I can.
 

EdCaffreyMS

"The Montana Bladesmith"
Sometimes the learning/education part of collecting anything is the most rewarding aspect. ;) It often takes time and effort, but I've always found it greatly satisfying.
 

OzarkKnife

Member
Yeah, Ed...I am about as beginner as you can get. I have purchased the knives I have based on looks and style. But as I have gotten the catalogs and watching the knife shows, I got more interested in the guts of of a knife. I wanted to start learning more about them outside of a bad a*s or awesome look.
*Sigh*, hindsight is 20/20. If only I would've felt like this about, oh...say...thirty years ago.
 
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