The Truth About Aging Steel (Part 2)

Continued from a recent post, Michael S. Black scrutinizes the benefits of aging steel by putting knives to the test. Find out what he discovered:

KOA Alpha Wolf in S30V

KOA Alpha Wolf in S30V. It improved 10 times in 12 months as part of the author’s original excellent seven.

After reading about a knifemaker who uses rope cutting to test his knives assert that his reference knife can achieve up to three times more cuts from one batch of rope than another, I decided to retest some of my original standards of excellence for consistency.

 

After aging from one to four years since their original testing, I was astonished to find that cutting performance increased tenfold. These results weren’t due to inconsistent cut resistance of the rope. My decades old Schrade, Case and Queen knives still made the same cut counts as before. Many newer knives are also showing improvement with age.

    Robert Fisher’s first forged 52100 knife improved 10 times in three years.

Robert Fisher’s first forged 52100 knife improved 10 times in three years.

One hand-maker’s forged 52100 fixed blade knife increased tenfold. A stock-removal-ground factory custom collaboration with 1070-6C blade increased three and a half times and a N690Co folder jumped 10 times. Increases occurred whether the steel was forged or stock removal ground and whether it was stainless or carbon steel. Higher-carbon-content steels exhibited the greatest cutting endurance increases.

 

In one remarkable case, I was been able to document more than just an increase in cutting endurance. Michael Stankiewicz, of Black Bear Knives, sent me one of his single-blade folding liner-lock trappers that featured Black Bear’s asymmetric cutting edge. When I first received the S30V-bladed knife several months back I was unable to accomplish a free-hanging 5/8-inch rope cut with it. After putting the knife in a drawer for three months with no attempt to sharpen or improve the edge finish, I can now make the cut on demand with this knife.

 

    When tested, these four knives were old enough to show no improvement with additional aging.

When tested, these four knives were old enough to show no improvement with additional aging.

Some will say this is just an example of enhanced user skill. It pains me to admit it, but not only am I not as good as I once was, I’m also not predictably as good once as I ever was. When I can do better it is because I’m using improved accessories, not just improved technique. So let me suggest that if you want to abide by a “he said so” standard, you first find a reliable Dozier with a proven track record to listen to. Then, just to be safe, try everything out on your own to see if it works the way “he” said.

 

Why hasn’t this “improvement with age” been chronicled before? Actually, it is from time to time. But human nature interferes with accurate long-term observation. When someone buys a new knife and it doesn’t perform up to expectations, they usually get rid of it, or the new knife takes a back seat to old reliable until the newness wears off and some age improvement has already occurred.

Camillus/Fisk collaboration improved three times in three years.

Camillus/Fisk collaboration improved three times in three years.

 

Pay attention to reality and you might learn something about what people haven’t been saying. It can mean the difference between an opportunity offered and taken or simply missed out on. There are knives whose cutting performance improves over time. It’s more than just owners exaggerating their skills at using them and it’s more than just improved sharpening techniques. There’s no doubt I’m crazy about knives, but age-improved cutting performance in knives is something I can demonstrate. Perhaps the often repeated assertion, “They just don’t make knives that cut like they used to” is due to age-improved cutting performance. Think on that before you reject the notion as malarkey. Perhaps many knives do improve with age, just like good cheese and fine wine. This has certainly proved true for me with S30V-bladed knives.

 

The bottom line for me is I have a newly enhanced respect for S30V and many “working steels” to have the potential in time to make “super” knives. It is good test procedure to have a reference knife for testing the consistency of a cut-testing medium, such as rope. Just make sure any changes are medium changes, and not reference knife changes.

steel knives

Neither the Cera-titan Boker (top) nor the Ceramic blade Boker (bottom) showed any cutting-endurance change with aging. Both are alternative materials to steel.

 

By Michael S. Black

 

Sources:

 

Black Bear Knives

Dept. KI

4414 Conashaugh Lakes

Mildord, PA 18337

570.686.1778

www.blackbearknives.com

 

BokerUSA Inc.

Dept. KI

1550 Balsam St.

Lakewood, CO 80214

800.835.6433

catalog@bokerusa.com

 

Dozier Knives

Dept. KI

P.O. Box 1941

Springdale, AR 72765

888.823.0023

www.dozierknives.com

 

Fisher Knives Inc.

Dept. KI

825 Norwood Ln.

Earlysville, VA 22936

434.242.3866

Email: robert@fisherknives.com

www.fisherknives.com

 

Kershaw Knives

Dept. KI

1860 SW Teton Ave.

Tualatin, OR 97062

800.325.2891

info@kersahwknives.com

www.kershawknives.com

 

Knives of Alaska Inc.

Southern Office

Dept. KI

3100 Airport Dr.

Denison, TX 75020

800.572.0980

www.knivesofalaska.com

 

Lone Wolf Knives

Dept. KI

9373 SW Barber St., Ste. A

Wilsonville, OR 97070

Email: customerservice@lonewolfknives.com

www.lonewolfknives.com

 

Spyderco

Dept. KI

820 Spyderco Wy.

Golden, CO 80403

800.525.7770

www.byrdknife.com