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Thread: Too much of a good thing: choosing the right steel

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    Admin & Forum fixer Bruno's Avatar
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    Default Too much of a good thing: choosing the right steel

    Up until now, I've mainly worked with 3 types of steel: old file, O1, and 52100
    I make not only razors, but also kitchen knives and general purpose stuff. And I am still experimenting with various ways of doing things. I'm interested more in learning things than selling things, and see the latter as a way to finance the former.

    Anyway, I work with 52100 only to have something different from O1. Of course it is different from old file too, but given the unknowns in old file, old file is different from old file as well, and not a known reference. To be correct, I use a bit of niolox too, which is stainless knife steel. I only use it rarely, and only because it is wife-proof. I don't really like it, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do when he wants to make a knife for his wife.

    This weekend I heat treated pieces of O1 and 52100, and only tempered them to the point before I got straw color. In other words, barely tempered at all. 180 degrees celsius is what the thermometer I'd put in the oven read. And I had to cut the tempering short at 30 minutes because my wife needed the oven to bake bread, and she is boss of the kitchen. Force majeure.

    Then I let them air cool and took them to the grinder. The O1 was hard, obvisously. But I could grind it and shape it. The 52100 was a different story altogether. It mocked me. After 10 minutes of grinding, the piece was just a hair thinner than what I started with. As hard as it may be to believe, my 40 grit belt was only giving it a mirror shine. I've now re-tempered the things to straw. We'll see how that goes.

    Steel is like jewelry and people sometimes want something exotic, just for the sake of being different. From a practical point of view, I think sometimes, something is just the wrong tool for the job. If you look at the requirements of a razors edge, the major requirement is high hardness and a small grain size. Toughness doesn't really come into the picture much. O1 may be less tough than 52100, but for shaving this doesn't matter. However, for working it, it does. A lot. Making a 52100 razor is much more work than making an O1 razor. And then there is honing to consider. Honing a 61 or 62 HRc 52100 blade is going to get boring, tedious, and likely to give you a tennis elbow.

    I'm not sure I am trying to make a specific point here. Just sharing an observation that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, and not choosing the right steel for the job just means you spend more time and more money to make the same thing in terms of requirements of the end product. Sometimes, less is more.
    Last edited by Bruno; 06-18-2013 at 08:45 AM.
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    Vlad the Impaler LX_Emergency's Avatar
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    I recently bought some 52100. How're you liking that? Everything I read about it suggests a somewhat complex heat treat to get the best performance out of it (Although people also talk about O1 having a more finicky heat treat to be honest and lots of people do nothing complex with it and still get good results).


    But yeah the right steel for the right application. Don't build a giant big chopping knife out of S30V (or a razor for that matter), and don't make something that should be small and slicey out of 3V because it'd be wasted on that application.

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    Admin & Forum fixer Bruno's Avatar
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    I think people overcomplicate things sometimes. I go for a color between dull red and dull orange and hold it there for a minute or 2, depending on thickness. Then quench in maize oil. Maize, because that was the cheapest.

    This works for O1 and 52100. I realize that this way, I cannot say whether the hardness is going to be 60 or 61, but from a practical pov, who cares? The test I did last weekend proves that this method leads to hardness and toughness that is incredible for 52100, despite the simple heat treatment.
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    Vlad the Impaler LX_Emergency's Avatar
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    That's good to hear. I've got a bowie sized laminated billet (core steel 52100 and outer layers out of Harley Davidson Damascus) sitting in my closet that I've been affraid to touch for about 2 years now.

    Planning on getting to that piece sometime soon though and making a nice BIG knife for myself out of it.
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    52100 is a fickle mistress. Not so bad if you're only grinding out a blade, but forging this stuff requires attention to temperatures or grain growth will become a problem that is more difficult to solve than with simple methods or simpler steels. Thermal cycling to reset this steel takes a long time. This is more or less true for all chromium containing steels as the chromium wants to form strong large carbides and it requires higher than normal temperatures (or really good thermal controls) to avoid the problem. Usually that also means more money spent on the technical control side of heat.

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    Vlad the Impaler LX_Emergency's Avatar
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    So the multiple annealing cycles I'm planning on doing should be just what the doctor ordered then.

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    Bladesmith by Knight Adam G.'s Avatar
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    This kind of all ties in with Glenn's post of This month's Tip. Keeping it simpler and not over complicating things. Trying to do that with more aspects of life at the moment. As Bruno said - the application of the steel should determine the choice. No point trying to make a razor indestructable. i made a few out of CPMS30V because i had it on hand. Should have saved it for hard duty knives and saved a lot of time and effort. Generally Humans tend to over-complicate because it seems to be in our nature.
    Adam

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    Vlad the Impaler LX_Emergency's Avatar
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    True, it took me a while to understand some metallurgy basics (I still understand only very little) before I finally understood why you see so few stainless razors and so many in simple carbon steel. And why so many EDC knives in S30V and so few in simple carbon steels. Down the line it all makes sense now though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bruno View Post
    ... I only use it rarely, and only because it is wife-proof. I don't really like it, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do when he wants to make a knife for his wife.
    rubber? plastic? or one of these 2.50 € - things from the supermarket.

    ... whenever I enter a woman's kitchen I am stunned by the bad quality and dullness of the knives available. I never ever met a girl/woman using sharp and/or quality knives. Well, one of my friends has a set of nice Güde-knives - probably because they have been well presented in the "Manufactum"-catalog and her husband fell for them - but each of them has at least one chip and none has ever seen the sharpening steel which she probably thinks is the gear-shift for the knife-block.

    Even worse: they seem to like their knives the way they are. When I offer to take care of one, they get that scary look and say "no, no it's fine the way it is".

    I guess, they all make tomato juice with their knives.


    Quote Originally Posted by Bruno View Post
    ... And I had to cut the tempering short at 30 minutes because my wife needed the oven to bake bread, and she is boss of the kitchen. Force majeure.
    It's her room. You're only guest there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DDTech View Post

    Even worse: they seem to like their knives the way they are. When I offer to take care of one, they get that scary look and say "no, no it's fine the way it is".
    Eh, no
    She likes the knives scary sharp. If she complains, it's because the knives are no longer slicing effortlessly.
    But she doesn't like cleaning them immediately, so niolox fits the bill just right.
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