Knife Steel Basics

The performance of a knife depends on many factors. Some are subjective, dependent on the feel of the knife, the individual users techniques and often skill. Others are harder data-based objective measurements.

One of those is the hardness and carbide structure of the blade steel. S30V and S35VN when heat treated to manufacturer specifications produce a uniform distribution of vanadium carbides which are extremely hard as well as durable – think machine shop carbide tooling for the toughest applications.

Cheaper 420, 420HC, and 425 series steels used by Buck and other companies are primarily easy to fabricate and have softer chromium carbides distributed throughout them – they are easy to sharpen due to the malleability of the cutting edge itself.

There is a league of difference between 60 Rockwell S30V with cryogenic treatment prior to tempering and basket-quenched 420 stainless like the mass-market industry standard knives.

In hand, the time difference between sharpening and stropping those two steels can be as great as a factor of six – you either stop and service your knife multiple times per deer or elk, or go through the entire season while addressing the knife occasionally at most.

Quality matters and the main purpose of the knife as a cutting instrument begins with the steel and components it’s made of.