Blade Material & Hardness for Hard Duty/General Purpose?


April 2, 2013, 12:34 AM
Ran across a knife the other day made of 1095 carbon steel hardened to 55RC. The fixed blade was between six & seven inches long and coated with what looks like parkerizing to prevent rust.

That material & hardness sounded reasonable for a knife intended for hard duty, general purpose use.

I wondered what the experts here would say about those general specifications for the intended use.

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April 2, 2013, 01:10 AM
55-53 C scale is about right for a hard to break spine BUT for an edge that is pretty soft and will need frequent sharpening. 1095 rusts VERY easily and parkerizing will quickly wear away, so get out the oil and grease.1095 CN be okay but it is a bottom end carbon steel, it is no where near as tough as others with more elements added.

April 2, 2013, 06:50 AM
You might find this ( useful.

55 sounds about right for a knife that length. 53 would be low.

April 2, 2013, 10:31 AM
What was the knife? There's much more than just material and hardness to consider when it comes to use. Profile and edge geometry are critically important as well as whether the blade was differentially hardened or not.

I'd like to see hardness on a 1095 edge between 56 and 58 as long as the spine was drawn lower.

Parkerizing isn't the best finish anymore for a knife that will be used outdoors a lot.

April 16, 2013, 12:02 AM
1095 has been the preferred steel for a fixed blade for nearly a century. Others like O1 and L7 were commonly used, but the big shift to stainless in the '60s has reduced them to forging or industrial use.

In the day, you used a knife enough to keep it from rusting, much the same as the carbon steel guns with carbon steel receivers and carbon steel fittings. It ALL rusted, including the common pocket knife, and it was common to treat them with lemon juice the first time out to reduce it. If you got wet, you knew - dry things out. These days, we don't even bother to clean our guns. After all, it's composite furniture, aluminum alloy receiver, and titanium nitride treated barrel. Why bother?

Making a using knife from 1095 offers some advantages - most in cost, which are in the consumers favor. And expensive alloy knife in unobtainium means the blank costs three times as much, which is the minor detail. That steel is far superior in abrasion resistance, tho, which means it takes three times longer to grind it to shape and get a good finish. In a 6" blade, you have 2X the probability of a defect compared to a 3" folder, which means you stand 2X the risk of losing all the value of the expensive blade and the work.

Another factor is that a larger knife simply doesn't need to be high alloy - there is really very little advantage to having a super steel when the typical thickness of a fixed blade and the strength of the average human are much more closely matched. We have to get inventive with ways to stress a fixed blade, like, batoning, or clamping it in a vice and trying to break it off. It's a given a 3 1/2" folder wouldn't survive either, but the larger fixed blade can and does - in 1095, like the Kabar, Quartermaster, Schrades, Remingtons, and Winchesters of old. If using a better grade of steel simply can't return multiples of better performance, why bother? Use the good old 1095 and get two for the same price.

High alloy fixed blades have only existed in the last 25 years - and there isn't much to point out in their advantage that 1095 hasn't already been doing, or at least suffering the abuse, already. Most of the world was explored and conquered with a simple high carbon steel blade - not an exotic alloy. The fact that many are offered yet today is a statement of their worth, and that they are coated or treated with rust preventative cladding is a statement of how we treat them. Modern knife users have gotten so used to abusing knives with a lack of cleaning or care that they look down on the knife, not their habits. And we're not alone, the Solingen makers have been chroming or nickle plating their blades since the 1930's to keep them showy and rust free.

Considering the costs and performance fixed blades are subjected to, 1095 is a good standard, with upgrade to a higher alloy hard to justify. I'm selling off mine and paring down the users to a single 1095 for camp and outdoor use. SKILL is more important than most of the exotic features or unpronounceable names of sophisticated metallurgy. Better to stick to a plain simple fixed blade and learn how to use it, rather than collect a pile of shapes each suited as a snapshot of when that fashion was at it's peak. And the left over hundreds of dollars can be put to better use on other gear.

April 16, 2013, 09:03 AM

In general, I'll agree with the previous post, but I much prefer 5160 to 1095 for large blades. 5160 is tougher, more rust resistant, and oddly enough, at the retail level, it's cheaper.


April 16, 2013, 10:07 AM
And I don't really agree with the previous statement. #1 until you have say skinned moose or a couple elk or several large boar in a day with a blade with a 60 or a little better Rockwell C edge and about 10 points lower spine you haven't lived the good life !
With 1095 you aren't gonna have a chip free experience with those hardness levels.

While I am not a big fan of stainless, as it is very hard to sharpen and the "soapy" feel of the metal for me lacks the toothyness of carbon steels, It certainly does have advantages especially in a maritime environment. I have had positive experiences with knives of CM154, L6 and 440C and the latter certainly does shine up wonderfully.
All in all the additional alloys present in D2 or 01 when properly hardened (or 5160) make a much better blade than 1095 is capable of IMHO.
Yeah the world was conquered with black powder and muzzle loaders :D but nitro and brass cased cartridges are oh so superior when properly turned out.

April 16, 2013, 10:09 AM
In my Knifemaking days, my favorite steel was O-1 at Rc 57-59.
I never had ANY complaints about ANY knives that I sold.( about 150 or so).
1095 is a relatively common and cheaper alloy but still makes a very good knife blade.
D-2 is a tremendous and highly overlooked tool steel in the knife making arena especially if some modern heat treating methods are considered.
I really don't know what alloy my favorite Opinels/ Corbone are but I use the knives daily with just a little bit of care!

April 16, 2013, 02:52 PM

At first, your post seems to be disagreeing with me, then you seemed to be agreeing. Which is it?


April 16, 2013, 07:59 PM
That steel is far superior in abrasion resistance, tho, which means it takes three times longer to grind it to shape and get a good finish. In a 6" blade, you have 2X the probability of a defect compared to a 3" folder, which means you stand 2X the risk of losing all the value of the expensive blade and the work.

Would love to know what you based the above on.

Each steel has it's place. Is 1095 the be all end all ? Nope , neither is D2, CPM154, S30v , etc. Each shines in a different area.

I made a knife for a friend of a good friend who went on a Red Stag hunt overseas (NZ if I recall ), he talked his guides into letting him dress it out. He got a beast of an animal , 900+# , and never had to touch up the edge. His guides were impressed and instead of a $$$ tip , they asked for the knife. I have made a few for the same guides at their request. Steel was CPM154 , HT by Paul Bos.

From the hunters I have talked to , you ain't doing that with 1095. :D

April 16, 2013, 08:01 PM
Disagreed with Tirod, ain't selling off my Mad Dogs or any other customs for a piece of 1095 !
I will say I would rather have a 1095 shank than most of the "stainless" ones out there.
My favorite stainless CPM 154 has been heat treated by Paul Bos FWIW !

April 16, 2013, 10:11 PM
Bos does good work.

April 17, 2013, 12:41 AM
I picked up a fairly inexpensive camping knife off eBay that's a Damascus type blade with alternating layers of 1095HC and 15N20 nickel steels, folded and forged into about 200 layers, and hardened to Rockwell 58-60, according to the maker. I got it because I liked the looks of the pattern-welded blade, but it really takes an edge. I'm trying it out to see how it holds up.

April 17, 2013, 06:26 AM
I would't take a pattern-welded knife camping for corrosion reasons.

April 17, 2013, 12:08 PM
I would't take a pattern-welded knife camping for corrosion reasons.
Any type of high-carbon, non-stainless steel is subject to rusting, particularly here in humid Florida, but it's easier to sharpen, and takes a keener edge, I think. Everything is a tradeoff, and I won't be taking it on a survival slog through the Everglades, far from any dry towels and oil to keep it clean.

April 17, 2013, 05:09 PM
Here is a hint Kevin recently shared :
Try sharpening stainless knives with a much coarser stone than you would normally use. They will sharpen quicker, it will add "toothiness" to make them slice better and they will seem to stay sharper longer. Hmmmmmm?:cool:

April 17, 2013, 06:12 PM
5160, zone tempered from purple at the edge to soft at the back.

April 20, 2013, 11:15 AM
It's funny... I guess the folks at Russell/Green River/Opinel/Mora never read these pages...

April 20, 2013, 12:22 PM
It's only witty if someone besides you gets how clever you are.


CA Raider
April 20, 2013, 09:53 PM

a question on alloys is always guaranteed to start a war.
the knife you found should be fine for your purposes.
I like 1095 at 56-58 hardness, but agree the spine should be softer.
There are other alloys that will also fit the bill.


April 21, 2013, 01:18 PM
I used to but Buck knives for years,but the blades seem too hard and brittle,always chiping and even braking.I now buy Gerber,Shrade,or KeeShaw,no more problems.hdbiker

April 22, 2013, 07:23 AM
Her is a steel chart showing composition of different type steels

April 22, 2013, 10:59 AM
It might be a more revealing discussion to point out what steels don't rate as well as 1095 in that kind of knife. It's been posted that a high end 60RC+ knife getting knocked on bone is more likely to chip in discussions I've read. My experience tells me 1095 will more likely turn or dull. What do professionals use? Lower alloy steels that are easy to touch up, not high alloy high cost knives capable of being ruined on the job and becoming worthless without major repair.

I've got knives in 154, a Bos treated Buck Mayo, and I've used a S30V blade two years in a CNC press brake shop, cutting on metal table tops. It really does come close to being a knife that can't be dulled.

But posts and conversations from makers grinding it complain the steel is also 3X more resistant to shaping on belt grinders, cutting out blanks, and processing it thru heat treatment. Tooling, supplies, and labor are much higher. If they weren't, we'd be buying $120 S30V fixed blades.

In a camp or bushcraft knife, a high alloy blade is less necessary for overall strength. What we look for is blade shape and geometry, which has significant influence on cutting ability. It's why an ESEE with flat ground blade in 1095 can do a better job than some import sabre ground blade in stainless off a flea market table.

I don't believe anyone is suggesting the latter would be better. Sure, a blade in high alloy will give you your money's worth, but as a minimum standard, would you go lower in quality than 1095 for an outdoor knife? Taking the other view will give a more honest opinion of where it ranks.

One specific circumstance these days is that we are living in a bubble of high tech alloys being thrown at knives, largely in the last twenty years. Most knife owners under 40 don't have experience with 1095 any more than they have driven a car with an AM only radio. Hence, the rediscovery of a decent blade steel that doesn't cost an arm and leg. Frankly, corrosion resistance of stainless forced other less attractive qualities on blade steels to be overlooked. The answer in the carbon steel day was plate it or live with it, now, we can add titanium nitrides or even abrasion resistant coatings. With those options, carbon steels are enjoying a resurgence.

Having used knives in 420 or the ChrMoV imported steels, too, I can say I'd rather have 1095 in a blade. There's another perspective being left out in the rush to say "my favorite steel is better."

April 22, 2013, 12:19 PM
What do professionals use?

I'd say it's hard to accurately generalize about what professionals use.


April 22, 2013, 05:27 PM
In my Knifemaking days I used MOSTLY O-1 , PROFESSIONALLY heat treated to Rc-57-59.
Of course, a Hi-Carbon blade requires some care to prevent rust and if used as a cutting instrument ONLY versus a hatchet or pry bar should serve you well.
The Opinel knives that I love are a 1095 varient and with care, don't rust and hold an edge well.
A favorite steel of mine is a WW I era die steel known to us as D-2.
This alloy because of it's high Cromium content, approaches Stainless steel in rust resistance.
With newer heat treatment practices the alloy can approach a Rockwell hardness of 62 Rc PLUS and STILL maintain toughness.
Tough to sharpen? Yep, BUT edge retention is OUTSTANDING.

April 22, 2013, 05:53 PM
It's interesting to note that our fore-bearers never enjoyed the luxury of the alloys we have at our disposal now. The old time Mountain Men traipsed all over the forests on dry days and wet frog strangler days as well. Those knives held up well and some of them are prized collectables to this day.

Properly treated, the OP's 1095 stands to out-live him. Perhaps it does need sharpening more often but that is offset by being just that much easier to sharpen than today's super alloys. Keeping it well oiled or waxed is just part of normal maintenance.. much like keeping a pistol cleaned and oiled.

I imagine a 1095 blade would in general be less expensive than super alloys.

My opinion would be if you like the it.

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