Started making knives, but which steel?

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Jan 6, 2011
Hastings, Michigan
Considering what I have available, which of these steels would be best for general purpose knife making?


4140 (I have a couple in the works using this already)

Carbon Steel:
1018 (making a blade with some of this already, turing out decent)

also, I have some aluminum, copper and brass available. These would be more for decorative blade accents, not the blade itself.
I assume you're stock reducing instead of forging. You have an interesting selection of steels that I wouldn't have suggested for a beginner unless they send the steel off for heat treat.

1018 with .18% carbon shouldn't be temperable for a blade so I'm interested in the fact that you say that it's "decent".

4140 and 4142 appear to have a theoretical hardness of 55RC, but should be plenty tough and RC isn't the last word in how a knife performs. Still, I don't see anyone that I know of using it for blades. Hammers, punches...yep.
Correct, I'm taking a flat bar stock and cutting it down to the rough shape of the blade, fine tuning it with varying grit grind stones, then doing the final work with hand files.

My first attempt is 1018, which I can't get a decent polish on, but that's not a real surprise. I'm thinking of parkerizing the finish, as it's not the most corrosion resistant steel. I've got it mostly sharpened, how well it holds the edge has yet to be seen.

By decent, I was referring more to the feel, weight and balance of the knife. It fits my hand very well and balances well. Its got decent heft to it, but not awkward. The glass breaker pommel works as advertised as well. I'll post a picture when it's all finished.

The 4140 blade I'm making is a Kukri design, which should be better suited to the 4140, which is typically reserved for hammers, anvils and other general impact steel. When the steel I have is free, I work with what I can get. Once I build some confidence, I'll make the expense of getting good knife grade steel.
for tempering the low carbon steel, I have a carbon hot box.

Something I read about on the web. Steel box with loose activated carbon, cover the blade and heat to dull red. This method supposedly impregnates the steel with a higher % carbon.

My full size forge is still being built, so this is the only thing I can do in my garage with a propane torch.
O1 or 1095 are real cheap, and will probably be a better bet for stock removal and DIY heat treat. JMHO.

I agree with Jason. Free steel is rarely worth the money unless you have a lot of time to experiment. Having a known steel with known properties and well defined heat treat/temper allows you to focus on the thing that you're trying to do, make a usable knife that will take and hold and edge. The carbon hot box might surface treat, but I wouldn't think it would be more than a few mils.

4140/42 is supposed to be hardenable/temperable. You'll have to dig for the info since the it isn't considered optimal for blades.
Once you get good try to forge weld a chain saw blade together to make a knife blade it is very high quality, I think it is a form of tool steel but I am not sure, my brother is the blacksmith not me. but for know just mass around with low carbon metal to get the hang of it.
10xx series carbon steels are easy to make knives from as a beginner. They're supposed to be very forgiving, more than the air-, oil-, or water-quenched steels.

4140 is an interesting steel... the only edged tools I know currently being made from it are RMJ Forge's tactical tomahawks.
Jason is right... 1095 is great and you can heat treat and temper at home... Other places to start are 1084, 1080 and 5160.

If you need a few pieces of 1/4" thick 5160 to start with, PM me and we can work something out...
I started with O1 and stayed with it until I switched to stainless and D2 - O1 is cheap and easy to heat treat. Never had a warp or crack.
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