I’m often asked why I use the “older” types of carbon steels. Many today believe that stainless is the gold standard and there is no other better option. First off, this is untrue, high carbon steels have made quite a resurgence lately in one of the most overlooked areas-the kitchen. Think for a moment how often you use your kitchen knives as compared to a standard pocket knife. Which one do you thing takes more abuse? When your kitchen knives are dull, do you actually sharpen them, have you ever tried sharpening them? More professional Chefs today are going back to high carbon steel knives because they realize there are very specific advantages to be gained. First of which is they can take on a razor like edge with ease. Secondly, they are less likely to have the edges rolled or chipped which often require hours of sharpening to repair, time they don’t have in their fast paced work environments. I enjoy all types of knives and I like to carry a select few production knives from time to time. The problems arise when my day takes a side turn and I find myself using one of these knives for tasks that they just don’t hold up to. Unfortunately, many of these tasks I feel the blades should be able to handle but just don’t, so its back to the sharpener for repairs-when I have time. Based on this premise, high carbon steels are and always have been a working man’s blade.
More and more, I believe that we live in a time when most people don’t actually treasure what they have. We can buy almost anything with ease, use it for a bit and forget about taking care of it until we need it again. Other than a car, our livelihoods aren’t dependent on many of the things we spend money on. I believe this fairly new mentality has several secondary effects on our culture. We are becoming more and more of a fire and forget society that lacks the conciseness of what we have vs what we don’t have. I sometimes reminisce about the culture that my Grandparents lived in, because they relied on the simple things, things we take for granted today. The boats were made of wood and the men were made of iron back when people had to scribe their names on tools, boots and belts to keep them from getting stolen. William Scagel, one of Americas grandfathers of the modern knife, was known for inscribing his initials in everything he made, not just the knives but the tools he made to make the knives.
If you find yourself interested in one of my handmade knives, I want you to know just how incredibly honored and humbled I am. I have every bit of confidence that you are going to own a true heirloom quality knife that will serve you and generations behind you well.
A working man’s knife.
Lets look at Bison Hunting during the mid-late 19th century. While our activities certainly lead to a near extinction of the American Buffalo, the knives used were typically of the same metallurgic structure of 1095, 1084 and 01 steels (today's engineering makes them even better). Imagine, thousands upon thousands of Buffalo being skinned and/or parted out on the desolate frontier with what some call today, inferior steels. Then, a knife was so much more than just something that you bought from the local department store or online. Frontiersmen, hunters, trappers and Soldiers used these knives as an everyday essential piece of kit which their very survival and livelihood depended.
Angle is everything.
Since I became more involved with knife making, I have gained enough experience and equipment to do more, with more efficiency. As my friends and work colleagues learned that I was making enough knives to sell, one of the first questions I was asked was, "can you sharpen a knife for me?" Make no mistake about it, knife steel selection is always going to involve trade-offs. There is not, nor will their ever be, a perfect knife for every situation you'll encounter. A prime example is if you want better edge wear resistance, the steel is going to be harder to put an edge on it. Regardless of your preferred sharpening system or TTP's the advent of super steels has severely hindered many knife owner's ability to realistically maintain their knife's edge. I have seen and heard of knife owners spending hours upon hours to resharpen one blade with varying results. Sharpening a modern stainless steel knife should not be approached as a leisurely activity like we see in old movies. It is imperative that you pick the right abrasive for the task and make every single stroke angle precisely the same. Often, countless strokes are required to get an edge back to shaving sharp.
With 1095, 1084 & 01 High Carbon Steels, a hair popping edge can be re-established quickly and expediently with nothing more than a pocket stone or leather strop. Then you can get right back to skinning out that Buffalo with a razor like edge, just as they did over a hundred years ago.
Many of the modern stainless steels offer fantastic edge retention with resistance to stain and rust. Many are also coated with Cerakote (ideally) or Powder Coating. These finishes while quite effective and good looking, will eventually wear off/chip. If you have any degree of OCD whatsoever, these coatings are known for causing owner's to take drastic measures to bring back some degree of uniformity to the finish, often ruining the blade in an assortment of ways.
I offer my blades in primarily Acid washed. I personally prefer to use this method for the sake of rust prevention and aesthetics. None of my methods require heating or baking. A a huge part of owning these blades is how they tend to develop their own natural patina/finish with time and use. Essentially, they age very well and with every scar, there is a story.