Best steel for sharp edges

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Tucson Tom
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Best steel for sharp edges

Postby Tucson Tom » Sat Sep 23, 2017 12:09 pm

This may sound like a dumb topic, but stick with me a bit. I am here pondering how sharp various knives I have are. In particular, I have a new Gayle Bradley in M4 steel that has an amazing edge from the factory. It makes me say, "I wish all of my knives had an edge like this". I also have a mule in PMA11 that has an amazing edge. So I start thinking, "It is all about tool steels, you can put an edge on tool steels unlike any other". Much as I want to jump to this conclusion, I am wary - and have a lot to learn.

Clearly part of it is sharpening skills. The edge that comes on a knife from the factory is only part of the story. It may reflect the skill and methods used at the factory as much or more than the steel itself. However, I have gotten busy with my sharpmaker and worked on some of my S30V blades. I am using just the two ceramic rods that come with the unit (I have the ultra fine rods, but have never yet used them). I was able to significantly improve my knives, including my Paramilitary 2, which needed only a quick touch up. But I can get nothing like the amazing edge on the M4 or PMA11, so I am still tempted to think there is magic about these tool steels. But my sharpening skills are only in the beginning stages. I need to spend the 2 or 3 days to read endless stuff about sharpening online and practice more. But here is a concrete question -- will I ever be able to put a fantastic edge on S30V like the one I admire on M4 ?

And another thought to toss into the mix. It seems that all I read about these days is edge retention, as if that is the end all and be all of knife steel properties. I am starting to think this is, while important, very much overemphasized. The question I would like to ask is which steels can be sharpened to the highest quality edge, no matter how hard it is to do and how long it lasts? Then you could start considering the factors of how hard it is to achieve the edge, and how long it would last. My impression of S30V is that it is reasonably easy to sharpen to a very good edge (but not phenomenal) and that edge will last fairly long. But to someone (like me now I guess) who has experienced a really great edge like on M4, the best edge I have yet to see on S30V simply seems mediocre.

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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby JD Spydo » Sat Sep 23, 2017 12:16 pm

Of the Supersteels I've had the best luck so far with M390 and 110V. But with your standard issue factory steel I have to go with VG-10. For the price I just don't think you can beat VG-10 for many reasons>> almost too numerous to mention.

Now I have different ratings for steels I think make the best Spyderedges which in many cases don't make the best steel for plain edges. But VG-10 is one of the few that I actually like for plain edge and Spyderedge both. I still use many of my VG-10 blades rather frequently.

M-4 is great blade steel and I've heard that 204P is great as well. But you can't go wrong with M390 or 110V in my humble opinion.

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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby xceptnl » Sat Sep 23, 2017 1:57 pm

I have to agree with the OP. Despite being one of the guilty parties that loves edge retention and all the awesomeness associated with high wear resistant super steels, VG-10 may be one of the best all around steels on the market today as far as I'm concerned.

VG-10 has terrific corrosion resistance not to mention takes a very refined edge with minimal skill or effort. I have found it lends well to coarse edges (medium Spyderco stones) as well as very refined and polished (8k Chosera). The steel also responds very well to loaded leather strops for light touchups.

Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, nothing compares to VG-10 for a terrific performing, daily use steel.
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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby jmh58 » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:01 pm

xceptnl wrote:I have to agree with the OP.

Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, nothing compares to VG-10 for a terrific performing, daily use steel.
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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby Sharp Guy » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:21 pm

jmh58 wrote:
xceptnl wrote:I have to agree with the OP.

Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, nothing compares to VG-10 for a terrific performing, daily use steel.
Yes and Yes!!! John :D
And another yes!

When I saw the title of this thread my first thought was VG10. Another favorite of mine is HAP40. Man that stuff gets crazy sharp! :D
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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby El Gato » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:26 pm

I was going to offer my experiences and preferences for what have become my own favorite steels for sharpness and edge holding, but seeing that so many like VG-10, and I absolutely do not, I will refrain from causing any conflict here. I wish you well in your endeavors regarding the topic. :)

Dave

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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby xceptnl » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:35 pm

El Gato wrote:I was going to offer my experiences and preferences for what have become my own favorite steels for sharpness and edge holding, but seeing that so many like VG-10, and I absolutely do not, I will refrain from causing any conflict here. I wish you well in your endeavors regarding the topic. :)

Dave
I see that as no reason to avoid a civilized discussion despite differing opinions. What are your experiences?
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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby Tucson Tom » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:38 pm

El Gato wrote:I was going to offer my experiences and preferences for what have become my own favorite steels for sharpness and edge holding, but seeing that so many like VG-10, and I absolutely do not, I will refrain from causing any conflict here. I wish you well in your endeavors regarding the topic. :)

Dave
Wait, wait !! Come back. I/We are willing to listen to other thoughts without jumping on you if we don't agree. Your experiences will only add to the accumulation of knowledge and thus help make the world a better place.

I have only one knife with VG-10, and that is my Temperance-2 which I adore. Maybe I should buy a "beater" knife in VG-10 just for testing and my own education -- work it hard, then resharpen it, and improve my skills and knowledge both. I am loathe to do anything resembling abuse with the Temperance.
I will say that the edge that came on it is pretty doggone nice -- sort of a smooth sneaky sharp edge.

I am waiting to get hold of some HAP-40 -- and I am wondering if Maxamet will offer the same kind of "refined edge" (I like that phrase) that I have found on the M4. I am hopeful since Maxamet is pretty much a tool steel of a sort also. I have yet to take the plunge for a Maxamet blade.

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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby SGJarrod » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:40 pm

For me I feel it comes down to sharpening equipment. U got a sharpmarker...vg10 & 154cm all day. I finally bought a KME and diamond compounds for stropping... M390 & S110V are amazing and get stupid sharp too. Upping ur equipment ups ur sharpening game. But it's a slippery slope. What's enough, where do u stop? It's all a personal decision. For me I spent a small fortune before I realized it. But TOTALLY worth it. Lol

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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby murphjd25 » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:44 pm

I’m having quite the love affair with M4 and HAP40 right now, such amazing steels.
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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby bearfacedkiller » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:48 pm

You sort of just asked a lot of questions so I will share some things with you to help you get started on your quest for understanding. It is a long journey. :) Disclaimer; this contains some facts and some opinions. :D I am long winded, sit down and get yourself a glass of iced tea. This might take a minute. :p

All steels can get as sharp as each other. At a true upper level of sharpness (well beyond hair whittling sharp) that may not be exactly true but in a practical sense it is. You can get everything from 52100 all the way up to S110V or Maxamet to a point where they can make feather sticks out of human hairs. The biggest difference is in how easy it is to get to that point. Sharpness by definition is the width of the very apex of the edge in microns. A truly sharp edge is a clean apex around one micron. That edge will whittle hairs regardless of what steel it is.

Do not focus on the term "tool steel" it is a general term and I think it is confusing you. Steels that are vastly different in performance fall into that category. Focus on the actual composition of the steel.

Spyderco has a steel chart that shows the compositions of the various steels. You want to be looking at that when comparing steels. The different alloying elements are what are causing the differences you are seeing. Edge geometry and heat treatment come into play as well and can be just as influential but when comparing various steels look at the chart.

https://www.spyderco.com/edge-u-cation/steel-chart/

Carbon is what allows the steel to harden and it also reacts with some of the alloying elements to form carbides. Chromium, vanadium, niobium and tungsten all form carbides and add to wear resistance. The carbides are much harder than the steel. Think of the carbides like the aggregate in concrete. The same wear resistance that prevents your apex (sharpness) from wearing away also makes it harder (or take longer) to sharpen.

The more basic steels can often be easier to get to a high level of sharpness for a couple of reasons. First, they are less wear resistant so the sharpening stone can eat the steel away faster. That gets you there quicker. Second, they get you there in less strokes which helps with one of the more important parts of sharpening which is consistency. The more consistent your strokes are the better your apex will be. More strokes usually results in some being less consistent. Plus, when it takes longer you lose focus or start to rush it. You need consistent strokes to get that apex down to as small as possible.

Wear resistance is not the end all be all property although many will disagree with that. Some steels will not stay as sharp for as long but will be easier to bring back to a high level of sharpness. I enjoy sharpening and don't mind touching my knives up often. In some ways extremely wear resistant steels are just deferred maintenance. If you have to bone out an entire elk and you do not want to stop and sharpen then S110V may be the way to go. If you use your knife for light EDC tasks each day and want to spend under a minute on regular touch ups then lower carbide steels may be better. In the end a lot of it comes down to sharpening ability, sharpening habits (how often), desired sharpness, what sharpening tools you have and just personal preferences.

I agree with the others that VG10 is super easy to get scary sharp.

If you do some searching we have coached many people on sharpening and edge angles and grit finishes and there is a lot of info already posted on this forum. Good luck and have fun!!!
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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby Sharp Guy » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:51 pm

El Gato wrote:I was going to offer my experiences and preferences for what have become my own favorite steels for sharpness and edge holding, but seeing that so many like VG-10, and I absolutely do not, I will refrain from causing any conflict here. I wish you well in your endeavors regarding the topic. :)

Dave
Why would expressing your opinion on something cause any conflict? I, for one, enjoy reading about what others like.

BTW, I also like BD1. I know it's not everbody's favorite but it's easy to get sticky sharp and it actually held up pretty well for me when I cut a bunch of cardboard a while back. S35VN is another good one for me.
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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby El Gato » Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:13 pm

xceptnl wrote:
El Gato wrote:I was going to offer my experiences and preferences for what have become my own favorite steels for sharpness and edge holding, but seeing that so many like VG-10, and I absolutely do not, I will refrain from causing any conflict here. I wish you well in your endeavors regarding the topic. :)

Dave
I see that as no reason to avoid a civilized discussion despite differing opinions. What are your experiences?
I am pretty much "odd man out" here I believe. I have no need for corrosion resistance, and as for my blades, I much prefer a good non-stainless steel like PMA11, K-390, and Maxamet, those being my current favorites. I fully appreciate that others have their own preferences and reasons for them, and that is as it should be. If I can have a Spyderco heat treated blade,(because I am confident that heat treatment will bring out a proper balance of hardness and toughness for that particular steel), in one of my favorite steels, in a blade design, thickness, and geometry I prefer, I am very happy. I just find that I get cleaner, sharper, longer lasting edges with a non-stainless steel. I have not yet found a stainless steel that compares, including VG-10.

Just my own personal experiences and preference, though quite different than most, which is why I hesitate to post. I have tried many different high chromium "stainless" steels over the years, including most of the recent offerings, and have been disappointed in them all to various degrees, because for me, edge retention goes along with the effort put into the sharpening of an insanely sharp edge. I enjoy sharpening, which is a relaxing and enjoyable pastime for me, but I want that good edge to last awhile too and this is perhaps my reasons for my steel choices.
Maybe I'm just allergic to chromium ...... :D

This is in no way meant to discredit anyone who has different experience and preferences in a favored steel. There is something for everyone.

Dave
Last edited by El Gato on Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby Tucson Tom » Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:21 pm

SGJarrod wrote:For me I feel it comes down to sharpening equipment.
Well, this is another angle on things (and I realize that I didn't just ask one question, but raised a cloud of related topics). I have wondered if improving my sharpening equipment and/or skills would get me where I think I want to get. I don't know what a KME is, but I'll go search and find out. I hear about the "wicked edge" system and wonder if it would be worth my while to cough up the money. So, are you saying that with improved equipment, I will be able to get an edge on S30V that is like the edge on M4 that is my standard of comparison? Bear-faced-killer seems to imply that with his statement than any steel can be (in theory at least) sharpened to as good an edge as any other -- and I can certainly see what he is saying -- it all boils down to geometry at a microscopic level.

I have read some things about ceramic rods having certain limitations with some of the super steels and a need to use diamond to avoid certain sharpening pathologies. I really do need (and want) to make a detailed study of this knife sharpening business -- it is just a matter of patiently searching and reading on the forums and discriminating between the good and bad information.

OK, I did my search on KME and see that it is a line of products a lot like the edge pro that I have heard so much about. So my take on this is that the Sharpmaker is about a $50 system that is probably the best bang for the buck at that price range by a long shot. But if you up the ante to $200 or so you can decide if you want the KME or Edge Pro or who knows what else and up your game. And if you are a real edge junky, maybe it is worth it. Hmmm.

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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby Tucson Tom » Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:32 pm

bearfacedkiller wrote:You sort of just asked a lot of questions so I will share some things with you to help you get started on your quest for understanding. It is a long journey. :) Disclaimer; this contains some facts and some opinions. :D I am long winded, sit down and get yourself a glass of iced tea. This might take a minute.
I appreciate your time to type in a long winded reply like this. It is worth reading several times.

You would be surprised how much time I have spent with the Spyderco steel chart, not to mention a cool phone app that displays information on knife steels. In my own mind I have tried to lump steels into big groups, and maybe my "tool steel" group is too broad and causing me confusion. It is all an attempt on my part to put some order and organization onto the myriad of knife steels. Of course composition is only part of it. Whether or not a steel is made via particle metallurgy or some method that gives it a fine grained structure seems to play a part. And the composition seems to determine the presence, amount, and grain size of these super hard carbides.

Anyway, I may be developing a taste for steels that are easy to get to a refined edge, while sacrificing ease of sharpening and edge holding. As I get my sharpening game down, I may not resent doing frequent touch ups on a steel that gives me a fantastic edge. And I live in Arizona, so extreme corrosion resistance is not so much of a concern to me, or so it seems.

Pondering what you say about consistent strokes, I can see the importance. You can only be so consistent with a sharpmaker, though it would seem to me to be worlds ahead of a bench stone in that regard -- but I guess there are people who have their game down with bench stones. One of the fancy jig based sharpening systems would almost ensure consistency -- for a price. Hmmm.

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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby El Gato » Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:38 pm

Tucson Tom wrote:
SGJarrod wrote:For me I feel it comes down to sharpening equipment.
Well, this is another angle on things (and I realize that I didn't just ask one question, but raised a cloud of related topics). I have wondered if improving my sharpening equipment and/or skills would get me where I think I want to get. I don't know what a KME is, but I'll go search and find out. I hear about the "wicked edge" system and wonder if it would be worth my while to cough up the money. So, are you saying that with improved equipment, I will be able to get an edge on S30V that is like the edge on M4 that is my standard of comparison? Bear-faced-killer seems to imply that with his statement than any steel can be (in theory at least) sharpened to as good an edge as any other -- and I can certainly see what he is saying -- it all boils down to geometry at a microscopic level.

I have read some things about ceramic rods having certain limitations with some of the super steels and a need to use diamond to avoid certain sharpening pathologies. I really do need (and want) to make a detailed study of this knife sharpening business -- it is just a matter of patiently searching and reading on the forums and discriminating between the good and bad information.

OK, I did my search on KME and see that it is a line of products a lot like the edge pro that I have heard so much about. So my take on this is that the Sharpmaker is about a $50 system that is probably the best bang for the buck at that price range by a long shot. But if you up the ante to $200 or so you can decide if you want the KME or Edge Pro or who knows what else and up your game. And if you are a real edge junky, maybe it is worth it. Hmmm.
Please do not overlook the Edge Pro system. I got mine from inventor Ben Dale in person years ago and have never regretted the choice. In fact I now have an Edge Pro designated and set for each of my three favorite knives. I recently acquired the new 2300 and 4000 grit stones for my EP and I am having a wonderful time putting insanely scary sharp edges on all my knives. Great fun, and it gets addicting, as many here will admit.

Just my personal opinion for what it's worth. The Edge Pro is expensive, no doubt, and absolutely worth the cost. Accept no substitutes. :)

Dave

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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby xceptnl » Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:39 pm

I paid for the set of Spyderco Medium, Fine and Ultra-Fine benchstones and it was the best sharpening investment i have ever made. It is easier to reprofile a knife with a guided system, but i like honing my own skills if you get my point.
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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby SGJarrod » Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:43 pm

Tucson Tom wrote:So my take on this is that the Sharpmaker is about a $50 system that is probably the best bang for the buck at that price range by a long shot. But if you up the ante to $200 or so you can decide if you want the KME or Edge Pro or who knows what else and up your game. And if you are a real edge junky, maybe it is worth it. Hmmm.
Yes, u got exactly what I was meaning. I went Kme cuz it's a clamp system and all the stones are diamond. They will cut all steel no matter the vanadium content. With being a clamp system it takes my lack of current skill level out of it. If I was skilled I would go the Michael Christy route. But..... I want results now. I work to much to practice free hand like I should. The edge pro is a good system but the stock stones are not near as effective at cutting super steels as diamonds.

Also, BearFacedKiller's comments were spot on imo. He is a true wordsmith and explains things so well. I do not have that gift.

U can get s110v as sharp as M4. U either need the skill/equipment or just the really expensive equipment.
Last edited by SGJarrod on Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:51 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby Tucson Tom » Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:45 pm

El Gato wrote: I am pretty much "odd man out" here I believe. I have no need for corrosion resistance, and as for my blades, I much prefer a good non-stainless steel like PMA11, K-390, and Maxamet, those being my current favorites. I fully appreciate that others have their own preferences and reasons for them, and that is as it should be.
Dave
Thanks for giving your thoughts. They are interesting because you are moving in the direction I was/am moving in when I first started this thread. I have been impressed with M4 and my mule in PMA11 and those blades are making me rethink my views on knife steels.

From what I have read on K390, it is the European (Bohler?) take on PMA11 (and maybe 10V is another equivalent). Apart from the PMA11 mule, the only Spyderco using one of these steels that I know about is the new Police. This is a knife that I haven't felt an urge to have. The military seems plenty big enough, but this could wander into another topic. Hopefully we will see more blades with K390 or PMA11 in the lineup, or maybe Spyderco feels that Maxamet fills that niche (but if so, why the Police in K390 -- maybe it is better for such a big blade?).

We are both in southern Arizona, so that perhaps is part of why we don't feel a need for corrosion resistance. And like you, there is something about a skill like sharpening that challenges and interests me, so I am willing to fuss with my knives, and all the more so as my skills improve. However, M4 and PMA11 seem to do really well at holding an edge, so there is no crying need to fuss with these edges on a regular basis. I'll be trying Maxamet one of these days.

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Re: Best steel for sharp edges

Postby El Gato » Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:52 pm

SGJarrod wrote:
Tucson Tom wrote:So my take on this is that the Sharpmaker is about a $50 system that is probably the best bang for the buck at that price range by a long shot. But if you up the ante to $200 or so you can decide if you want the KME or Edge Pro or who knows what else and up your game. And if you are a real edge junky, maybe it is worth it. Hmmm.
Yes, u got exactly what I was meaning. I went Kme cuz it's a clamp system and all the stones are diamond. They will cut all steel no matter the vanadium content. With being a clamp system it takes my lack of current skill level out of it. If I was skilled I would go the Michael Christi route. But..... I want results now. I work to much to practice free hand like I should. The edge pro is a good system but the stock stones are not near as effective at cutting super steels as diamonds.

Also, BearFacedKiller's comments were spot on imo. He is a true wordsmith and explains things so well. I do not have that gift.

U can get s110v as sharp as M4. U either need the skill/equipment or just the really expensive equipment.
I totally agree about the diamond stones being the way to go for some of the harder "super steels".
Which is why I use the Edge Pro diamond stones for re-profiling my new blades. They have always worked well for me.

Dave


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