The blades we have in and around our homes are useful regardless of the steel they’re made of, but material and makeup matters a great deal when it comes time to sharpen. We will discuss the two main types in this article.
Stainless steel varies in strength and durability depending on how, and sometime where, it was manufactured. Chinese stainless is seen by industry professionals as lesser quality than steel made in Japan for example. Some knife makers claim to produce blades with VG10 (a high quality steel) but actually use a lesser steel.
Many of the “off the shelf” brands with low to moderate price points are going to be of the Chinese variety. Generally speaking, as the price increases, so does the quality of the materials.
Most stainless steel, including some of the high quality varieties, tends to be softer than carbon steels. This makes them easier to sharpen but they may not hold an edge as well. Reduced edge retention is often seen as an acceptable trade off given the fact that they are less likely to rust or experience staining than carbon steels.
High carbon steel
High carbon steels are known for their ability to be hardened. This allows them to be sharpened at a much finer angle and still hold their edge. Finer angles give them superior cutting ability. However, there are tradeoffs. The blades will stain or even rust without care. Also, they are known to react with acidic foods. For example, cutting an apple with a high carbon blade will turn the apple brown. If dropped they are likely to chip or break as the harder steel does not bend. Finally, they are generally harder to sharpen. Luckily you will need to do so less often.
Unlike their Chinese counterparts, Japanese knife makers are known for their quality craftsmanship and therefore blades made of Japanese steel are desirable to own. Country of origin is worth checking into before you invest in a nice set of knives.
We have both types in our home and they are equally capable of cutting things (when properly sharpened), the difference lies in useful life, durability, and look & feel.
According to Knifeinformer.com there are 5 key properties of steel that are present in varying degrees in the different types of steel. They are hardness, toughness, wear resistance, corrosion resistance and edge retention.
Different types of steel can tolerate different sharpening practices. Here at Indy Edge Works, we default to hand sharpening using Japanese whetstones and a jig. Whetstones do not raise the temperature of the blade and remove steel very slowly. Regardless of steel type, the heat treat on a blade is not in jeopardy and the maximum amount of steel remains after sharpening extending the life of the blade.
The other most common method of sharpening is using belt sanders and other power tools. The friction generated by this process requires special treatments such as frequent immersion in water. Cooling the blade down before it reaches a critical temperature is a must. If power tools are used improperly the blade will lose the heat treat and become too soft to perform well. Sharpening with power tools is Risky with a capital “R” and without knowledge, skill and a steady hand it should not be attempted.
Part of the sharpening service we provide is guiding and advising our clients on the best technique to put their edges in top condition. If you aren’t sure which type you have, contact us and we’ll help you decide how to sharpen them for maximum life and performance.