A Glossary of knife materials

The beauty of a quality blade is how simple it looks. Yet the materials that go into creating a strong blade with good edge-retention is quite involved.

ALLOY STEEL - Steel that has been enhanced with additional elements (chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, nickel) is called alloy steel.

CARBON - An element present in all steels. More carbon increases hardness.

CHROMIUM - A major element in martensitic stainless steel. It improves hardenability, wear and corrosion resistance.

COILS - Long steel strips that come in large rolls are fed into a Fine Blanking press, which is the first step toward making a blade.

CORROSION RESISTANCE - A blade's ability to resist rust, which is the result of exposure to the environment or elements.

DUCTILITY - The blade's ability to flex, bend or take an impact without fracturing. If the amount of flex or bend is small before cracking or breaking, the blade is considered brittle.

EDGE RETENTION - A measure of the blade's ability to hold an edge by resisting abrasion and wear. We use the CATRA machine, a computer-controlled testing machine that gives the most accurate and repeatable data for an objective evaluation of edge sharpness and consistency.

FINE BLANKING - Buck's advanced blade blanking system is used to press a knife blade out of a coil of steel using a specifically shaped die. This process produces consistently accurate parts requiring little additional machining.

HARDENABILITY - The steel's ability to be hardened.

HARDNESS - A good indicator of the steel's ability to hold an edge. A blade's hardness is measured on the Rockwell "C" scale, a testing process described in Making a Knife.

HEAT-TREAT - An important series of steps in developing blade properties, such as toughness. Learn more about Buck’s state-of-the-art heat treating process.

LASER CUTTING - Large blades and "hard steel" blades are cut from sheets of steel using a state-of-the-art computer-controlled laser that can cut out blades to a specified shape.

MANUFACTURABILITY - The ease in which steel can be machined, blanked, ground and heat-treated.

MARTENSITIC – Steel that is capable of being brought to a very hard condition is called martensitic steel. This steel is best suited for knife blades. See Heat-Treating.

MOLYBDENUM - An element added to steel to improve hardenability, tensile strength and resistance to corrosion and pitting.

NICKEL - An alloy addition that improves steel's toughness, hardenability and corrosion resistance. Nickel is a major element in steel used for kitchen cutlery and dive knives.

PLATE - Flat sheets of steel that are turned into knife blades by laser cutting.

PROPERTIES - Refers to such things as hardenability, ductility and toughness, which are established by the particular chemistry of the steel and the proper heat-treat process. Properties most important to knife blades are covered in this glossary.

ROCKWELL - A hardness-testing machine that forces a small penetrator into the surface. The depth of penetration correlates to a scale reading, the scale normally used for knife blades is the "C" scale written as "Rc". The higher the number, the harder the steel. Most blade steels are in the range of Rc 58-61. Buck maintains an Rc 58 on standard steel. Our higher end steels range from Rc 59-61, depending on use.

INITIAL SHARPNESS - The sharpness of the blade right "out of the box," and the sharpness that is the goal when re-sharpening.

STAINLESS STEEL - The common term "stainless" is misleading. More accurately, it should be called "stains less" because it is not "stain free." In certain environments, any steel with carbon will rust. Stainless steel's corrosion-resistant properties make it a good material for knife blades.

STRENGTH - Steel's ability to resist applied forces.

TEMPERING - The final step in the heat-treat process to improve toughness.

TENSILE STRENGTH - Ability to resist breaking. Ultimate Tensile Strength is the maximum load per square inch a blade can sustain before breaking.

TOUGHNESS - A blade's ability to absorb energy by impact prior to fracturing.

VANADIUM - A material added to steel to improve hardenability and promote fine grain, which is an important factor in wear resistance.