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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
We've had some good discussions about steels, edges, angles, and heat treat. It got me to thinking that it would be a good topic to see how different people prioritize desirable and necessary things in selecting a knife. I'm basically referring to factory knives here and not custom mades or the really high end factory mades. More what you select for your everyday or common use cutlery needs.

For a format consider something like:

When selecting a knife the three most important things I consider in descending order are:

1. Proper heat treating of the steel
2. A steel that does the job the knife is intended for (or it might be "Super Steel or nothing for me.")
3. Quality of edge grind and geometry, but that can be fixed after where the first two can't.


Something like that without just doing a formatted poll. Ot just in paragraphs like I'm going to do.

Personally I consider properly heat treated steel to be number one. As others have noted in other threads a cheaper steel with a good and proper heat treat for that steel makes a better knife than the best steel improperly treated. You can't fix it at home afterwards.

I like a decent steel, but can go with slightly less if treated right. I want something that takes a good edge, holds it through routine use for a decent amount of time and is easy to bring back on the fine or at most medium then fine oil stone. Good old 1095 Carbon Steel (and Cases CV) or something in stainless like 440C works for me and my needs. I do have a few knives in D2 and like that, but it's not a quick touch up on the oilstone. Fortunately, I don't need to sharpen it for a long time with the way I use a knife. I do the usual everyday stuff, packages, dried sausage, open mail, trim strings, maybe cut a little leather or a cable tie now and then.

If I were using a knife heavily out hunting or working on a farm or ranch where uses could include cutting rope, feed bags, or skinning game (the sand and dirt in critter skins is quite abrasive on a knife) then I might prefer something like D2 or S30V or similar. If in wetter conditions then the later or something like it.

I consider the edge grinds as the third priority. The edge "should" come ground properly even if not a shiney edge from the factory or maker. But, that is one of those things that can be fixed either at home, or by having a professional sharpener set it right.

That said, if I find a knife I really like and the steel is acceptable and I know the maker does a good job of heat treating, I still will pass on it if the edges are way off and keep looking for the same knife, but with better edges. However, if it's a little harder to find or that particular knife has excellent fit and finish on the rest of it and if it's a folder it has great walk n talk, then I might go ahead and deal with the edges later.

On the flip side if I see a knife that looks great all around, has excellent, symmetrical edges and it's made of 420J or the vaguely labeled surgical stainless steel, I'm passing on it. I may be willing to accept 440A in a traditional slipjoint pocket knife I really like or even a Boker Arbolito fixed blade from someone who gets the HT right AND if the price is decent to downright cheap, but that's about the bottom for me.

Curious to see what others have to say.
 

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This is a tough question. I look for knives for many reasons. One, can I market it? But that's not your question. You said, "What are your priorities..."

I took that to mean "me," the individual.

I would first define the scope. In that regard, it would be "form follows function." While the steel is not to your liking, if I was going deer hunting, I would carry a BU112FG, hands down.

Survival? Gotta be the ESEE Number 5.

Bike trip to Sturgis? Something disposable. That would be the Schrade Old Timer Golden Bear. Looks like a Buck 110, it'll last the two weeks, fifteen bucks delivered.

Now, what about the lusts? Well, that would be a LionSteel product. Either the collaboration LionSpy or their Molletta. Biker jewelry.

In the kitchen, that's the easiest one of all. I own an Hattori.

Does that help?
 

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Does it cut, have a bottle opener, can opener and leather punch....that's it for me...I sure can't see spending 2-300 dollars for a knife...:cool:
 

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Not an expert on knives but this is what I look for:

It has to hold an edge. I pick the type of steel first then back my way into the knife. I don't care how hard it is to sharpen if it holds an edge.

What do I consider holding an edge? If I can dress a deer and still shave hair off my arm afterwards I consider that holding an edge.
 

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The idea of edge retention is getting moot. I mean, unless you buy a lot of Pakistani folders, the quality has gone up dramatically in the last five years. Even the Chinese are buying Japanese steel.

But we have to admit there's a world of difference between a knife knut and a hobbyist. A lot of guys buy a name brand, assuming quality. Then they find the edge is dull. The first few years of the ZT0300 brought us 300 dollar knives with a fifty-cent edge. And a re-curve at that, hard for the casual user to sharpen.

Now a knife collector or a sushi chef would just as soon have the knife blanked and shipped without an edge. I would bet that there's a one-in-five chance I have to take the entire edge off a new knife before delivery.

The issue is that what we take for granted is not the norm. For example, if our new rifle doesn't shoot a tight group, we get out the loading dies and a good manual. If the knife is dull, out come the stones. Most of the population doesn't think that way.

There are some alloys I like better than others, but there was a time when 154-CM was "space age."
 

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I am not a knife knut. But I do use them. And I have never considered 154-CM as a good knife steel or "space age".
 

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And I have never considered 154-CM as a good knife steel or "space age".
In the 1970s they were cannibalizing ball bearings for the stuff. No less than Bob Loveless got behind the alloy, even for his high end knives.

Even now that's all Ernest Emerson uses.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
IIRC at one time in this country a lot of knives were shipped without a final edge. It was expected that the end user would put on the edge they wanted and that fit their needs.

I'm thinking though that a lot of knives and the steel they use get a bad rap and leave folks with a prejudice against it because of the edge geometry as it comes from the factory. As Tourist noted on that ZT the edge grinds were all over the place on a single blade. You average guy trying to sharpen one would have likely gotten frustrated or just assumed that for some reason he had to deal with a trade off between thickness and strength and a good slicing blade.

The average user/purchaser if they go on performance at all and not just looks at first is going to react and form and an opinion about a knife and steel based on how it cuts for him out of the box and how long the edge stays before it gets really dull. Some people will just accept and assume that the knife that takes some force to cut with is just the way it is and that's how knives are. Steel, HT, or such things probably don't enter into their minds.

It's interesting when knife people from different walks of life, different using patterns, and requirements come together though. Good information and expanded understanding. One person may say they love a particular steel that another hates and vice versa. But it's when they start saying why they love one, hate another, or are okay with yet another, and how they use a knife it becomes useful information.

I had said I don't care for 420J or anything generically listed as 420. Yet, Buck makes excellent knives out of 420HC and they really know how to heat treat it to be both tough, sharp, and fairly easy to maintain. Amazing what a difference those little letters at the end of the numbers can make. While 440A may be usable, there's definitely a difference when you change that A to a C.
 

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It's a very personal choice. I prefer a fixed blade. Simple basic design, no gimmicks. High Quality steel.
 

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IIRC at one time in this country a lot of knives were shipped without a final edge. It was expected that the end user would put on the edge they wanted and that fit their needs.

I'm thinking though that a lot of knives and the steel they use get a bad rap and leave folks with a prejudice against it because of the edge geometry as it comes from the factory. As Tourist noted on that ZT the edge grinds were all over the place on a single blade. You average guy trying to sharpen one would have likely gotten frustrated or just assumed that for some reason he had to deal with a trade off between thickness and strength and a good slicing blade.

The average user/purchaser if they go on performance at all and not just looks at first is going to react and form and an opinion about a knife and steel based on how it cuts for him out of the box and how long the edge stays before it gets really dull. Some people will just accept and assume that the knife that takes some force to cut with is just the way it is and that's how knives are. Steel, HT, or such things probably don't enter into their minds.

It's interesting when knife people from different walks of life, different using patterns, and requirements come together though. Good information and expanded understanding. One person may say they love a particular steel that another hates and vice versa. But it's when they start saying why they love one, hate another, or are okay with yet another, and how they use a knife it becomes useful information.

I had said I don't care for 420J or anything generically listed as 420. Yet, Buck makes excellent knives out of 420HC and they really know how to heat treat it to be both tough, sharp, and fairly easy to maintain. Amazing what a difference those little letters at the end of the numbers can make. While 440A may be usable, there's definitely a difference when you change that A to a C.
I would be interested from hearing from others also.
 

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I understand what you're saying, but how do you determine a knife's heat treat before you have it in hand and get a chance to use it and sharpen it? The choice of steel and blade/edge geometry are the only factors out of the ones you listed that a user can determine prior to purchase.
 

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Most of the better sellers and makers show the Rockwell hardness of their blades.
Sometimes you'll notice a divot on the ricasso from testing. I actually prefer that, since you know for certain somebody checked the quality of the blank before it went out.
 

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Up 'til a few years ago, the gold standard in HT was Paul Boz. I sent all my knives to him and etched his logo on my knives - people would buy them sometimes just because it was HT'd by him. He was the best, and I hope he's having a great retirement.

I look for a name in a knife, like Benchmade, Emerson, Strider, etc. I know these companies know how to heat treat knives. Buck is indeed another one that knows HT - that's who Boz worked for. I do not buy no-name or Chinese stuff, I don't care how many tout them on the internet. I bought a $3 folder once and it folded on me while using it. I didn't know better then but I do know better now.

Grind doesn't matter that much to me as long as it works. I made all hollow grinds when I made knives because that's what Loveless made and he was King to me. A real jerk in person but the king of knifemakers.

The edge I can re-do to my liking with my Wicked Edge, and I do that to every knife I buy. I don't go up 50000 grit or anything, just 4000 and strop and they're pretty darn sharp.

I consider 154CM to be very good, and if it was good enough for Loveless it was good enough for me.
 

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I just care that it's tough and it'll stay sharp, because I use the same knife for everything, cutting food, opening boxes, use it as a screwdriver every once in a while, whatever. I've carried the same Buck 110 since I was in like 7th grade, and somehow convinced my mom to get me a Benchmark Adamas for Christmas. As long as a $40 knife lasted me (and it's still fairly sharp) this one should last me way past getting sick of carrying a 20 pound knife.
 

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Not to take away from the heat treat discussion, but in a folder I look for a solid locking mechanism. None of them are fail proof, but some are better than others.

I have several Microtech Socom Elites, and carry one on a regular basis. I really like the design of this knife from the clip to the grip. An Emerson CQC-15 would probably be my other favorite American made knife.

For a working and hard use folder I carry either a Cold Steel Recon or Counter Point. Yes I know, they are made overseas. But, I have 2 Recons that will not fail or break. I have cut #9 wire with the spine of the blade dozens if not hundreds of times and the locks on both have zero play, horizontal or vertical.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I understand what you're saying, but how do you determine a knife's heat treat before you have it in hand and get a chance to use it and sharpen it? The choice of steel and blade/edge geometry are the only factors out of the ones you listed that a user can determine prior to purchase.
That's a good point. I guess it really comes down to the general reputation from actual users of a brand and that translates into overall fitness of the knife as well. Buck comes to mind. Even though their steel is a 420 variant, and better than the ubiquitous 420J, it's there heat treat that is legendary and considered the key factor in the reputation their blades have.

As Tourist noted, some companies do the test dimple. The Steel Warrior line produced for Frost has a sticky on the blade pointing to the dimple and stating that the blade was tested 56-58 Rockwell. Even then we sort of rely on consumers reporting back when it comes to common production knives because even if the Rockwell Hardness is in the right range we really can't tell just looking at a knife that the Heat Treat was done properly or as best suits the knife's intended use.

So I guess I have to amend my statement by saying that a first priority is that the company has a history and a reputation for getting the heat treating right. Then the other stuff.
 

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For me, job 1 is ergonomics. If it doesn't fit my hand immediately upon first grasp, this isn't the knife for me. I have fairly thin hands and fingers, and if a knife doesn't feel good just holding it, it sure isn't going to feel good using it.

Second - steel choice to match the intended task. I wish one knife could do it all, but it can't (for me). I need a sharp blade that is easily touched up in the field, even on a rock if I had to. So to me that usually means 1095 or ATS 34/55, or 154cm. I also need a sharp blade that has more durability, at the expense of quick field sharpening. For edge durabilty I typically look for S30V or D2.

Third - heat treatment. The best edge and steel around doesn't mean squat if it hasn't been tempered correctly.

Forth - proper and even grinds are nice, but not mandatory. 9/10 production knives I get need to be re-ground and re-beveled anyway, and at least then I have an edge that I know suits my needs.

Fifth - Quality of workmanship. Price isn't everything. I've had 700 dollar knives that had mismatched bevels, uneven bevels, handles not ground to fit the tang, bent knives that had a visible "wow" to them when viewed end-to-tip, etc. etc. I've also had 50 dollar knives that had unbelievable attention to hand fitting of scales, and consistent edge grinds.
 

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First is how well it fits its intended use.

Second is fit and finish.

Third is how well the steel is going to hold an edge while being used.

My fillet knife has a nice rubber grip, a good edge, and was cheap enough that if it goes swimming some summer I am not gonna dive in after it. I carry a spyderco native with s30v steel to work and for cleaning small game since the blade design is very controllable for me. For social purposes have my benchmade griptillian with 154cm steel on me. That knife went to Daytona bike week and Sturgis this year. :)
 

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I'm not a knife guy and don't have a clue about steel or grinding, etc. I have carried a knife on me everyday for over 20 years.

I look for a sedated blade. I know most do t like serrated blades, but I like them for my use.

Size. I keep mine clipped to my pocket so it has to fit right and I have to be able to get it out easily.

And, fit. It's got to fit my hand and feel good.
 
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