Cold Steel San Mai III Trail Master

Sep 24, 1999
<BODY TEXT="#000000" LINK="#0000ff" VLINK="#800080" BGCOLOR="#ffffff"><TABLE CELLSPACING=0 BORDER=0 CELLPADDING=7 WIDTH=638><TR><TD VALIGN="TOP"><FONT FACE="Arial">After winning a draw recently for a Cold Steel San Mai III Trail Master from </FONT><A HREF=""><FONT FACE="Arial">Bayou Lafourche Knife Works</FONT></A><FONT FACE="Arial"> (Thanks Roger!), I decided to post a few comments about my first impressions of this knife. First let me clarify that I have a limited experience with this type and size of knife and have nothing to compare it to. My comments may be clouded or biased by the excitement experienced upon winning and receiving this prize. I have searched the forums and have found nothing specific to the Trail Master in this configuration so this may be of interest to some. I encourage you to visit the </FONT><A HREF=""><FONT FACE="Arial">Cold Steel web-site Q&A section</FONT></A><FONT FACE="Arial"> and read the answers for the questions entitled "What is San Mai III?" and "What is the difference between a "Rolled Edge" and a "Cantled Edge?".</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN="TOP"><U><FONT FACE="Arial">Description</U>
The overall length of the knife is 14-1/2" with a blade length of 9-1/2" and a thickness of 5/16". The knife and sheath weigh 632 grams or 22.3 oz. The blade is made of San Mai III. In a nutshell, San Mai III describes laminated steel that consists of a high carbon, higher hardness steel centre sandwiched between lower carbon, lower hardness sides (I have no idea as to the actual type of steel or its composition.). This will make for a tougher blade overall. Refer to the scan of the knife below to see the line above the edge of the blade. This is the transition line from one type of steel to the other. </FONT></TD></TR></TABLE><FONT FACE="Arial"></P></FONT><IMG SRC="" </P>

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<FONT FACE="Arial" size="3">Viewed from the top of the blade you can see the three layers of steel.</P></FONT><IMG SRC="" </P><TABLE CELLSPACING=0 BORDER=0 CELLPADDING=7 WIDTH=638><TR><TD VALIGN="TOP"><FONT FACE="Arial">A unique feature of this knife is the rolled edge. This means that there is no bevel as there is on a conventional blade but a gently rounded edge that comes to a point. In order to keep this edge sharp it is necessary to either ship the knife back to the manufacturer for sharpening or sharpen the conventional way and create a bevel.
</FONT></TD></TR><TR><TD VALIGN="TOP"><FONT FACE="Arial">The handle is made from Kraton. The guard is made of stainless steel. The sheath that comes with the knife is made of Cordura Nylon.</FONT></TD></TR></TABLE><IMG SRC="" </P>

I was taken back by the heft and the apparent strength of the knife. I have worn it around the house for the evening and have not felt it to be overly heavy or uncomfortable to wear. It seems to me that it would be easy for your hand to slip off the handle if you used it for chopping, so I have added a lanyard to it. The rolled edge is interesting but I don't think it is very practical to send it away for sharpening. I was disappointed in the sheath and feel that it could be a little more substantial. I plan on ordering some Kydex material and making my own sheath as a project. I plan on putting this knife to use on various camping and hunting trips.

I would love to hear any comments from other forum members or Trail Master owners.

Kevin Miller
Sarnia, Ontario
Look to the Lord and His strength, seek His face always.

[This message has been edited by KevinMillerCan (edited 09 November 1999).]
You're in Sarnia! If you want a sheath made, let me suggest that you consider a leather sheath from John Freeman. He made one for me for my Carbon V Trailmaster and I've been very happy with it thru trips to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Kydex is OK, but a solid leather sheath is as safe, can be repaired in the field, and has a bit of character.
I've used trailmasters and I've used San Mai III's, but not a San Mai III Trailmaster. Many forumites complain about the kraton handle, but personally I haven't had a problem with it. I have had some problem with chipping of the San Mai blade, but that was on the CS Tantos. My only real complaint with the Trailmaster is the extreme susceptibilty to rust of the Carbon V blade. Otherwise, I think it's beautifully balanced for a relatively big bowie. It isn't too comfortable for extended chopping, but even a big camp knife isn't an adequate substitute for an ax. I absolutely agree that a lanyard is essential.
For a production knife, the Trailmaster is first rate and I've been very happy with it. But since you're an Ontario guy, you might consider moving up to some of our home-grown custom makers. Check out the CKG website. John Freeman doesn't, to my knowledge, make anything as big as the Trailmaster, but if you like a heavy stainless knife, George Tichbourne's knives beat out most of the competition in KI's camp knife test a few years back. St. Amour's knives are also beautifully balanced and relatively inexpensive, considering the quality. If you like a forged knife, Dean Piesner's work is outstanding. Wally Hayes, one of our few ABS Masters, made my favorite camp knife[another Canadian on the KI short list], but he's quite busy making swords and damascus masterpieces. The anvil and hammer guys are more expensive and the steel isn't "stainless", but you pay a price for the extra performance of 52100 or O1 versus 440C or ATS 34.
If your passport is good for Alberta, I've heard good things about Harildstad, although I haven't had the pleasure of owning one of his knives, yet.
Most of these makers can make a knife that will outperform the CS, for not much or any more money. Of course, if the knife cost you nothing, you can't really complain about the american exchange rate, the shipping, the customs brokerage, the gst, the pst...
I wouldn't worry too much about the "rolled edge" (aka convex edge), you can sharpen it by hand. It is easiest to maintain the rolled edge if you never let it get dull. At the first sign of wear steel the edge. Since the blade is carbon steel it should respond well to steeling. When steeling isn't adequate hone the edge "backwards". The normal "forward" direction of honing is edge-first like you were shaving the hone. If you reverse your stroke so that the edge is trailing along the stone it is easier to follow the existing convex bevel as you stroke. But all this works best if you don't need to remove much metal from the blade.

If the blade gets very dull a slack sanding belt can restore the edge/bevel. I have also restored a convex bevel using sanding disks on a rubber holder chucked in a reversable electric drill.

All this said, I don't like the convex edge. For me it's a hastle with no serious advantage. I prefer a hollow-ground edge.

The knife looks nice and the layered steel is way cool. Thanks for the excellent pictures. You did a great job of showing the steel laminations.

[This message has been edited by Jeff Clark (edited 09 November 1999).]
It's my understanding that Cold Steel San Mai is AUS8 between two layers of AUS6. Why can't someone laminate a better performing steel in the middle? Seems like a waste of effort.
that knife is too cool. I wish that I had won, even though I would never put the knife through the use it deserves.
Thanks for the replies.
I gave Cold Steel a call via their 1-800 number and inquired about the type of steel used to make San Mai III. The outside layers are AUS-8 and the middle layer is Carbon-V.

Look to the Lord and His strength, seek His face always.
Carbon V sandwiched between AUS-8, that's an awfully interesting stack-up. The laminated steel concept is to have a tough, lower hardness (usually lower carbon) steel sandwiching an unusually hard center layer. You are going to heat treat the assembly as a unit, so you need a heat treat that will make the core hard and the outer layers ductile or springy. So this would make me think that Cold Steel has a heat treat method that hardens Carbon V to 59-60 and leaves AUS-8 down around 54.

Stainless generally isn't your toughest steel so it is odd to use it as an outer layer in a laminate with a non-stainless core. I would guess that the finished knife is not much tougher (maybe not tougher at all) than a plain carbon V blade. You are getting carbon V edge toughness with a mostly stainless blade surface. The AUS-8 layers are sort of a super-thick rust-proof coating.
I could swear that I read somewhere that San Mai III was AUS-8 layered between AUS-6. I like the sounds of the Carbon V in the middle much better though. I hope that you are right Kevin.

Hi I think you're right I read in the CS catalog that San Mai III is a central core of Hard, high carbon stainless sandwiched between 2 layers of spring tempered stainless steel.
This must be Aus-8a between Aus-6 because Carbon V is ABSOLUTELY not stainless.
Keep sharp, Bagheera

If the central core is carbon V, this is an interesting departure form the norm for cold steel. All their other Carbon V knives are made in the U S and the San Mai blades are Japanese made.
There was a supplement to Blade Magazine (named "Tek-Knives Annual 99") sent to me around August. This was a quote from Lynn Thompson on page 28

"Our San Mai III steel is virtually unbreakable. Its made up of AUS-8A sandwiched between two pieces of 420-J spring steel. You have a hard core in the middle supported by two sides that will bend or flex."

I wish we could sandwich any steel we want, say, A2D2 (not a Starwar's robot

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion/misinformation regarding the steel types used in San Mai III. I called Cold Steel again to confirm the AUS-8 Carbon V formulation that was given yesterday and got a different answer. "Stainless sides similar to 440 with the centre made of carbon steel". The customer service representative encouraged me to write Lynn Thompson via "snail mail" (doesn't seem to have e-mail)to find out the precise composition. The letter will be in the mail tomorrow and I will post the outcome when I receive an answer.
Kevin Miller

Look to the Lord and His strength, seek His face always.
Part of the confusion has to do with the definition of "high carbon steel". Which technically just means any steel with at least 0.60% carbon.

So pretty much all cutlery steel, including 440A, is high carbon.
I'm for A2/Beta Titaium laminate. That would kick butt. You could even anodize the titanium jacket for an artsy blade.
Hi, just to hear if I'm the only one, my Trailmaster has developped a very loose Kraton grip there is lots of space/movement between tang and kraton grip, water entering between the brass hiltand grip/tang and producing a greenish (brass disolving) watery fluid betwen grip and tang. Am I the only one ??
regards, Helen