Is BLADE Magazine in cahoots with the "Ministry of Truth"? Re: ATS-34 Hype.

Oct 2, 1998

Blade Magazine, I know you read these forums. I respect your magazine and many of the articles this month are definitely geared toward the new market: younger people who want "tactical" knives that do more than just look good, and who are informed as to what makes a high quality knife. But, why are you inhibiting progress of the knife industry by perpetuating lies such as the one that ATS-34 is a top steel? (In your first article on page 12, April 1999)

ATS-34 USED TO BE a top steel. Today it is bottom of the rung, and with the performance I get from it (i.e. chipping and breaking as well as rusting), I wonder if it ever was a move forward in knife steels at all. Sometimes I think that I would rather have my stainless folders in AUS-8. A may have to sharpen it more often, but at least it doesn’t rust much, and best of all, it bends instead of chips!

ATS-34 on a "tactical" knife is a joke. It is weak, brittle and inflexible. It chips under heavy use, rusts under extreme conditions, and don’t you dare pry with it if you want to keep your knife in working order! I have to think that anyone that believes ATS-34 to be a "tactical steel" has never really used it hard! I have chipped my ATS-34 blades by hitting nothing more than a staple while opening a box, and I have broken off the tips by dropping them from three feet to a Lenoleum floor! ATS-34 is far from a "tactical", hard use steel. The only people that believe that ATS-34 is a good steel for a hard-use knife must have never cut more than a bagel with their "tactical" folder. I have chipped so many blades while using this brittle steel that I have given up on it. I would rather have AUS-8 that bends, and I can "steel" it back into shape with a kitchen steeling rod or sharpener. A dull blade can be sharpened, but a chipped up, broken tipped, rusted blade becomes much more of a problem in the field.

But, the question is: why "settle" at all!? There are steels out today that are eons ahead of ATS-34 and give you strength, corrosion resistance, toughness, AND supreme edge retention. Let’s talk about 440V, 420V, BG-42 and Tool Steels like M2 that are coated with rust inhibitors like Black Teflon. Now we don’t have to "settle" for anything! For instance, 440V is shown to have 10 times the wear resistance (edge holding) of ATS-34 and it is also more rust resistant and tougher as well! BG-42 is not far behind 440V, showing three times the wear resistance of ATS-34! I haven’t even mentioned the possible King of stainless blade steels today: 420V. Then there is teflon coated tool steel like M2, which sports all the best of all attributes!

Please, stop holding back progress by continuing to fool people that ATS-34 is a top steel. I do realize that you included credits to other steels in your article, but you filled the article with poor statements like "You’re not going to find a better stainless steel (than ATS-34)" and you put bold print items like "ATS-34 is the stuff to have" and implied that it was "exotic". Are you trying to program us like the television media? Do you think that if you say something often enough in the right places (such as at the END of the article) that people will be brainwashed into thinking that they are getting the best when they fall for the hype? Why not try to perpetuate progress in the knife industry, and expose ATS-34 for the fraud that it is? Let’s try to push manufacturers to move forward into the steels that are coming out, rather than stroking them and the buyers by telling us all (falsely!) that ATS-34 is the top stainless.
You need to do more articles on the new steels, so that they become well known. You are in control of what the buyers look for, and your claims that everyone wants ATS-34 are a self fulfilling prophecy because you are misinforming people and they think it is the best so they buy it. There is so much better out there, and with media hype like your article, we are never going to get the makers to move into the new era and use some of the supreme steels that are becoming available.

We, the educated knife buying public, are slowly making progress in the knife world by asking the knife manufacturers to move forward with technology. We have had quite an effect so far by voting with our voices and dollars, in getting Spyderco and Benchmade to introduce their knives with better blade steels. Please stop impeding the progress of the knife world with your misinformation about outdated materials to the masses.

J. Thaddeus Hornbaker


Hey Zeus.........ATS34 was a pretty good steel. Actually, it was an excelent steel.
Amazing how a steel can become crap in a very short space of time.
The advances in metallurgy in the past 40 years has been amazing .
Those pre 1990 guys must have had it tough.

It's the heat-treat. I've got proof of that in the works, look for a serious performance evaluation of an ATS34 24" "Katanaoid" (read: "Gaijin-to") within the next three weeks TOPS. This baby was cold-ground by Alan Folts, heat-treated by Ernie Mayer...and I can fling it over my knee and bend it over 20 degrees with max muscle and it springs right back.

I think this stuff may be *very* sensitive to heating during grinding. Alan and MANY others feel this way, as policy he grinds with NO gloves so he can feel when he's overheating the steel. Benchmade machine-grinds a blade in what, six seconds?

Your condemnation of the stuff *might* be premature. Note "might", OK? I'm hoping that the sword will make a difference...I'm a couple hours away from Joe Talmadge, I wonder if he'd be interested in beating on it if I hand delivered
? Also recall that 440A is *widely* considered absolute garbage except when SOG or Myerchin gets ahold of it, a possibly more extreme "sensitive steel" situation.

Jim March
I think there is a truth somewhere between Thaddeus and Jim's opinions. I've seen a couple crappy ATS-34 blades, yet still have a couple old workhorse 440C folders that are still doing the job. I haven't had the opportunity to putz around with any custom makers' ATS-34 blades, but if they are run in small, carefully controlled batches or one at a time, I think you might find a pretty decent ATS-34 blade. And while many ATS-34 blades are on the brittle side, why are Columbia K&T's supposedly "soft"? Hell, I'm a fan of BG-42, but I know in a short time, that will be the run-of-the-mill blade steel, 420V will be in the normal custom or high end production steel, and the new and improved unobtainium and stupidium alloy blades will be the hot ticket in the knife world. I'm hoping that evolution or the marketplace will eventually catch up with poorly made knives that are supposedly made out of such superior materials, and the sooner the better.
Thaddeus and Jim both bring up a good point. So here is an idea I have never heard anywhere else so it must be called the Turbo scale when it hits

We all know that the heat treating is a very important part of blade making. We have a Rockwell test for hardness but that does not tell the whole story. Can there be a standard which can tell us the quality of the heat treating? And the microsurface structure?

A steel could be called ATS-34 R58 T80.

Well you could change the meaning of T to Temper as is used in Aluminum.

Best Regards,
Mike Turber
BladeForums Site Owner and Administrator
Do it! Do it right! Do it right NOW!

There are already tests out there that show the quality of heat treating. There are statistics that show impact strength (reflects extent of blade damage on impact) and lateral blade toughness (prying ability). They are not commonly used as it would show severe problems in the steel quality and show how foolish all the fantastic claims that are made. It is quite easy to do these tests yourself in a controlled manner and see the difference for yourself as Thad did with an identical blade in ATS-34 and M2.

And as for you blade Jim, how is is ground and what is the thickness. I would be interested to see how well the edge holds up to heavy impact and as well how the blade holds up under heavy lateral strain. As for bending it over your knee, unless you are a mutant the steel would have to be real garbage for you to damage it in that fashion. Jam the blade inbetween something and grab how of the handle and really lean into it with a double handed full body push. I would be surprised if it didn't fail.


You certainly have a strong case when it comes to certain production knives with fine tips and "secret" heat treatment processes. According to RJ Martin, Chris Reeve and others, there is not question about BG-42 being a superior steel in all respects as well.

But I think you are overstating the case against ATS-34 to a certain extent. It can be brittle when overcooked, but is does hold an edge better than 440C or AUS-8, and it is more stain resistant than low alloy tool steels. Also, if it is given the proper heat treatment, with cryo quench and triple low-temp draw, it is satisfactorily tough and even more stain resistant. My Black Cloud Sharktooth is tough as a junk yard dog.

There are certainly better high alloy, stain resistant steels available now, but ATS-34 is still a premium cutlery steel in my opinion.

You are right though, if it comes from a factory, don't expect many good characteristics other than edge holding. It needs careful heat treating to make up for its impure (so I've heard) quality and tendency toward large grain size.

The heat treating curve on ATS-34 has a double arc at two different temperatures. both will produce the same Rockwell, but only the 2nd (higher temperature) curve produces the desired results. Many heat treaters nort fully experienced in ATS-34) look at the double curve, think that they are both the same (because of Rc) and will naturally heat treat at the lower temperature as it is cheaper and faster and "appears" to provide the same results. Same steel, different results, same Rc. "Skill" is sometimes just that (the "tricks or secrets")...and it separates the both custom makers and factories. The average ELU
would have no idea that these differences exist, heck, most custom makers don't know this about ATS-34. Some thoughts to share.
Well I just read it and have to say "what the h#$% was that?
and who is this ED SEVERSON.
Well he's getting a call on monday to ask why they are rolling 154-cm and not 420V-3V-9V-10V-15V and MPL-1.
I think IM taking a drive to camillus next week.

Give 'em hell Ed!!!!


Always yield to temptation as it may never pass your way again!
God save us from those who want to save us from ourselves.
Forgive your enemies....but not before they're hanged!
Rascality has limits; stupidity has none.

I did NOT escape from the institution! They gave me a day pass!

I would not go next week as everyone will be a the Shot Show

Best Regards,
Mike Turber
BladeForums Site Owner and Administrator
Do it! Do it right! Do it right NOW!

Sal: Interesting to see your view on ATS-34's double-hump heat treat curve. I know Paul Bos and company use the second hump. However, here on the web, there seems to be a lot of thought that the first hump results in better ATS-34, and it's the predominance of 2nd-hump ATS-34 that's giving the steel the bad name.

Ernest Mayer and a number of other makers reported trying both curves, and if I remember right saying the lower curve yields better toughness and drastically better rust resistance.

I wasn't in the middle of that one, but Jim March might remember more details...

And Jim, c'mon by, we'll beat up your sword no problem! If you bring a 6-pack of something good, we can probably lure Harv here too


The "high temp versus low temp" curve ATS34 debate has been raging for a while now. Ernie Mayer of Black Cloud knives claims to have gone all the way back to Hitachi researching the issue...he says the higher temp curve produces better results for high-temperature operation (as in jet engine turbine blades, the original use for this stuff) but the low-temp cycle produces better room temperature toughness at the same Rockwell.

Now, some people have listened to him and done their own experiments in part because nobody's been able to break a Black Cloud ATS34 *sword*. Rob Simonich is also a convert to low-temp, and I know there's others.

That said, there could be two OTHER factors: cold grinding so that "your one shot at heat-treating isn't mis-spent at the grinding wheel" and the particular cryo-treat process.

Soo...who knows. I'm gonna mount the sword Alan cold-ground and Ernie low-temp-cycle treated, we'll see what that does.

Jim March
If any one wants to see the tempering diagram
for ats-34 I have it and can email it.
It's from hitachi jap with eng added.
I was with the #2 hump gang but with what I had go on with 420v as to toughness I think it's time for a test.

There is alot going on with this deep cryo thing.

Mike does that include the C.E.O.?

Ill only say a few things here with out entering into the fray. I had a ATS-34 Short Sword that I had ground and heat treated (low temp temper cycle) and freeze treated. (dry ice and acetone slurry) Well, the freeze treat is nothing like a deep Cryo but does a great job of stress releving. If the steel is heat treated right in the first place there isnt that much retained austensite to get rid of, and although I dont know if -110 will get rid of any I do know it helps make tougher blades. I beat the hell out of that sword, had to remount the handle once as the corby bolts actually loosened a bit. I did chip the blade a little when I was chooping through an old fencepost and chopped through a staple. I used to throw it for fun and had to duck a couple times when it didnt stick and it boomeranged back! (cheap thrill!) I miss that crapy ATS-34 Sword, an FBI agent bought it from me in a parking lot in Helena last summer and I am sorry its gone. So I thing Geometry, good grinding and proper heat treating it aint a bad steel, aint the best, but aint bad. (My favorite is Talonite now, which aint steel at all) Shoot, I said more than one thing! ha
My two cents

Sorry guys, didn't know this was an earlier thread. Our early testing said that the second curve gave better edge retension. We ended up scrapping a lot of blades (already finished) becuase of this a while back.

Our equipment is more sophisticated now. If someone will heat treat two identical ATS blades (one on each curve) and ship it to us, we will be happy to put them on our edge tester and have a "Q" fog corrosion test done. I'm not at this time suggesting that one or another is incorrect, just another "hands on" test, (which we prefer).

Ernie is a smart man (hey Ernie, where's my knife?) and may know something we don't. Let's test and share.

I beleive he will be there as well. Sal is the CEO of Spyderco and I know he will be there.

Thanks for the room BTW Sal! See ya there.

Best Regards,
Mike Turber
BladeForums Site Owner and Administrator
Do it! Do it right! Do it right NOW!


I am to understand that the lower curve people have had it tested by an independent party and the verdict came back that there was a 20% increase in performance, toughness and edge holding.

The higher temp is reported to cause unnecessary grain growth.

If any one wants I can pull the info out of my archives and post it.

But if I remember correctly Rick Schultz of Mission got correspondence from Hitachi indicating that the lower curve is better for cutlery.

One can do a search of the rec.knives usegroup and find some of this stuff if it hasn't expired...

One may want to keep an Eye out for my review of the Bob Kasper designed, Kevin Gentile modified AFCK and interview of Bob Kasper.

Marion David Poff fka Eye, one can msg me at

Patiently waiting for the Spyderco SpydeRench, Lum Chinese Chopper Folder, Rolling Lock Martial Folder, Shabaria and JD Smith, heck if it si from Spyderco I'm anxious; REKAT Escalator and Pat Crawford design.

"The victorious Warrior wins first and then goes to war, while the defeated Warrior goes to war and then seeks to win" Sun-Tzu

Mike I ment the ceo of crucible.
Their main office is in camillus. NY.

Sal ILL do the heattreat.
Ill get with ernie and paul and use their treat specs.
Do you want blades or sripps?
Hell Ill send a 420v piece too just for S/G's.

Sal, don't worry about this being "old biz", it ain't by any means resolved.

To muddy the waters further, at some point Ernie Mayer managed to severely upset Paul Bos, the main proponent of the high-temp curve. And then when I was having my custom ATS34 knife done and was researching this crazy stuff, *I* managed to severely upset Paul Bos...and there's other "links of ill-will" going on with people I won't name unless tickle-tortured
. Paul has become very hostile on the subject and I for one regret my actions in making him so (the "440C debacle" on the "first Outsider prototype") so we're at a point now where if anybody wants to do a true comparison I'd recommend doing it as a regular knife blade and not telling Paul what's going on. He's too pissed off to do any comparos of his own, he says "what he's been doing works and that's that" and he's upset at anyone that casts doubt on the same recipe he's been doing since his jet-turbine-blade days.

Sigh. So personalities have slowed down the spread of real truth. That's a mess...somehow we need to get to the bottom of this, good news is Ernie Mayer has started up an "outside small-volume heat-treat biz" so we CAN now do a proper comparison. I haven't had the cash together to finance a comparison but that should change in a few weeks.

Sal, I hope you WILL jump into this quagmire, you've got the resources to REALLY figure out what's up. Corrosion resistence is of SECONDARY importance to me, and I think a lot of others. But your retail customers may be another matter. In any case, Ernie, Rob S. and other low-temp proponents have not seen a corrosion difference. I know my "Outider" has spent up to four hours continuously wet in the driving rain on a mototcycle, took it home and wiped it off, absolutely zero discoloration. The Outsider was low-temp-cycle treated by Harald Moeller, with an "old freezer full of dry ice" cryo process. Edgeholding and toughness seems great, see also the "Outsider versus Coconut" thread.

Welcome to "the endless ATS34 quagmire" and here's to hoping it ends eventually.

Jim March