Kitchen knives - steel choices

Cliff Stamp

Oct 5, 1998
I am looking to get two kitchen knives made for a x-mas present. One will probably be a Santuko and the other a small paring knife. What I am wondering is what should I go with for the blade material?

There are two major factors. The first is corrosion resistance. These knives are going to be left wet for extended periods of time. While food is being prepared they could be left covered in blood or juices and they could even be put away damp and just left to dry. The second is impact toughness. The edge could easily come into contact with something it should not. Glancing strikes off of bone, cutting boards, other knives in the sink etc. .

What I am currently thinking about are the following three choices : 420, 440C and D2. I like D2 for the edge holding and impact toughness but I am concerned about rusting. I like 420 for the corrosion resistance, edge maintaince, and of course toughness, but I wonder about impacting. This leaves 440C which seems to be the middle road. It should be able to take a fair amount of using without rusting, avoid chipping or edge impacts and not be that difficult to keep the edge in line (butchers steel for casual edge maintaince).


P.J., stiff. I am thinking 1/8" for the paring (3/32" or 1/16" would be better for cutting, but I think it will need the durability of 1/8"). For the larger I am thinking 3/16". I an not set on those thicknesses though.

Jack, any ideas on how BG-42 rates in terms of impact toughness and corrosion resistance? I know it has a significant improvement in abrasion resistance, but that is a secondary concern for this particular situation.

420V might be an interesting choice, but not an expense that I think is worth it. Its major benefit, the abrasion resistance is not going to be needed as much as good corrosion resitance and impact toughness. We are also not talking about extreme use knives so the performance advantage of some of the better steels are really not going to be seen.

Talonite might be worth looking at either but I'll reserve comment on that until this fall when I have worked with it myself. It of course has a huge cost increase.


I recently designed a custom kitchen knife for a gift, and went through many of the same questions you are asking. Mel Sorg provided me valuable advice on materials. We finally settled on 1/8" 440 C, hardened to a Rockwell hardness of 57-58. At this hardness the 440 C is quite durable, yet still has good edge retention. In addition, the 440 C is stain and rust resistant in the kitchen environment.

Mel built the knife for me and it is currently in use. I hope to post a review in a month or two after we have had a chance to thoroughly explore its strengths and weaknesses. I can state that in about three weeks of use the blade has not needed sharpening. It will make clean cuts through large chicken bones with no edge deformation.

A final note. Mel's characteristic rough finish makes the 440 C blade look really nice. No way you're going to mistake this rustic chunk of steel for a shiny piece of plastic.

[This message has been edited by Howard Wallace (edited 16 July 1999).]

I use one of Mel's D-2 skinners in the kitchen all the time, though it is too short and thick to be as good a kitchen knife as Mel could make me. I noted that the D-2 with the flat grind is almost unbeatable performance-wise but suffers from very poor corrosion resistance in the kitchen enviroment.

One specific instance - I sliced up some tomatoes and then cleaned the knife with hot soapy water and a scrubber. I then put the knife into the draining rack and left it. A couple of hours later I returned to find a very faint patina of surface rust all over the blade (nothing that a little semi-chrome and a soft cloth could not tackle).

I don't think D-2 should be used as a kitchen knife by any but the most conscientious knife care givers with a Tuff Cloth handy...

I've been experimenting with kitchen knives lately. I think that ease of resharpening is more practical than going for a real hard steel. There are just too many very hard surfaces in a kitchen to depend on blade hardness to keep the knife sharp.

Now I cook a lot (I have done some catering) and when I use a knife I think of knife care as much as the cooking. Knives don't get abused when I use them myself. Everyone else in the family does abuse them and they get dinged up. Many people cut things on a hard ceramic plate. We all know that the ceramic is harder than steel. Last week my son took a Spyderco plain-edged knife and cut up brisket without removing it from a cast iron pan. I had just finished puting an absolutely razor sharp edge on that MBS-26 alloy blade. Even this great alloy never stood a chance. I'm glad I wasn't resharpening a tool steel or a serrated edge.

I like MBS-26 (Spyderco)and AUS-8 (MAC) for for kitchen knives. They both take really great edges, resist corrosion, and sharpen pretty easy. But for gifts there are much more attractive designs that will serve the recipients just as well for all practical purposes. I favor the Forschner Rosewood handled products. (Make sure you do NOT get forged blades, avoid the extra metal at the handle end of the blade that prevent smooth cutting board action). For example see the three piece chef's set at:

I always give people a steel and a cutting board along with a knife. I often give just an 8" chefs knife with cutting board and steel. This is slightly more useful than a Santoku due to the utility of the point and the narrower blade area near the point. I would also consider a ceramic "steel".

You know well that a kitchen knife edge cannot be maintained without a sharpener and a cutting board regardless of the steel used in the blade. If you have these elements it is easier to repair dings if the steel is a little soft and fine grained. The knife will generally be valued more if the recipient likes the look, feel, and shape of the knife more than if it is made of a miracle steel.

If I was going to get a custom knife made for a gift I would use AUS-8 over 440C because it takes a sharper edge (unless you got Boye to make you a knife with dendritic 440C). Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I would think that 440C would be awfully tough to maintain with a steel. If you insist on going to a tougher steel I would use BG42. It takes a great edge, resists stains, and is not too hard to sharpen.

[This message has been edited by Jeff Clark (edited 16 July 1999).]
Cliff, I used a D-2 blade that Mel Sorg made to cut up a melon the other day. Despite poor geometry (see a pic on my webpage below under Tanto #2 in the kit knife section) for kitchen tasks (too thick) the knife did very well. The light fruit acids in the melon did react a bit with the blade, though, and left a faint patina. I think D-2 is a great steel, but not for the kitchen. Furthermore, it depends on what kind of cooking you are doing. In most Asian cultures the desire to keep flavors separate and distinct is of utmost importance, so tainting them with metallic undertones from a carbon steel blade, plates, pans, etc is a no-no. The D-2 will hold up well to actual oxidation due to its high chromium content of 12% (dang close to stainless), but it does patinate easily from acids, so it won't be pretty. I don't know if I could detect any taste on the melon from teh knife, though. I just wanted to have fun with a great knife and eat some good food! :)
My main kitchen utensil is a simple Spyderco Santoku. The Santoku is mainly made for slicing veggies and not so much for meats, so it has a very think profile, but the Spydie version is relatively stiff. It has no problem cutting boned meats, and I eat very little meat anyway, so I never really have had it run into any bones. The Santoku offers several distinct advantages to my cooking style:
1) It is broad-bladed, so after I am done cutting I can use the side of the knife to scoop up under the food and transfer it easily into a cooking vessel.
2) It has a nice curving belly allowing me to quickly chop and finely dice using a rocker-method cutting style.
3) The hand is kept high out of the way from the cutting board.
I have had this knife for almost a year, i think, and use it daily on a hardwood butcher's block. First time I sharpened it was yesterday, and it took a nice edge with minimum difficulty. In short, the Spyderco Santoku is the closest thing to a perfect kitchen knife for me, and I would be lost without mine. I air-dry it and leave it wet for long periods of time and it looks brand new. Grip is great, too. There are more expensive versions of the Santoku, but the Spyderco is hands-down the best kitchen knife I have ever come into contact with, and of all my knives ranks in my top favorites! A true workhorse, but not meant for bones or chopping.

My Custom Kydex Sheath page
Palmer College of Chiropractic
On Two Wheels

The santoku is a great design, but not the only one. My design satisfies the three criteria you posted above, plus some other specialized criteria that I had, and looks nothing at all like a santoku. I'll see if I can get some picutres on a server somewhere, and post the specs soon.

[The specifications are now up at .]

[This message has been edited by Howard Wallace (edited 17 July 1999).]

I'm not a metallurgist, these are just my impressions based on puzzling through the steel charts. BG-42 looks like it should have good corrosion resistance. It's 14.5% Chromium (440C-16-18%, 420V-13%) and 4% Moly (440C-.75%, 420V-1%). Both contribute to corrosion resistance according to the charts. Additionally, BG-42 is 1.20% Vanadium which gives it resistance to shock impact (440C-0%). 420V is 9% which should offer tremendous impact resistance, but I would think increase the difficulty of sharpening, especially in a kitchen knife getting daily use. On the other hand, I've never used BG-42, so all this is just theory for me.


(edited for spell check)

[This message has been edited by donovan (edited 16 July 1999).]
Are you considering custom? I do not believe this has been answered. If you are than you may want to consider using: CPM 3V. I don't have any kitchen knives in this material, but I've used a fillet knife out of this stuff and it works like no other quality fillet knife I've ever used.
Happy Trails,
I've used my Boye Basic III made from cast 440C in the kitchen a few times. A couple of times after I washed it, I left it in the utensil holder in my dishrack to drain the excess water, and then I forgot to dry it with a towel. Each time I had some rust spots forming, especially on the middle of the handle where there is a rough surface, but also on the polished part of the blade. It was only surface rust that I managed to polish off. Once, I left it on my wet wooden cutting board, and now there is a dark stain on my board where the knife handle was in contact with the board and oxidized. I don't know if cast 440C is more corrosion prone than forged 440C, but based on my experience, I think you want something more corrosion resistant than 440C. Or make sure the blade is mirror polished. Especially if your gift recipient is not going to take special care of the knife and leave it wet.

My suggestion would be 440C because of the high chrome content, history as surgical instruments and personal experience. Properly heat treated and mirror polished the 440C is very durable.

I emphasize the mirror polished finish because the corrosion resistance of all stainless steels is enhanced by polishing.
This has a lot to do with the lack of crevices in which moisture can begin to work, technical liturature refers to them as corrosion sites. This protected site is often the starting area for corrosion, if you are unconvinced think back to how many corroded tangs you have seen on commercial products where the tangs have not been epoxied on. The blades look just fine but remove the handle and look at the corrosion.

PS I make kitchen knives for professional chefs.


My recent knife set from Madpoet is made from 440C. I figure it would do more kitchen duty than anything else and wanted something more stainless than the D2, as much as I like my D2 blades.

Some of the above comments make me think I made the right choice.

I got a kitchen paring knife from Mel Sorg mid-March of this year. Mel and I passed several e-mails and settled on a flat-ground D2 blade approximately 1/8" thick, blade about 5", overall 10", ironwood scales with 6 pins (just in case my wife decided to send it through the dishwasher). The blade is flat-ground to much closer than the final bevel than any other kitchen knife I have, and this is probably responsible for the very good cutting capability, both in a push-cut as well as a slice. It looks a lot like the Persian Fighter at It does not have a bolster and has a trifle more curve up toward the handle.
I also considered the material, D-2 vs. 440C vs. something more exotic, and finally determined on D-2 because of my previous very good experience with it's edge-holding abilities. Even if it's only 12% chromium, I've been pleased with it's corrosion resistance. As far as I know I've been able to keep it out of the dishwasher, and I'm pretty good at rinsing it off after use and putting it up on the magnet strip we use to hold the knives. I have NEVER been so meticulous as to dry it off on a dishtowel. I do usually give it a sling to get off the excess water before hanging it up. My wife is not NEARLY so meticulous - I've found it lying in the sink on numerous occasions. And once when I found it laying out it had some faint purplish-gray spots on it, almost like water-spots. Upon further inquiry I found it had been used around 24 hours ago to cut some lemons and probably not even rinsed, much less wiped. This, so far, is the only evidence of any discoloration on the blade. My total maintenance is some ren-wax about once a month, and that's primarily for the scales, although I do apply it to the blade also.
I've been using this knife as my primary kitchen knife since I got it, 4 months ago. It's been primarily used for veggies (onions, tomatoes, celery, etc.), but also used for deboning chickens, spareribs, lamb cutlets, and such general-purpose kitchen chores. I'd like to say I haven't had to sharpen it yet, but I have steeled it a dozen or so times and given it a whack with my Spyderco sharp-maker twice so far. There are, however, extenuating circumstances.
I suspect several of you are married, and have had conversations similar to mine with my wife concerning suitable cutting surfaces. After several discussions we have mutually agreed that plates are NOT a suitable substitute for a cutting board, and it's been some time since I've CAUGHT her at that. However, one should be a little more generic when discussing cutting surfaces with a non-knife wife. I did wander by the kitchen and find her using my Sorg kitchen knife to de-bone some large spare-ribs - in a Pyrex baking pan! So much for long-term sharpness retention testing 
The blade is a little thicker and stiffer than my previous favorite general-purpose veggie knives, the Spyderco micro-serrated 4" and 6" kitchen knives. But I got used to that quickly, and now the thinner knives feel somewhat insubstantial and frail. I've gotten used to the more precise control I get with a non-flexible blade.
One of the things I like best about the Sorg knife doesn't show up on any of the photos, and that's the grip. I do NOT like a guard on a kitchen knife, so a secure grip is important. The Sorg knife is secure in my hand even when it's been liberally covered with fat, as in slicing a pork roast away from the bone.

Goods and bads -
I'm PERFECTLY well pleased with my choice of D-2 as a kitchen material. In my experience, it does not require meticulous care, and the only 'corrosion' is some barely visible lemon-juice spots.
Due to the flat-grind 'almost' to the edge, it performs well with most kitchen chores. Also due to the very thin edge, I would NOT use it for heavy-duty chopping. But that's what I've got a cleaver for.
It performs well in dicing chores, but I still go for my Ulu for fine dicing, such as ginger, garlic, horseradish, or hot chilies, when I want REALLY small results (yeah, I know I should be using the grater for some of this, but if I just want a little . . .).
I've tried it on bagels. It works, but not really well. There are some things that just work better with serrated blades.
Overall, I'm very pleased with the knife. If I had it to do over, the only change I'd make would be the blade width. I find it convenient to use the blade as a carrier, transporting material from the cutting board to a bowl or pan, and the thin blade doesn't carry very much. Maybe next time . . .

Funny how much different your D-2 experiences are than mine. I just picked up around the house and noticed the Madpoet of D-2 I mentioned that I cut the melon with had a definite patina over its entire length just from sitting in the humid Iowa air. I think mine would be screwed if I used it in the kitchen like you do yours....maybe it has to do with the water chemical content? Maybe I'll start using one of my Madpoets for a while on a regular basis in the kitchen and see what happens. Worst case scenario is a light sanding, so big deal!

My Custom Kydex Sheath page
Palmer College of Chiropractic
On Two Wheels
I've seen this talked about over on the knifemaker's list too, and have seen recommendation for using everything from plain old high carbon (1095) to ATS-34. It is interesting though to sit here 'listening' to friends coming up with different conclusions, or touting different options, when I know where the blades came from!

If your major concern is corrosion resistance, but still have decent edge holding and ease of sharpening, 440C works. Plus, it is a relatively tough steel in comparison to ATS-34, with even better impact resistance than D-2. It gains a lot in the way of abrasion resistance and toughness from proper heat treating, including a cryo cycle. Its not the best at everything, but is relatively low maintenance for the performance, and is relatively easy to resharpen when it needs it.

If edge holding and toughness is a primary concern, and you still want good corrosion resistance, I'm still having good luck with the D-2. You can get it to patina if you put it away wet, or covered with something acidic, but its not much more than a surface discoloration. I let my blades discolor and quit worrying about them, since it will only go so far, then stop. I'm surprised that anyone got any flash rust on the surface of a blade.
The major difference from a high carbon steel blade is that there is no discernable 'taste' from the metal reacting with the food, and it is harder to resharpen. If you want something easy to sharpen, and that takes a good edge, and don't mind the funky appearance and sometimes apparent taste cutting some foods, high carbon steels are still very good performers.

While I like the performance of the 3V from what I've seen, I haven't yet used it enough to say how it would hold up in the kitchen. I've got a willing 'victim' that will be testing a blade for me here next month, then perhaps I can comment more on that.

Barry Dawson of Dawson Knives out of Colorado made me 2 paring knives(1-3",1-4"), and a chef knife out of 440-C which he has used exclusely for over 20 years for kitchen, tactical knives, and swords have have worked very well. I have had no problem with rusting, chipping, etc, in the 4 years I have owned them. Hold an edge very well, and he treats his at 56-58 RC.
I have tried ATS-34, and D-2 also, but the 440-C he uses in his knives have worked the best.
He doesn't do as many kitchen knives much any more, only on special order, and does primarily tactical knives, and swords.
My personal experience with his knives in 440-C have proven to be excellent.
Just my .02 cents.

Interesting question.

The knives that get used the most in this home are a Tim Wright 8" X 3/32 French chef's knife made from A2 with a gorgeous Cocobolo handle, a Tim Wright 4" x 3/32 (tapering down to nothing), desert ironwood handled paring knife with a slightly curved, Wharncliffe style blade and, last but not least, a hefty, Chinese style 5" x 9" cleaver in something that rusts if you're not careful to wipe it off. I have ceased trying to keep the cleaver shiny. The cleaver has the heft to chop bthrough bones and frozen stuff and in ten years has never chipped so I guess it's tough enough for the attacks I make on stuff!!! BTW my iron wok seems to hold up pretty good when seasoned with peanut oil. Is that the answer for kitchen cutlery maintenance instead of tuf cloth, wd40 and renaissance wax???

Every one on these takes and HOLDS and edge. Somehow we manage to wash them and then wipe them off before they get put away and corrosion is Never a problem. Maybe respecting an expensive tool is part of it.
I use a diamond steel to touch them up occasionally but hardly ever need to stone them - the slightly rougher dimond tool may give them the more desirable sawtooth edge so useful in the kitchen.
We have many other knives but these are the ones that get used a bunch. It helps that Tim's feel so good, smooth, light and balanced.

IMHO you might want to consider A2 for these babies. IT takes and holds a hell of an edge.

[This message has been edited by sharpsteel (edited 18 July 1999).]