Liquid Metal is here! well at least some prototypes

Apr 30, 2001
The first official Liquid Metal (LM1) knives have been finished. I just finished up a batch of 10 knives for a Board of Directors meeting Tuesday afternoon. They will be picked up sometime early in the morning.

A little background on the LM1 saga.

Earlier this year I ran into the info below (in red) and decided that I would like see if LM1 had any promise for a knife material.

New Metal Alloy Is Super Strong.
NEW YORK (AP) - July 5, 2002 -It could be the new superhero of metals.

More than twice as strong as titanium and steel, it doesn't rust and it can be cast like plastic and honed to an edge as sharp as glass.

The fruit of a 1992 discovery at the California Institute of Technology, the alloy, called Liquidmetal, has already been used in golf clubs. And it may soon show up in cell phone casings, baseball bats and scalpels.

Liquidmetal Technologies, the Lake Forest, Calif. company that is trying to commercialize the alloy, is not shy about calling it revolutionary.

"It combines uniquely a material with exceptional properties and the ability to process the material to exceptional shapes," says Dr. Michael Ashby, professor of engineering at Cambridge University in Britain and an advisor to the company.

Liquidmetal's surprising properties come of a structure different from ordinary metals.

When a conventional metal cools, it forms grains, each a small crystal where the atoms are oriented in a grid. The boundaries between these grains are a metal's weak points ? it's where cracks can form and rust starts, for instance.

Scientists discovered in 1959 that if some alloys are cooled very quickly the atoms don't have time to form crystals. Instead, they remain jumbled, as in a liquid or in glass.

However, the only way to cool the molten metal fast enough was to make it in thin strips or as a sprayed coating. The strips couldn't be joined, because they were hard to forge, and heat allowed the atoms to crystallize again.

Because of their unique magnetic properties, the strips still found use in the anti-theft tags used by retail stores and in electrical transformers. The metal was also used to spray-coat oil drill pipes to protect them from wear.

In 1992, Dr. William Johnson and Dr. Atakan Pekers at the Caltech discovered a way around the cooling problem.

They made an alloy of elements that fit very poorly together: titanium, copper, nickel, zirconium and beryllium. These elements' atoms are of different sizes so they don't readily form crystals, even when cooled slowly. Pieces up to an inch thick could now be made.

Liquidmetal Technologies seized on the opportunity, and together with Caltech and Howmet Metal Mold of Whitehall, Mich., developed casting techniques.

In the mold, Liquidmetal reveals another quality: it doesn't shrink when it solidifies. Ordinary metals do, meaning the product is rough out of the mold and needs machining.

"What happens with Liquidmetal, in essence, is that you can form parts sort of the way you form plastics," says John Kang, chief executive of Liquidmetal Technologies.

Liquidmetal can be cast with a precision down to 1 micron, or 1/25,000th of an inch, according to Johnson, now an advisor to Liquidmetal Technologies. Given a good die, it is possible to cast a scalpel blade and have it come sharp out of the mold.

Liquidmetal Technologies' first product was golf club heads, because of another exotic property of the metal: it transfers more of the club's energy to the ball than steel or titanium, at least in theory.

But golf equipment is a fiercely competitive field, and Liquidmetal has since decided to stop making its own clubs and is working instead with major golf club manufacturers because, in Kang's words "we came to the realization that we are not in the consumer products industry."

At the same time, it is looking to expand the uses for the alloy. Using money from an initial public offering in May, it is building a factory in South Korea ( news - web sites) to make, primarily, casings for cell phones.

While cell phones are not the first use that comes to mind for a super-strong metal, Kang says Liquidmetal's strength and ease of casting makes it ideal.

"Cell phone makers want to go smaller and thinner ... we create an ability for cell phones to be smaller than any other material," he says. The project has attracted interest from cell phone giants Motorola and Samsung.

Liquidmetal Technologies is also working with Rawlings on baseball bats and HEAD on skis, for much the same reason they tried their hand on golf clubs ? Liquidmetal gives good bounce.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is also investigating several different uses of the alloy. One project is looking at using it in armor-piercing shells as a replacement for depleted uranium, which has been a focus of health and environmental concerns.

For all its promise, Liquidmetal is still largely untried, which is why the company is concentrating on industries where there is a readiness to explore the new.

John Perepezko, professor of materials science at the University of Wisconsin, says making sports equipment is a safer place to start, than, for instance, the aircraft industry.

"Nobody is going to fall out of the sky, no ship is going to sink if you make a mistake," he says. "If you break a golf club, you usually brag about being too strong, rather than blame it on a weak club."

Then there's the issue of heat.

Much like glass, Liquidmetal softens when heated ? the earliest alloy at about 750 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, steel becomes malleable at about 2,100 degrees. Some newer amorphous alloys are, however, much more resistant to heat, Johnson says.

Cost also limits Liquidmetal. The raw materials run at $10 to $15 a pound, about as much as titanium, while aluminum costs about 50 cents a pound.

Caltech researchers are trying to create alloys consisting of cheaper metals.

"If we can make a processable amorphous iron alloy with a raw material cost of a dollar a pound, it could be an enormously pervasive material," Johnson says. "It could even make its way into cars."

Perepezko, who is not affiliated with Liquidmetal Technologies, believes that even at its present cost, the alloy is likely to see widespread use once its reliability has been proven.

"It's not going to replace the aluminum in soda cans, it just doesn't work that way. But in critical applications, it will happen. Perhaps the most important use out there is one we can't imagine yet," he says.

At first the company was pretty resistant to providing me with any material to work with. But, after alot of phone calls and red tape I got my bars.

Since that start there have been at least 2 dozen knives made from the stuff. Many went to CalTec or Korea for "offical" testing but many also stayed with me for some "un-offical" testing. Together with another maker I put this stuff through hell. We sliced quarters in half, pieced even more quarters with the tip, dug big holes in 2Xs, chopped through Elk Antlers and lots of other fun stuff. We finally decided that it was time to put it on film (otherwise no one would believe us). On the tape we cut through 500ft of three ply carboard, made 100 push cuts through 1" manilla, chopped through a 2X4 four times and even cut through a Goodyear tire. We tried to butcher a cow but could not convince the cow to get in the truck with us. The blade still shaved up to the point of cutting up the tire. After the tire's steel belts the blades edge was dulled but it still sliced paper cleanly. Later that day we decided it would be a good idea to cut up some steel paint cans (x4). After that the blade needed some sharpening.

The tape has not yet been edited but I am hoping to have it going by Expo. All the test results show that LM1 blows all the other non-magnetic blade materials out of the water. I would even say that the LM1 blade I have been carrying for several months would be the equal of steels such as 440C or ATS. But thats just me and is not backed by any lab results.

But tommorow is the big day. All the test results will be reviewed by the entire board and they will decide what to do with the info. Well here is a photo of six of the ten proto types. These are not the actual designs being proposed but are just working LM1 blades based on my current models. I am hoping to have models for sale by Expo but that is up to LMTs Board.

The future is looking bright for blades!
Veery interesting Ron. I remember reading an article on this stuff awhile ago and was wondering about its application as far as knives was concerned. The problem at that time was cost. this material was really pricey. The article mentioned that the company that came up with liquid metal thought that they could get the price way down. Have they been successful?

Is it possible to heat treat this material? In the article there was something about liquid metal not handling high temperatures very well.
Mr. Clark,

I'm a little confused on one item. In the red quote you have:

"Because of their unique magnetic properties, the strips still found use in the anti-theft tags"

and then later you have:

"LM1 blows all the other non-magnetic blade materials out of the water"

Could you expand on this? What are the unique magnetic properties?

Also what type of edge treatment did these knives have and did you notice any problem with micro-chipping when put under heavy use?


Thanks Mr. Clark for taking the initiative on this potential new knife material. A few questions:

Have hardness and toughness tests been performed on Liquid Metal? Rockwell hardness, impact toughness, etc. What is the density of LM1?

When LM1 does fail (for instance bending a knife blade until it breaks) how does it fracture? Hopefully it does not shatter like glass does.

Would you sharpen LM1 in the same way as conventional steel knives? Would all existing sharpening equipment work (sharpening steels, water stones, leather strops, etc.)?

Does LM1 have iron in the mix, or will it be rustproof like Talonite? Are there different compositions of Liquid Metal targeted for specific characteristics?

Any news on the electrical characteristics of LM1? I'm curious how conductive a grain-free alloy would be.

I know these questions may not be answerable immediately but they would help me to get an idea of how this stuff performs in terms us knife nuts understand. Thanks again!
Feels good to finally say more I bet, eh Ron? :p Hope you have the best of luck with it.

What sort of expense are we looking at? More then Stellite/Talonite? Less then ceramics? Inquiring minds want to know. I'm not looking for a price quote either, just a ballpark figure.

It really is very interesting stuff indeed. The fact that it is castable is the most exciting aspect. We will be able to build into the blade alot of features that either had to be milled or added on in the past.

Keith, it needs no heat treating. Heat is no more an issue than with a normall steel in use. It is in the making that it is a critical issue. If the material is allowed to to get to 350c the material will start to crystalize and will become brittle. The protos are the only ones that will be ground. In the future 99.9% will be cast and ready to go out of the mold so the heat build up from machining will not be an issue. Right now I just grind it slow and with no gloves. As soon as it get warm it gets dunked.

WTFOver, it is completely non-magnetic. However, just like all other non-magnetic allows it does have a signature. It shows up like a strobe light when checked with metal detectors. That is why it makes such a good anti-theft device. When it passes through the security gate it leaves a very obviuos signature pattern that is easy to seperate from other matallic items.

SteelDriver, it has been throughly tested for all its properties by many many labs, including some military labs. What all the tests are I am not quite sure. I do know that the RC is 50 and it is tough as nails. To drill four holes I use up 3 cobalt bits on average (1/8" stock). It also ruined my best center punch when I first tried to mark drill locations (blunted it the first stroke!). Also consider that the military is now having its anti armor sabot rounds made from this stuff!

I have tested it to failure several times. It is surprisingly flexable. I bent one bar to about 60deg and it bounced right back like it was never bent. When it does fail it is a clean snap. There is no shattering at all. The only thing to watch for in breaking is that, just like any other form of glass, it will leave sharp edges at the break.

It sharpens just like Talonite does. Regular systems such as the Lansky or Sharpmaker work just fine. One special note on shapening. In testing we found that it responds best to a rather toothy edge. I found this odd being that it was technically a glass and it should do well with a very fine edge. The fine edges seemed to slide off the material rather than to cut into it. If you pushed striaght into it it cut great, but it was awful for slicing. We have ended up sharpining them with a 120grit belt and the edge cuts till the cows come home (and then some).

LM1 has no iron at all in its make up. It is completely rust proof. The R+D dept showed me a list of exposure tests it had done and only one thing came close to touching it, and that is bleach. The only reason they tested it with bleach was because a washing machine company wanted to use LM1 for some internal high wear parts. But they found that bleach attacks the nickle in the alloy. It does not harm the materials strengh but it makes it look pretty ugly with a whole lota black specks.

LM1 is super conductive! As it was explained to me, resistance in a alloy is caused by the grain boundries interfering with the transfer of energy from one particle to the next. Since LM1 has no grain structure at all there is zero resistance in the material. That is the main reason why it shows up so well to metal detectors.
Sid, Price? Now that is one area that I have not been able to nail them down on. It has been driving me nuts. I do know that it will be less than Talonite or Ti.

However there is a big catch. There is the cost of the mold to consider. LMT does not want to sell just plain plate material. They want to sell a semi finished product. They have not yet decided how they want to handle that aspect.

The one thing that is sure is that they do not want to produce knives for sale to the public. It is the same issue as with the golf clubs. They are not in the business of making finished products. They want to make parts, that is all. ie "We don't make knives, we make knives better"

Oh and for all you gear heads out there. Keep your eyes open for anodized (yes LM1 will anodize) LM1 cell phone cases. They are currently producing something like 10 thousand cases per month for Samsung, with Motorolla and Nokia just signing up. Also look for some baseball bats, laptop computor housings, range finders, scopes and a whole mess of other cool toys as well.

Now if I can get them to make a Spacepen body?????
good luck on this one Ron! yep it is big biz, i hope your able to secure something for your labors.:)
I have heard that liquid metal can be a combination of many different alloys. There would probably be quite a few that would make great knife blades. This is very interesting. I had no idea that we would so quickly see it being experimented with in the knife industry.
There are currently 3 types of LM that I know of. LM1, LM2 and the mysterious LM3. LM1+2 I have worked with but LM3 I can not even get into the same room with. Any other combinations seem to be theory only.

LM2 does out perform LM1 but it will be a few years before it is ready for marketing. I know nothing about LM3. Like I said, they keep it locked up in the lab and no one outside that Dept gets in to see it.

I have been getting e-mails about knife pricing. Please understand that we are not to that point yet. No knives are currently for sale. Once the board makes its desicions and sets a price for LM1 then I can start setting pricing. But it is still possible that this whole thing is taken out of my hands and moved to the Korea factory.

I have taken some still images from the Aug. testing video and will post them in the afternoon.

What is that I smell?
NASTY:barf: :barf:.

Some real (selected) physical proporties:

                    lm1   lm2
Yield Stregth (ksi) 220   290
Hardness (Hra 60kg) 70    76
Charpy (ft-lb)      18    6

note: 70 Hra ~ 34 Hrc
76 Hra ~ 50 Hrc
conversion from Rockwell A to C based on conversion chart

physical proporties source: caltech

So we have reasonable YS, low hardness, very brittle.

Not better than common blade and/or tool steels.

well its real nice for you to drop in and straighten us out on Rons motives and the true specs of this material:yawn: Ron was reporting his findings in field testing as a KNIFEMAKER! and posible use's for this metal. welcome to the forums enjoy!

Welcome to Blade Forum. I hope that you find as much enjoyment and enlightenment here as I have experienced.

Your first post here seems very specific, terse and negative. I am at least somewhat familiar with the other contributors to this very interesting thread from their contributions in other threads on various subjects and have found them to be knowledgable and congenial. I have no such previous experience to help me weigh your contribution.

What qualifications prompt your authoritative assertions? Do you have an unstated interest in this matter that would account for the nature and tone of your post?

I ask these questions because I am here to learn, have no expertise on the subject myself and just don't know what to make of your post.

Ron's motives are unknown. The physical proporties of the material are known.

Please do not misrepresent my words. No personal slight was intended.

Note that "KNIFEMAKERS" are skilled craftsmen; neither gods nor infalable.


I have personally found this forum to both educational and informative.

My qualifications:
BS Metallurgical Engineering, UMR

My only interest in this matter stems from a lifelong interest in knowledge.

The "tone" of my post was a reaction the the overly positive (mis)represetation of this material.

This material (metallic glass) is truly interesting to me personally. Unfortunatly, based on all the research I have been able to find all of the current comercial alloys do not have the right combination of physical proporties for the construction of high quality knife blades.

If an alloy is developed with about this level of yeild strength, a hardness of 55+ Hrc and a 20+ ft-pound Charpy this situation would be much different.

This is not to say that metglass is a usless material. Its most usefull current applications seem to be in transformer cores and trendy golf clubs.
"The "tone" of my post was a reaction the the overly positive (mis)represetation of this material."

You had better be willing to say that to my face boy! I do not like being called a liar! Unless you are willing to back up your slander I suggest you go back into your troll hole and stop the keyboard commando junk!

Considering your qualifications, you don't know jack ****!

I have had this stuff in my hands for almost a year now and have been working with it on a daily basis. You just read some numbers. Sounds like another Cliff Stamp slamming materials out of hand.

Actually, considering when this person decided to make his first post, I would say he is connected to Talonite or Stellite and has a personal agenda with the defeat of a replacement alloy.

Tell ya what new comer. Let the market decide which one of us is full of it. Several other well respected knifemakers have also helped me with testing. They have the same thoughts on the material that I do. I have notified them as to the presence of this thread and they will chime in when they have the time.