Steak knives?

May 21, 1999
OK, I’ve had this idea for a while and Frank Norman’s post has rekindled it. I’ve approached Newt Livesay, Steve Mullin (both by e-mail with no response) and shopped around everywhere for six double ground, plain Jane, 7”+OA-3”+ blade neck knives, suitable to use as steak knives. Now suitable, to me, means dishwasher safe (maybe Flitz now and then) and cost around $30 something each. Unfortunately, 1095 is out because it will probably rust, but ATS34 or 440C I think would do just fine.

Now, the prices for steel at Admiral for ATS and 440 are about double that of 1095. So if Newt can make a plain, no frills neck knife out of 1095 for $20 something why can’t you make premium stainless for $30 something given that the main cost is labor which should be a static amount? <= (I know, run on sentence) Plus, if you buy quantity, I’ll buy six or even a dozen, the production charges should be less. I’m not trying to be cheap but I don’t want to pay a bazillion dollars for a bunch of sharp butter knives.

Now the fun part of this flight of fancy is that I can sharpen to my little hearts desire and eat steak gleefully with every slice.
I think the reason they don't respond is: The price you want to pay isn't reasonable at all.

First the steel might not cost that much more but the cost in time and materials (sanding belts,etc.) is much higher.
Secondly, The cost of heat treating ATS-34 is much!!!! higher than for 1095, 5160, etc. The warpage factor and loss rate is also much higher.
What would scare me off is the "dishwasher safe" condition.

The only materials that I would recognize as dishwasher safe is injection moulded polyethylene or polypropolyne. All others usually discolour or disintegrate in the nigh heat and harsh detergents used in the dishwasher. Even good old bulletproof micarta will begin to bleach and surface crack in time.


[This message has been edited by george tichbourne (edited 02 August 1999).]
The really tough stainless steels are much more expensive to work than 1095. I would guess that more of your price differential for the premium steels comes from premium fabrication than from the steel itself.

A logical choice for a dishwasher safe handle is cast aluminum. I used to have some Gerber steak knives that were made that way. I don't generally go for the really sharp and really hard steak knives as they are hard on the plates. My "show' steak knives come from the stainless flatware company that makes the rest of my good silverware. They are made completely from stainless steel. I give my guests good enough meat that I don't need razors for them to cut with. My cheapo steak knives (that the kids use every day) are sheet metal stuck in wood. I get them for about $1.00 a set at garage sales and I use them for a year and throw them away.
George and Jeff, I’m talking about a handless(no scales), neck knife style, cut out piece of steel. Why can't a solid piece of ATS go through a dishwasher; I’ve read 440V can? Have you tried it?
In that case almost any of the current stainless knife steels will do the job. The heat in the dish washer will dry the blade quickly enough to virtually eliminate tarnishing. Mirror finish will improve the tarnish resistance even more. Even 440 C does a wonderful job here, it stands up very well in autoclaves which after all are not much more than very hot dish washers without detergents.

In a handle less configuration your target of $30 becomes reasonable depending on design features.


[This message has been edited by george tichbourne (edited 02 August 1999).]
George, if your interested, please let me know. If not, do you know anyone who would be? E-mail me if you want.
Oops, I didn't realize you were talking handless. It still seems like you're going for awfully hard steel for use on plates. I would expect 440C to be plenty of steel for the purpose with a lot of chrome for stain resistence. The common wisdom of the commercial outfits is that 440A or AUS-6 would be best if you worry about minor stains on the blades. For example Kershaw uses both AUS-8 and AUS-6 in their blades, but only AUS-6 for their kitchen knives. I prefer AUS-6 and AUS-8 to the 440 series since the AUS alloys contain vanadium and are easier to get razor sharp. For a kitchen knife I prefer AUS-8, but almost any alloy will roll the edge on a ceramic plate and damage the plate in the process.

Softer and duller is probably the practical approach, say AUS-6. You can more easily restore the edge with this alloy. This is one of the reasons why I wouldn't make custom steak knives.

Have you looked at the David Boye Basics. They are handless knives made of cast 440C. The casting process leaves a dendritic grain structure to the steel that cuts meat better than any other stainless alloy. They come in sizes that would work for steak knives. The smallest costs about $42.00 each at blowout knives. See link:
Thanks Jeff, I've looked at Boye Basics, they're too expensive and the $42 one is much too small. Like I said in my original post, I've shopped around. There is nothing out there that will work.

You do bring up a good point about the ceramic being damaged though, I hadn't thought about that. A8 would be fine too, but I think if 440C is do-able I'm going with that. Not sure if I buy that 440A will hold up as well as 440C as far as edge retention against a ceramic plate, IMHO. Dishes are cheaper than knives and don't last nearly as long.
Dishes can easily cost as much as your steak knife budget. If they're family heirlooms they are virtually priceless. If you have a wife who prizes them highly they can be worth your scalp. Your knives can destroy the finish on many dishes. The knives can be sharpened while I don't know anyone who reglazes plates. I've tried to use polishing compounds and buffing, but have never managed to 'fix' a plate with knife scratches. My wife had a business buying and selling old plates. We tried to fix some, but to no avail.

I'm not really suggesting you get butter-soft steel to protect plates. You just have to live with a certain plate-marring hazard. Don't serve steak on family heirlooms. You clear those off the table and use a simple white plate etc. when you bring out the big beef.
PS. The plates that get cut the most are oval platters that people use to serve meats. The knives that scratch them are carving knives with Rockwell=56 or less.
Thanks JC, but I'm probably not going to use them with my Lennox(sp?) Tuxedo china or the Mary Alice Hadley stoneware but the Target brand, everyday service for 12, that costs around $45 for everything including bowls, cups and saucers, and breaks about one of something every other month is expendable. We replace the everyday stuff after four or five years anyway, and I guarantee these knives will last the rest of my life.

What about the fact that a sharper, harder edge knife should cut more efficiently and one would not have to saw so hard down into the plate? I don’t’ know! I’ll let you know how they work out, George is interested and we will see what happens.