What did we use before the “age of supersteels?”

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Nov 7, 2005
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6,079
back in the day?
probably happily ignorant with 420j surgical steel or something european called inox and not forgetting exotic oriental stainless china.. but then some marketing hype came along and messed things up with stories about super tech japanese steel called aus6; thanks to al mar!
but i figure it was benchmade and spyderco's ats-34 blades which heralded in the age of the steelsnobs...
 
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Hal

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Feb 26, 1999
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606
I like aus8 & 14c28n they are decent steels and have their place in fact I would like a Spyderco Shaman in 14c28n with red linen micarta scales- that being said my dad was born in1920 used a case large stockman or an old timer to process deer and other wildlife and for general use,I remember they were a carbon steel and would rust easily ,I would also wonder as a kid if they made a knife that didn't rust and why dad wasn't using it.
As do I!
Matter of fact, I love them more than ever now that they are considered "old junk" since the price reflects that image.

There's a treasure trove of very budget friendly knives that use both of those steels and some of the other steels that once were "super"..
 
Joined
Jan 14, 2007
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My first decent knife was a CRKT M16 which I think was AUS6. After that it was 154CM and D2. When I was a kid it was SAK with whatever steel they used.

Wasn't until I got my first Spyderco that I got "Super Steels" in the form of VG10 and S30V.
 

afishhunter

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Oct 21, 2014
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(US) Blade steels when I was young: 1095 and 440A. If you had a Buck 100 series, you had 440C. Round about High School 420HC showed up in knives that were 440A, and 440C became widely available. I remember even the $0.75 to $1.59 gas station special knife shaped objects c!aimed 440C. (if they really were 440C, they had a horrible (if any) heat treat)
 

The Mastiff

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"Out of curiosity, what blade styles and steels did our grandfathers use before the dawn of high edge retention stainless steels?"

I inherited a few of his knives after he passed and they were all inexpensive knives he bought for a dollar or less and used until they were used up or broken. He had knives such as Imperial Jackmaster, Ideal, and some no name imports I think are Japanese. Most were carbon steel. It fits with his tastes in pretty much everything. He was modest and very frugal. That was common in his generation. He had a family to feed during and after the great depression and there were no stimulus payments or help available. For a while he shuttered his small farm and packed up everything and moved with the extended family to California where there were jobs available. He and his came back to Ohio and some of the family stayed in California.

He would have considered me soft in the head for buying expensive tool steel Spydercos for $140 and up. I have a decent sized collection of the old knives and still put a few in my pockets and use them. Those thin carbon steel blades sharpen easily and cut well. Not much abrasive wear resistance on rope and such but for some things like whittling they do pretty well.
 

Peter Hartwig

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Feb 29, 2008
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I have never put that much thought into steel. I leave that up to the maker, for the most part. The knives of my youth(Case, Buck, SAK & Gerber) all cut just fine. What was lacking was my sharpening skills, which have vastly improved. For most people and their uses, I don't believe this steel or that will make a huge difference.
and certainly not if it just sits in a drawer
for reference I am 67, so likely what is being referred to as grandfather. If we go back to my grandfather we are in the latter 1/2 of 1800's and I don't remember him ever complaining about blade steel.
 
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not2sharp

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Probably used sharpening stones more often. ;)
There nothing wrong with that. Just how much cutting would you want to do in a session? A lot of the steel snob attitude seems to come from people who are terrified by the prospect of ever sharpening a knife. I remember the old time neighborhood butcher or hunters just stopping every so often to touch up their knives before continuing. They were back at it in under 30 seconds and nobody cared.

n2s
 
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Apr 30, 2020
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Well......I can't say new super steel haven't got my interest.
For EDC light use the new steels will keep a nice edge and less problem with corrosion.
Although most of my knives are D2, 440 and I bought an Ontario RAT 1 in AUS8 as a easy to sharpen beater knife.
 

Lesknife

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Mar 31, 2018
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Back in the 1960s and 70s I didn’t know much about knife steels. As a kid I remember men at the local hardware store talking about carbon steel and stainless. The old timers didn’t like the fancy and shiny stainless steel, to soft, they said carbon steel was the better, took a better edge. Then someone asked about tool steel. It got quite for a minute or so then our local blacksmith Yule Kohler asked, which one ? Lol.
I think they all spit in unison. Eyebrows raised and all eyes on him. Yule just turned and walked out the door. Lol. My dad snorted and chuckled, we had the nails and insulators we needed so we left. I’m sure there was quite a discussion after we left, wish we could have stayed to hear it.
I know Ole Yule made a few knives and shears and other tools using old files and rasps and some tool steel, don’t know which, but what I’d give to have one now. He knew more about different metals, heat treatment and how to employ them than most university professors and was awarded an honorary doctorate in metallurgy from Oklahoma state.
 

tiguy7

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Jun 25, 2008
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Haynes Stellite has been around since the 1920’s, and it’s still used to coat the edge of bulldozer blades and make premium knife blades. It’s not steel though, it’s about 1/2 Chrome and 1/2 Cobalt.
 

marchone

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Mar 13, 2013
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I remember the old time neighborhood butcher or hunters just stopping every so often to touch up their knives before continuing. They were back at it in under 30 seconds and nobody cared.

And the steel dust off was wiped off on the meat they were cutting.

I have never put that much thought into steel. I leave that up to the maker, for the most part.

This. I will leave the steel selection to a good knife maker If I’m commissioning a custom knife. They know more about the subject than I care to learn. If I have a choice in a production knife I might, or might not, choose a more expensive option depending on its intended use. Stainless vs carbon steel is an elementary example.

"Geometry cuts. Steel and heat treat determine for how long."

This may be the best quote I’ve seen in my years on BladeForums.
 
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MolokaiRider

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Sep 13, 2017
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4,609
"Out of curiosity, what blade styles and steels did our grandfathers use before the dawn of high edge retention stainless steels?"

I inherited a few of his knives after he passed and they were all inexpensive knives he bought for a dollar or less and used until they were used up or broken. He had knives such as Imperial Jackmaster, Ideal, and some no name imports I think are Japanese. Most were carbon steel. It fits with his tastes in pretty much everything. He was modest and very frugal. That was common in his generation. He had a family to feed during and after the great depression and there were no stimulus payments or help available. For a while he shuttered his small farm and packed up everything and moved with the extended family to California where there were jobs available. He and his came back to Ohio and some of the family stayed in California.

He would have considered me soft in the head for buying expensive tool steel Spydercos for $140 and up. I have a decent sized collection of the old knives and still put a few in my pockets and use them. Those thin carbon steel blades sharpen easily and cut well. Not much abrasive wear resistance on rope and such but for some things like whittling they do pretty well.
My Mother gave me some of her grandfather's pocket knives after he passed. They were all pretty cheap and mostly broken. I'll see if I can dig them up and snap a pic.
 
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Joined
Jul 23, 2021
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We're in the most spoiled time for knife steels. No sooner has someone made a claim for the new greatest super steel than a new one comes along. I once thought my Spyderco Walker with its Aus-8 steel was all that and a bag of chips. I didn't have any complaints.

People certainly used to have to be on more familiar terms with their whetstones before the super steel craze happened.

We're at a point now where a lot of us are demanding the equivalent of a Ferrari 250 GTO to drive to the store to pick up groceries. For a lot of what most people's daily knife needs are you could take the sharp top of a can of tuna, cover half of it to protect your hand, and it would do the job. You'd also be more popular with cats...
 
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