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Encyclopedia

Hardness

Like Blade Material, Blade Hardness is an issue which is constantly debated. Generally, after forging, shaping, and other metal working is completed the hot metal (often red hot) is quickly cooled by quenching in oil, water, or other liquids (including super cooled liquids such as liquid carbon dioxide). This rapid cooling creates the crystalline structure in the metal which typifies the ?Hardness?. The greater the carbon content of the steel, the harder the final metal structure. Thus, ?Carbon Steels? are harder than ?Stainless Steels?. Excessive Hardness can be a problem, so quite often steel is tempered by reheating and gradual cooling to reduce the final Hardness to a desirable level.

Some things to note. The harder the steel is, the longer its edge retention; though at the expense of increased brittleness. Also, harder steel is, of course, harder to sharpen. Steels with a lower Hardness Rating (i.e. softer) will be less brittle and easier to sharpen; though they will become dull much quicker.

Stainless Steels commonly found in modern blades will have a Hardness Rating of RC 56 to 60. This is generally ?hard? enough for most common cutting, slicing, and carving purposes. Higher chromium content (higher stain resistance) will push the hardness down to RC 55. Although Carbon Steels are generally considered to be harder than Stainless Steels, the tempering process provides a final hardness rating of RC 52 to 58. Since Carbon Steels have better edge retention properties, they can be ?softer? and still function well.

So what is the best blade material? It really depends on how you will use and care for your blade. If you use your blade aggressively for digging, prying, and other non-cutting applications ? get carbon steel. If you have the ability and time to properly care for your blade after each use ? get carbon steel. If you want a blade which has the best edge retention ? get carbon steel. If you are the average blade user who isn?t planning on taking their blade to the limit ? get stainless steel. If you still can?t decide, get one of each and experiment for yourself.


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