What To Know About Steel Blades | Jonas Blade

What To Know About Steel Blades

More than two million years ago, our early ancestors began using rocks as tools. These were initially simple and unrefined, mainly used for blunt impact work, but over the millennia they evolved into much more specific and elegant forms, including sharp cutting tools. Stone remained the pinnacle of material technology all the way up until about five thousand years ago, when humans began working metals and discovered bronze. Bronze was the order of the day for another two thousand years or so until the Iron Age began and steel eventually took over. 


Here is what we will talk about:

Transitioning From Bronze To Steel 

Properties Of Steel

Types Of Steel 


Transitioning From Bronze To Steel 

The simplest explanation for why bronze took over for stone and steel took over for bronze is also the correct one: each subsequent material made better tools. After all, you can whack something with a stone just fine, but if you want to do much cutting, we all know that steel blades will out-cut and outlast anything else. 


The transition from stone blades into bronze blades represented more than just new versions of the same tools that would cut better; they were no longer dependent on finding rocks of the right size and shape, and they could take a much finer edge. Metal tools were also much more durable than stone tools, and they could be reworked or mended more readily as well. Steel blades and tools were perhaps less of a seismic shift from bronze than bronze was from stone, but their capabilities outstrip their predecessors by miles and miles. 


Where stone blades would chip and break, bronze blades would dull. This is where steel blades will keep on cutting. There is no such thing as a blade that will never dull or break, but steel blades represent the most rugged and versatile cutting tools we can make. 


Properties Of Steel

Steel has a unique feature beyond its overall durability and performance that makes it particularly useful as a blade: the way it hardens. Most metal is hardened by essentially disrupting its otherwise-relaxed crystalline structure and can be tested somewhere between 55 and 66 Hardness Rockwell C, or HRC. This essentially builds tougher “scar tissue” that can hold up better as an edge and is done by a gradual process called “work hardening”, which deforms the material. This is very similar to how steel blades are hardened by quenching (which, intriguingly, is how you soften most other metals), and this process traps excess carbon within its crystalline structure of the metal, giving it not only hardness, but also remarkable toughness resistance to oxidation. 


The properties of a steel blade can be varied by the rate at which the steel is heated and cooled, and also by the elemental composition of the material itself. Steel is by definition, a combination of iron and carbon (in the right proportion), but it can also have things like chromium, nickel, vanadium, manganese, or others added in. Some alloys are better suited to impact resistance, while others may take a harder, finer edge. Some steel variants are resistant to oxidation, and you’ll know these alloys as “stainless steel” and “carbon steel”. Not all can be used for blades, but those that can are truly remarkable. 


Types Of Steel 

There are several different types of steel including 

  • Stainless steel, which is most commonly used and is forgiving no matter what your skill level is. Its hardness ranges from 50 to 55 HRC. 


  • Powder stainless steel, while similar to stainless steel, has a different hardness as talked about above in properties. Hardness can range between 58 to 61 HRC.


  • Carbon steel, as the name suggests, has high amounts of carbon and is not as resistant to oxidation as other types of steel. Therefore, it must be oiled after every use, which is primarily used as a high sushi knife. One can expect a hardness between 56 to 58 HRC.


  • Damascus steel, which I am primarily known to use, has a unique wavy pattern on the blade itself. This is usually the most expensive of all the steel blades since it is created at a high temperature with a special seal to increase resistance to oxidation. 


Want to see examples of carbon steel blades? 


Take a look at Jonas Blade’s Culinary Collection!


About The Author

Zack Jonas was born and raised in Massachusetts in the 1980’s and is still a New Englander today. With his growing love for art over the years, he took an introductory bladesmithing class at MASSart. It was there that he learned one of his most valuable lessons, which is that everyone has some insight worth learning. Today, he is a full-time bladesmith and feels incredibly fortunate to have found his calling.