Carbon steel is the primary form of steel, the thousands of different formulas that steel takes are all the result of the purpose for which the steel is intended to be used. For instance your car engine is bolted together with hardened steel bolts and nuts. All of the parts must work together with the same strength tolerances. If the bolts are of lesser strength than the nuts, or the frame steel is weaker than the motor mounts or vice versa something is going to break with all the vibration that occurs in a basic engine. The leaf springs are of different tolerances than the engine block, they have to flex to produce a smooth ride. Finally in many places in your car things turn and spin on ball bearings; perfectly round, encased in a special grooved sleeve these little balls enable the whole engine to work flawlessly.
The same story is true with regard to knives, a good knife has to be strong enough to do the job of cutting, flexible enough to bend ever so slightly in your hand as you cut and sharp enough to get the work finished. The addition of trace elements to the steel may enhance the look of the knife, but may not necessarily do anything for the performance. The excess chromium in my Dexter knife was for the purpose of keeping rust off the knife. That addition took away from it’s ability to keep a sharp edge or even to be sharpened.
Recently an American “master smith” has collaborated with a major knife manufacturer J A Henckels, Japan. Bob Kramer fulfilled a life long dream and learned how to make extremely sophisticated pattern welded knives. After an article about his abilities hit the airwaves via “Saveur Magazine,” Bob’s business took off at maximum speed. In a short while, he had four years worth of custom knives on his order books. In the 10 years since the article was published the demand for a personally manufactured “Bob Kramer” chef knife has grown far beyond his ability to keep up with it. His knives are now sold by a and these one of a kind functional collectors items sell for several hundred dollars an inch. I wrote about his first joint venture with Kai Shun knives a year ago. In that deal he made his style of knives available by license to Shun and they provided the steel formula which was pattern welded VG20 steel.
In his new collaboration with J A Henckels Zwilling Japan they are using pure carbon steel. Here is the interesting twist to all of this; the steel that he decided to use is basic tool grade steel. He selected it because of its durability and fine grain structure, and when you go to the steel chart in the part one to look up 52100 steel they also mention that the main usage for this steel is in the manufacture of ball bearings. With this selection of high grade carbon steel he choose a steel that has an already proven record of durability; yes bearings do wear out, but only rarely after many thousands of miles worth of service.
I could go further, but rather than read, you should watch the videos below which do a much better job of explaining than I could. Bob Kramer is a master blade smith, his knives are so much in demand that getting one of his personally made knives will be an expensive proposition. His new Henckels Zwilling line is very competitively priced for high end knives they are available at Surlatable and probably other places where fine knives are sold.
Take a look at them the next time you get a chance,
they are awesome,
have become one of my next goals
for needed kitchen improvements.
Thanks for reading,
The Fire Inside
Carbon Steel Bob Kramer
Honing and Stoning your Knife
Knife maker to the World