After more than thirty years successfully forging stainless steel knives, I still find it hard to believe the controversy still exists. For the many, many customers who own and use Sean McWilliams forged stainless steel knives, there is no doubt, my knives have superior balance, edge holding and cutting power. I have many, many testimonials to the superior performance of my forged stainless knives, see the Testimonials page on this website. So this article is for the rest of you muggles out there who missed my articles published through the early to mid ’90’s in Fighting Knives Magazine, or maybe weren’t even born yet. So why do I forge stainless knives? Reason #1 is because I can. I started forging stainless steels in the early ’70’s, long before any self-styled Master Bladesmiths said “You can’t forge stainless.” Even if they had told me that, I wouldn’t have listened anyway. At that time I was forging carbon steel blades. They cut very nicely, stayed sharp, but rusted, darkened and left a bad taste in my mouth and dark streaks on white cheese. Eeuwgh!, Dude.
My first #forgedstainlessknives were forged from 440C stainless, a definite improvement. Held an edge about like an average carbon steel, and didn’t rust or darken very much. In the mid ’80’s I was forging the Japanese ATS-34 stainless. ATS-34 had somewhat more carbon and chromium than 440C and considerably better sharpness and edge retention. About 1986 or so, Crucible came out with the first Particle Metallurgy Steels. T440V Stainless was a quantum leap over any other knifemaking steels. More than twice the edge holding of ATS-34, but nearly impossible to sharpen if not properly heat treated, “Clipits” came out in T440V but were quickly discontinued because nobody could sharpen them. I had just one forged T440V knife commercially heat treated by one of the best heat treaters, thinking it would be an improvement over my primitive forge method-WRONG! I couldn’t get an edge on it, even on a belt machine. Because hardening and tempering is so critical, I always do my own. Since that time more steel manufacturers have adopted Particle Metallurgy and there is a wider selection of these steels. Three years ago, I started using Crucible’s S35VN. This steel is very high-alloy with a third more carbon than ATS-34 and one and a half times as much edge holding. So, now I use only S35VN, T440V, and some T420V (S90.)
Cutting to the test results, I use 1″ hemp rope for my tests, kind of a recognized standard. Starting with a sharp! blade, I make cuts 1″ apart in the same area of the blade until the edge loses it’s bite (won’t make hair “pop” off my arm.) Scroll down for the photos.
In the first photo, a stock removal knife of 440C made 10 cuts, a similar blade of forged 440C (not pictured) made 15 cuts, a definite improvement, but not worth bragging about. ATS-34 made 80 cuts in the same material (not pictured) In the second photo, a PF-5 forged of S35VN made 120 cuts, now that’s worth bragging about.
The third photo shows a PF-5 in forged T440V that made 180 cuts! That’s 15 feet of 1″ hemp rope, enough to tie up the competition!
In the fourth photo, a PF-7 blade of T440V is bent past 30 degrees and sprung back straight, the forged narrow tang and differentially tempered blades are plenty strong to take this abuse repeatedly.
In the fifth photo, I’m using a forged stainless PF-7 to cut a 1″ hemp rope in a single stroke freely hanging over a 2×4, there’s a bit of a trick to it, the wrist snap and body position. But the knife must be properly balanced, flat ground and super sharp. The sixth photo shows a PF-5 forged from S35VN that chopped through an old pine 6×6 and would still shave. EXTREME CUTTING POWER – THAT’S WHY I FORGE STAINLESS!!