A Q&A from a customer interaction- A question about knife steels and quality?
I had an interesting question from a customer today and wanted to post about it here, since i thought it was a great question and i'm sure many of you probably were thinking about the same thing...
Question- Is it true that white steel #1 is considered the top of the line steel since it is so clean and offers a blacksmith a "white canvas" more than the blue steels that have additional alloys?
Answer- I don't believe that any steel can be called top of the line... all of the steels require different skill sets to heat treat well. Even though blue steel is technically more forgiving in the HT process, it doesn't mean that a very skilled craftsman couldn't bring out the best in it through great finesse. White #1 is a very simple, very pure, and very high carbon steel, so it does require great skill to work with well, but there are a number of blacksmiths who i do not consider to be so great who often work with white #1 and get so-so results, so just seeing white #1 is not an indication of a high quality knife. Obviously, there is great potential with white #1 for a skilled craftsman to showcase his technique, there are only a few ways to know this for yourself with any certainty. First, try for yourself and see- this also means that you have to know enough to be able to assess the steel well. Second, rely on reputation- this only works when the people describing the steel know what they are talking about. Or third, find a retailer whom you can trust and who has experience using and sharpening the steel so that he/she can talk about it effectively- the only works if the retailer knows what they are talking about and has the experience and training to validate their opinion.
Anyways, the gist of this is that just knowing a steel type doesn't tell you if that steel has been forged and heat treated well. Even steels that seem simple and nothing special on paper can be amazing when skillfully forged and heat treated (aeb-l is a great example of this... when its great, it can be really great, but without a good heat treatment, its really nothing special).
Hope you guys enjoy this quick read.