Powder steel - what is it?

March 25, 2022

Powder steel causes a real stir in the world of knives today. If the custom knife is made of powder steel, then it usually costs more than usual. Manufacturers from the USA are pioneers, but not pioneers in this case. It was them who first began to use premium alloys of this type – hence this pricing policy. But, of course, it’s not just about it: powder steels have many features and differences from other types of steels. Let’s try to understand this issue and cover, in addition to powder steel, forged steel along with rolled steel.

The technology of its creation has become known since “ancient times”: in the 17th century BC, the Indians made an iron column in a similar way. The delight is that it is still intact to this day. However, powder steels gained wider coverage and fame in the 60s of the 20th century, when Americans began to actively introduce various alloying additives into alloys to make them more reliable and durable.

Powder steel

Alternatives to Powder Steel

For example, forged steel and rolled steel. Before we delve into the nuances of powder steels, we suggest taking a look at an alternative.

Forged steel has been valued at all times. In ancient times, other blades were simply not made, only with the advent of factory production, models of knives made of rolled steel appeared, differing in quality from classic products. This was largely facilitated by stainless steel, most grades of which are not amenable to forging.

The popularity of consumer goods from this category can be explained simply – the knife has lost its original functions, from a real assistant and defender in emergency situations, it has turned into an elegant tool for performing everyday tasks in the kitchen. But even today, knives made by hand or machine forging are valued very highly.

Forged steel has several key features that significantly improve the performance of the blade:

  • The hammer creates a layered structure of the blade. Even if it is not the famous Damascus steel, there are still 3-4 layers in such a blade, with different hardness and elasticity. The middle is the softest and most flexible, the next layer is already less malleable, and the top layer is the most durable, with the greatest hardness;
  • When struck with a hammer, the crystal lattice of the metal is compacted, as well as the thermal hardening of the steel, which ultimately has a positive effect on the cutting abilities of the knife;
  • Even if the workpiece was made of ordinary steel, its forging makes the knife resistant to corrosion. Many expensive models of kitchen knives do not have stainless steel alloys in their composition, but thanks to forging they are not covered with rust during operation.

If the blacksmith has good skills, then the layers are applied evenly, and when sharpening and editing, the structure of the blade is not broken and remains for decades.

If we talk about rolled steel, then it is better to compare it with forged ones. Rolled steel is so named precisely because of the rolling process during processing. Rolling includes three stages – hot, warm and cold. Rolled products are created from a single sheet metal, which is processed in almost the same way as forged steel. In particular, they are treated exactly the same thermally.

But it is really unique. There are plenty of advantages in using such steel.

metal powders water atomized

Uniqueness of powder steel

  • It is often made of powder steels that army, hunting and fishing knives are made, since such products simply have to be as durable and reliable as possible;
  • Knives made of powder steels are so sharp that they can easily cut paper with just one movement, and with professional processing they keep sharpening for an incredibly long time;
  • It is better to sharpen knives made of powder steels in the workshop, or with a special tool: they require careful handling, because the edge is still thin and “jewelry”;
  • It is easier and easier to do forging and grinding with powder steels.

Composition of powder steel

Carbides, martensite and various non-metallic inclusions – this is what the structure of finished powder steels looks like. Carbides are harder and more brittle than the martensitic base. The quantity, density and distribution of carbides determines the strength and reliability of the final product, that is, the custom knife.

At the first stages, all components undergo crystallization to then become homogeneous steel. To improve the distribution, the speed and quality of crystallization are increased in powder steels.

Next, the alloy is sprayed in the form of powder – micro particles, somewhat resembling small ingots. Then they are processed, after which they are poured into a mold with a press and vacuum made of plastic materials, then high-pressure pressing. And only after that, the steel is fused at high temperature and pressure. During the manufacturing process, a variety of components can be added to the steel alloy to make it the way you wish – these may be special functional characteristics or appearance.

Powder steels require more forces and resources to create. The technology of creation in this case is more complicated, therefore, knives from them are not cheap. At the same time, a big plus is that the production is practically waste-free and ergonomic: all the leftovers can be recycled into powder again and the cycle can be resumed.

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