All of my knives are handmade in my home workshop. I currently do every single aspect of the process except for the heat treating. Heat treating the exotic steels I use must be done in an expensive, high-temperature kiln with extremely precise controls. I am currently building such a kiln, but in the mean time, I have been outsourcing this crucial step to Peters' Heat Treating in Pennsylvania. Peters' has decades of experience heat treating everything from knives to parts for the aerospace industry, and uses state of the art equipment. I will begin doing my own heat treating some time this year.
Because I am obsessive about edge retention, I use exclusively what some call "super steels". These are generally high alloy steels that include high concentrations of elements like vanadium or tungsten. Some are stainless (due to 14% or more chromium), some are not. Regardless, I choose these "super steels" because their high levels of alloying elements form extremely hard carbides during the heat treating process. This, combined with a very fine grain structure from particle metallurgy gives them extreme wear resistance and edge retention. I think these steels really shine when pushed to the higher end of their Rockwell hardness scales.
I am currently using CPM 20CV and CPM 10V. CPM 20CV is an extremely stainless super steel with 20% chromium and 4% vanadium. Steels with over 14% chromium are considered stainless. With 20%, CPM 20CV is exceptionally stainless. The high levels of vanadium and carbon (1.9%) help with edge retention. This steel is essentially a chemical twin to the very popular M390 made by Bohler in Europe. CPM 20CV is made in the U.S., and is easier to purchase. This is my favorite stainless steel, as it holds a fine edge for a long time, and is not too difficult to sharpen. I heat treat CPM 20CV to 61-62HRC.
CPM 10V is my favorite steel, but it is not for everyone. With only 5.25% chromium, CPM 10V is definitely not stainless. It requires care to keep it from rusting. Knives made from this steel must be kept with a light coat of oil or wax, and should be cleaned and dried after use. However, the edge retention of CPM 10V is nothing short of phenomenal. Originally engineered as a tool steel for industrial tools that see extreme wear, CPM 10V will hold an edge longer than any steel I've ever tested, and by a wide margin. With 9.75% vanadium, and Crucible's particle metallurgy process, this steel is an amazing performer. If you are not bothered by having a non-stainless high-carbon steel, CPM 10V will blow you away. Its extreme wear resistance makes it difficult to sharpen, so practice your sharpening skills! I heat treat CPM 10V to 63-64HRC.
Use and Care
With any of my CPM 20CV knives, care is pretty minimal. Keep it clean and sharp! I recommend Lansky, Wicked Edge, and Edge Pro sharpeners. I also like Spyderco's Sharp Maker or the similar sharpener from Smith's for quick touch ups. The Lansky, Wicked Edge, and Edge Pro are great for touching up more severe dulling. A light coat of oil or wax won't hurt, but is really unnecessary with CPM 20CV. The only things that would cause corrosion on this steel are prolonged exposure to salt water or extremely corrosive chemicals or acids.
For CPM 10V blades, more care must be taken. Since CPM 10V is a non-stainless high-carbon tool steel, it WILL rust. Surface rust will not damage a knife, but it can be unsightly. Keep the knife clean and dry and occasionally rub a light coat of oil or wax on the steel. For CPM 10V, I recommend diamond sharpening stones. This high vanadium steel is extremely wear resistant, and can make sharpening with natural stones difficult.
Wood handles should be kept clean and dry and occasionally rubbed down with either mineral oil or boiled linseed oil. Apply either oil, allow it to soak in for a few minutes, then wipe clean. Oiling the wood occasionally will ensure the wood stays beautiful for years and will prevent cracking.
To me, knives are cutting tools. A properly made knife will do a lot of cutting before needing to be sharpened, and should last a lifetime with proper care. I make and design my knives to be high-performance cutting tools. There is a current trend in the knife world of overbuilt knives that are designed and being used to do all kinds of tasks that a knife should not do. I've seen videos and pictures of people stabbing knives through car hoods, chopping down trees with them, and even hammering them into their concrete driveways. This is all done in the name of "because it can". I do not understand this, and do not make knives for these purposes. To me, such uses are pointless abuse. While I'm sure several of my knives could accomplish these tasks, there are better tools available for accomplishing them. My knives are designed for cutting, slicing, skinning, carving, etc.
The reason I make this distinction is all about my steel choices. Steel comes in thousands of different chemical makeups. Some are great at some things, some are great at others. Some are average at all tasks. Steel used for axe heads must be very shock resistant, but doesn't need to hold a fine edge. Therefore, axe manufacturers use "tough" steels that deform instead of chip. However, that type of steel would make a subpar knife steel. Conversely, the most wear resistant steels are generally less tough and more prone to chipping or breaking when they hit something hard or are bent. Such steels would create a knife that would hold an edge for an extremely long time, but may snap if you tried to pry a door open with them. Finally, there are steels that are average at everything, but don't really excel at anything. This is usually what is used in knives that are designed to be beaten into concrete and also cut a tomato.
I try to choose steels that are more on the wear resistant end of the spectrum, as I believe knives are cutting tools and I think wear resistance is more important than toughness. Now, this is not to say that my knives, or knives by other makers using the same steels are fragile. They are still made of steel, and will still take loads of abuse (both CPM 10V and CPM 20CV are relatively tough knife steels). However, I just want to make it a point to say that my knives are not designed to be abused except as cutting tools. Abuse them all you want as cutting tools. They should cut through miles of deer, boar, cardboard, carpet, plastic, wood, or whatever else you choose to throw at them. After all, they WERE designed as high-performance cutting tools!