Well after much consideration I’ve decided to reply. But first to redress some of the initial comments and clarify a couple of points.
Knife Grade steel, as pointed out by Art is not a universally defined term, so has no general accepted criteria or meaning. This is a term I use (my opinion) to define a steel suitable for knife making, typically being content of ~0.7% carbon or more along with usually 2 or more alloy components. There are exceptions, cobalt steel being one of them, but jumping to flint knapped obsidian is beyond a stretch, after all the term uses steel not glass, but thanks for playing.
Alloyed steel versus simple steel. A simple steel is carbon + iron, although that’s nearly impossible to find as even the most basic steels incorporate a few extra alloys for added benefits. Alloyed steel or what I refer to as high-alloyed steel is yet another subjective term that I use. To me I define a high-alloyed knife steel as ~0.7% carbon or greater along with ~4 or more alloy elements, or any high percent 1-3 alloys, and I would define this roughly around 5%+.
Maybe that is a bit confusing but a couple takeaways. I use and define these terms to talk about steel in knifemaking since the common terms, stainless vs. high-carbon, are meaningless (see first post). Second, an alloyed steel or what I would refer to as a high-alloyed steel does not mean stainless. It can be stainless, but there are many, many that are not.
Now the real sticking part with folks is that I can say that the performance aspect of a knife (or really steel in general) can be improved with alloys. What I didn’t say is that these changes are preferred or desired as that is a matter of personal preference. You can argue that a pocket knife should be stainless, or that chisels of SV-35 would be too hard to sharpen (personal opinions on use, not relevant to the discussion), but what you can’t argue is that a simple steel such as 1080 can hold an edge as long SV-35, or that 1080 can take the toughness abuse of 5160 or 52100 or that 1095 will retain a red temper as well as M2. But remember, just because you can increase a steels attributes in what I consider the aspects important to a knife (edge retention, toughness, durability) does not make the knife “better” for a given user or task, again personal preference. Increasing any one of the attributes often comes as a trade-off, such as better edge retention will be harder to sharpen. Just as importantly the steel alone will not dictate the user’s satisfaction of the knife. Steel and heat treatment (hardness), grind geometry, and fit and functionality for the desired task, are all vital to overall satisfaction of use. So just because a steel can be produced to have an increase in a given attribute does not mean an increase in desirability by the user since preferences vary widely and wildly and they always do.
Again I will state this thread has nothing to do with “what steel is best” because that is really nothing more than “what steel do I like best”. If you read my original post I am attempting to give the average consumer some information about steel used in knifemaking that goes beyond the simplistic, inaccurate notion of a 2 categorical system of “stainless” vs “high-carbon”. It also has nothing to do with the benefits of a custom knife being “custom”, or being able to have someone make your drawing into a knife (personal opinions about custom knives, not relevant to the discussion). Lastly it involves marketing only in the sense that hopefully those of you that read this will have a better idea to see through the BS, and look for what matters to you.
Now if you want to argue for your favorite steel, by all means start a thread and get to it. That is a pointless debate and not one I will engage in. I do regret playing along to start with, but that simply isn’t what this thread is about. If you want to add some helpful information (maybe someone else can try to explain “surgical stainless”) or would like to clarify some common misleading information to help demystify choosing steels or good resources on the matter, than please join in.
So what was this post all about? This is a forum for leatherworkers, many of which are getting started or looking to improve their game. There is a wealth of knowledge being shared on every type of leather, treatment of leather and working of leather including the knives to cut leather. For those who are looking to buy or build a knife for cutting leather, there simply isn’t much information out there aside from a few known brand names or makers. Lots of assumptions and lots of the “high-carbon” cries. As I’ve tried to point out, there is much more to a steel than what most assume. Those who read this in their search will hopefully use this information to end up making a better choice as to what would be more suitable for their needs, or at least learn enough to talk to a maker, or determine what steel they have before trying to make it into a knife. You should consider what attributes are important to you, or what you are trying to accomplish and start there. Maybe to some having a knife that you can hammer through a 2x4 makes a lot of sense. Personally I would rather use an axe or a saw, but if that’s your bag you should be looking into spring steels and differential tempered steels, all things that will require you look deeper than “high-carbon”, or even more meaningless “carbon”.
So don’t buy a knife because it’s “high-carbon” or because it’s “stainless” (unless you buy cars because they are “wheeled” or “motorized”). You put time into finding the right leather, the right dye, the right conditioner, so don’t expect steel to be any different.