Knife Steel Nerds Takes Scientific Approach to Steel Testing

Larrin Thomas is the man behind Knife Steel Nerds, a website dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and presenting information about knife steel in an accessible way.

Thomas started his site in Feburary, with the intention to compile his and others’ finding in steel testing. He says a website became the necessary format for this information. The forums offered a great way to connect with other enthusiasts and to solicit opinions, but weren’t conducive to in-depth research pieces. “On a forum, my longer pieces would fall back into page three or four – and at that point it was like they never existed,” Thomas tells us. “There’s not a huge body of papers on CATRA edge retention testing. If I found 30 I would be shocked.”

In the five months since its inception, Thomas’s site has already made significant discoveries in the knife steel field. A recent article on Knife Steel Nerds rediscovers an obscure but important 2012 CATRA study. Testing was performed on a group of knives, all made from either 154-CM or CPM-154, its powder metallurgy equivalent. Variations in steel, grind, finish, and edge angle helped develop a wide range data points.

The results of this testing indicated that commonly-held perceptions of PM steels boosting edge retention appear to be false. “I thought there would be a larger performance improvement, but in terms of pure edge retention it didn’t offer much in this test,” Thomas notes. The study showcased that the single largest factor in maximizing a steel’s edge retention was the edge angle. PM composition didn’t chart at all.

Thomas says these and other findings on his site aren’t just fodder for online debates. His goal is to offer practical benefits to knife enthusiasts and makers. “Much of this data is relevant to anybody, because it tells you how to make your knife cut longer and better than when you got it.”

An interest in steel runs in Thomas’s blood. He’s the son of Devin Thomas, a maker famous for his damascus, which appears on custom knives as well as high-end production offerings, most famously Chris Reeve Knives models like the Sebenza and Mnandi. Growing up, Larrin attended knife shows with his father and developed a lifelong appreciation for steel. “One thing I always loved as a teenager were the new steels coming out from the steel companies,” he recalls. “I couldn’t have been more excited about the introduction of S30V.” His love of steel and the science behind it led to an eventual career in the industry, developing steel for use in vehicles.

As Knife Steel Nerds continues to grow, Thomas plans to conduct independent CATRA and toughness tests. “Toughness is a big one [for misinformation]. Makers can claim whatever they want, and that occurs a lot in the heavy use knife market,” he says. Thomas has arrived at a toughness test that can be universally and relatively easily applied to any steel. An ongoing project for his site will be to solicit steel samples from manufacturers, test them, and compile the data. “The more data we generate, the more misconceptions we can cut through to give specific recommendations for specific needs,” Thomas says.

Knife featured in image: Devin Thomas Hunting Knife with Ladder Pattern Damascus