Question Of The Day Do You Own A Composite-Steel Blade?

Image courtesy KAI-USA

Kershaw Rake

Whether grafted composites or sandwiched laminates, ‘composite’ steel blades bring a geeky technological edge to your edged tools. Are they worth the extra complexity and expense vis a vis monolothic-steel blades?

The top photo shows a Kershaw ‘Rake’ and its distinctive grafted steel blade. The body of the blade is Sandvik 14C28N stainless (a perfectly decent blade steel in its own right) and the edge is D2 carbon steel.

Image courtesy KAI-USA

Kershaw Junkyard Dog II

This photo shows a similarly-made Kershaw folder. The benefits of this construction method are several. In additional to its obvious visual appeal, the D2 cutting edge can be made much harder than you’d want the rest of the blade to be. 14C28N is also far more resistant to corrosion than D2, giving this composite blade a trifecta of desirable qualities: a sharp/tough edge, a less brittle body, and easy corrosion maintenance.

In addition to being more practical than an over-hardened and slightly corrosion-prone D2 knife, Kershaw’s composite construction is also cheaper. D2 is tool steel, and when you use steel tools on it they wear out very quickly. Using a smaller piece of D2 means fewer worn-out drill bits, mill heads and grinder belts.

The sawtooth pattern in the steel is where the two steels meet and weld together.  The zero-tolerance jigsaw puzzle pattern would have been all but impossible before the age of CNC mills and laser cutters, and provides a metal-to-metal interface which is in fact stronger than either of the component steels by themselves.

Kershaw tested the bejeezus out of these composite blades before selling them, and their failure testing showed that the blades never separated at the seam. (Follow the thread here, if you’re interested.)

But jigsaw-seamed composites aren’t the only game in town when it comes to composite-steel blades. The older method of laminated or ‘sandwich’ construction has been around for uncounted centuries. Handicapped by the shortage of quality ores in the mineral-poor home islands, Japanese swordsmiths turned necessity into the mother of invention. They made the most of their meager resources by building up their blades from several different types and qualities of raw iron.

Image courtesy Al Mar Knives

Laminated blades have been around a long time, and they continue to thrive in this age of rare-earth alloying agents and powdered-metal supersteels. This 3″ Al Mar paring knife has a VG-2 core sandwiched between outer layers of much-softer (and unspecified) ‘400-series’ stainless. The outer layers provide corrosion resistance and flexibility, and the harder core does the cutting.

In the age of supersteels, the main benefit of these laminated blades is economy: this one runs about $70, which is less than a similar knife of all VG-2.

Mora Laminated

At the bottom end of the price scale, as always, are Mora knives. In addition to their traditional carbon steel and more modern stainless blades, some Mora designs are made in laminated carbon steel.

The edge is ultra-hard carbon steel (HRC 60-61) with softer carbon steel on the outside for toughness. The softer sides of the blade don’t give much corrosion resistance, but the astoundingly low price might make up for that. Most laminated Moras only cost $30 to $50.

To sum it all up, composite steel blades are a way to get the best performance from different types of steels by using them in different parts of the same blade. They’re the solution to a problem that modern metallurgy has largely solved: supersteels combine outrageous hardness, toughness and corrosion-resistance all in one metal. But these supersteels are super-expensive to manufacture and even more expensive to work with. And once you’ve bought them, they’re usually a bitch to sharpen.

I don’t own any composite or laminated blades, and I hardly think that my knives are inferior for not having them. But they’re still an interesting technology, and I’ve got my eye on one of these composite Kershaws to send Nathan for testing someday.




  1. Aharon says:

    The second Kershaw looks like a dinosaur face or maybe a gator’s face.

    1. C says:

      Good luck not getting bored and drawing eyes on it.

      1. Aharon says:

        I have a friend who has the machinery to drill an eye hole in it. Hmmm…

  2. David says:

    Are they worth the extra complexity and expense vis a vis monolothic-steel blades?

    Generally, no. Hence why I do not own any. I think I have come to a similar conclusion that composite blades add more price in relation to how much quality they bring. There are numerous and widely available commercial steels that will do most jobs, for less money, if the heat treating and shape are done right.

  3. knightofbob says:

    We got my dad a set of the VG-10 core A.G. Russel branded kitchen knives over the course of a couple years a while back. Nothing buck good experiences, though not the easiest things to sharpen when they finally do start to dull.

  4. Daniel says:

    Laminated steel blades of quality construction have been proven countless times. Historically you have the very successful japanese katana, and more recently you have the more mundane Falkniven VG10 laminated steel blades, to list just two examples. However, in my opinion what sets these apart is that the lamination is fully heat treated & oriented with the cutting action of the edge. In other words to have catastrophic failure, it seems to me that the entire blade section would have to be fully “peeled” apart.

    On the other hand I still do not trust the Kershaw type of contruction. Whether they bond the edge to the blade, or weld it – – – the blade is still composed of two different materials which do not flex or behave as predictably as a fully laminated unit, and which are bonded at clearly defined shear point. So there would be blade damage resulting from side-load shearing, or different heat treats for each material, or even flawed bonds or welds (which can happen regardless of the designers intent, at the point of manufacture). If I am going to buy a blade, at this time I would buy one of either a quality monolithic steel, or a quality fully laminated steel.

  5. tbhride says:

    I do own a couple. A Fälkkniven F1, and a classic red handled Mora. The F1 is a seriously excellent piece of kit. Used to have a composite Kershaw Leek but never used it and got rid of it.

  6. Jeff says:

    My ZDP-189 composite Shallot has been a great EDC knife. I don’t baby it, and it has held up for years. The best part is my edge retention is great, and I didn’t have to pay for a full ZDP-189 blade (nor would I want to).

  7. Pat says:

    I have a few red handled Moras from Ragweed Forge (around $13), a SOG Vulcan tanto VG-10 laminate folder (I paid $75), and an Almar VG-10 laminated Chefs Damascus knife. Outstanding knives.

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Question Of The Day Do You Own A Composite-Steel Blade?

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