Fri Jan 18, 2013 6:08 pm
San mai steel knives. I believe started as a way to make the BEST steel a maker had go further. If you look at most traditional Japanese knives, and how they are constructed, the cladding is a softer steel (not a whole lot better than iron) where as the core steel, was the best he had collected from the bloom (tamahagane) that the sword makers didn't scoop first! So by forging a blade with a core that could be HT'ed silly hard, and a blade body that was softer and could take a beating. Ta-da! A legend is created.
Fast forward to modern times. Do we need a san mai blade... NOPE! Most modern carbons, and even a lot of todays powder metallurgy steel have a much higher carbon content, are more pure, and a hell of a lot tougher. Now that doesn't mean they will take a better edge. Grain size, and the HT process being what it is, some steels can't get quite as sharp as others. So San Mai... Some makers are very traditional, and have been doing things the same way for generations, why change, it works!
Modern San Mai... some makers use lesser quality steels, others, myself included, use steels that are every bit as good as the core. (similar HT recipes for the steels used result in a blade that isn't trying to pull its self apart!) Some steels are chosen, because when polished and etched, the pattern is more vivid. (As in damascus clad San Mai) Other times, in a tri layer composition, the cladding could be stainless, but the core high carbon. Produced to be lower maintenance.
Are they worth the money? Hard to say... does a $8000 dollar fly rod, painstakingly built by hand to high tolerance, using the best materials catch fish better than a $49 Wal Mart special? I think sometimes that question is a moot point. Sometimes we want the best we can afford. I'm guilty of that with rifles, and damn near everything else I buy. Get the best I can afford, or sometimes better than I can afford. Some people say, "You get what you pay for" Looks forsure, performance? Depends on what it is, and how the end user uses it. I would rather see a chef use a San Mai clad knife to serve me my Prim Rib, over a $20 department store knife. Does the steak taste better? Nope! But it sure looks like it should!
Sat Jan 19, 2013 6:25 pm
Thank you for your thoughtful and informative post. I originally bought a San Mai knife because I thought the stainless cladding would result in easier care, but I learned you still have to take care of the carbon steel edge. I now have three because I like the aesthetic of these knives and while it may be true they don't cut any better than mono steel, I can't say they cut any worse since the core is AS and they don't cost any more than the mono steel AS knives that I own. My original post was probably motivated by what I considered an overblown negative comment about San Mai. Seems to me the variety that is currently available is a plus and we should embrace it. I may not like Damascus because it doesn't cut any better than mono steel, but most fine knives have capabilities that exceed their users' skills. And craft counts for something, I think.