Knife Steel: ATS-34 and 154CM

ATS-34 is made by Hitachi in Japan and is no longer exported to the US. 154CM is made by Crucible and is an American made equivalent. Here are some words by a metallurgist at Crucible (around 1999) about the two steels:
15 or more years ago, we did
not produce sheets of steel, but instead rolled thin bars. Thin bars
were the preferred material for stock removal blades. 154CM was a
bearing material produced primarily in round bar form for that market.
The cutlery end of the grade was a side market and since the stainless
bearing market is not huge kept the volume up. Crucible marketed this
grade primarily through knife supply houses and really didn't come
into direct contact with the knife industry.

One myth from that time that continues to plague the grade is that
154CM was vacuum re-melted. This grade was never produced with vacuum
re-melt technology. At the time it was air melt material. Today it
is melted differently, but I'll cover that later.

As the stainless bearing market continued to shrink, it became more
difficult to justify an 80,000 lb heat of 154CM, especially for the
smaller cutlery industry. At the same time, the industry converted to
using sheet product, which allowed lazer cutting and more versatiliy
of widths. Put all this together with Crucible having no direct
contact with the market and guess what, we were out of the business.
Take a note of how many supply houses carry sheets of steel. None.

A little over 10 years ago the distribution part of Crucible became
it's own divison. The number of warehouses doubled and this division
became very intimate with its markets. The Service Center Divsion is
not limited by the mill's production and can convert material using
outside sources (i.e. sheet products). With this in mind we entered
back into the 154CM, 440V, 420V,etc. business and intend to stay there
for quite a while. We dove back in about 3 years ago with the help of
one of the larger knife producers and have been getting better every
year. The mill still melts the material, but we stock the sheets in
our warehouse system for cutting into various sizes.

Now this brings us to the material production. Like I said earlier,
many years ago, this material was produced by air melt technology.
Today it is produced by the Argon/Oxygen/Decarburization process
(AOD). This is the primary way to produce quality stainless steels.
It is not as clean as re-melted steels but is about as close as you
can get and is much cleaner than 15 years ago. 3 years ago when we
entered back into the 154CM market we were concerned that the ATS-34
was cleaner than ours. We found just the opposite. They do not
re-melt their material either and in numerous tests with knife makers
and polishers our material was much cleaner. Based on our sales and
responses from our customers, the myth of the dirty 154CM is behind us
for good.

Feedback? Questions? Drop me a line!

Tom's Knife Info / tom@mmto.org