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How I Became a Knife Steel Metallurgist (knifesteelnerds.com)
308 points by AceyMan 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments



I love content like this. I've found my knowledge becomes more specialized as I age, and content like this gives me an opportunity to grok other specialities with relative ease.

For whatever reason (I'm a software engineer), I particularly enjoy content about everyday physical goods. Knife steel has just been added to my bookmark list, but here are a couple more I think are worth sharing:

Making the ideal wool fabric for outerwear: https://weatherwool.com/pages/the-weatherwool-difference

Choosing the ideal card-holding material for leather wallets: https://ashlandleather.com/blogs/inside-ashland/johnny-the-f...

The grades and quality of Panama Hats: https://www.brentblack.com/panama-hat-grades-explained.html


I once visited a Panama Har factory and the difference between a $20 and a $100 hat was striking. However real surprise was awaiting in the special room with $600+ hats. They feel like they are made from completely different material - soft like fabric, yet able to hold their form no matter how much you try to stretch them. You get that unique feeling of a very high-quality physical product like you would get from, for a example holding a very fine sword.


Maybe this observation will be unwelcome, but that content exists because it has very broad appeal these days, especially among hipsters and the "bohemian bourgeois". Those aren't my terms.

"Authenticity" is the word that usually gets wheeled out to explain why people want to spend time learning about, purchasing, and living with these goods, whether the goods are inexpensive, common but basic items or more expensive craft products. In the end it comes down to an ethos about quality, hand-made goods, often made locally, that seems to have survived through the 20th C in the high-end clothing and food industries. It's a form of commerce that people can get behind that doesn't involve mass-production by impersonal corporations.

It's a massive social trend.


Not exactly the same thing, but you might well enjoy the Boring Conference: http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.com/2015/05/boring-v.html


Could we stop calling it content and refer to it as “writing”?


I don't think that genie is going back in the bottle.


This was really interesting. It’s also the first time I’ve ever read anything detailed about what kind of people go to Mines. As a CC student we were always slightly in awe of this other strange and very small and unknown but highly regarded school, full of people studying rocks or something, on the other side of the hills. Still underrated 25 years later it seems.

It’s also a great article that reminds me of what I actually like so much about the internet. A guy, who’s passions are almost incomprehensible to me in some ways, who has this incredibly specialized knowledge that he wants to share with the world. So he makes a website and shares it. And if I ever want to get deep into this topic there it is.

In the age of clickbait and awful social media it’s useful to remember why we were excited about the thing in the first place. I literally have no demonstrated interest in knife steel but I still want to sign up for this guy’s Patreon just because I’m glad people like him exist.


Mines provides a lot of Google employees and has an increasingly strong faculty in quantum computing and simulation who can’t afford to pay Boulder housing prices


> It’s also a great article that reminds me of what I actually like so much about the internet. A guy, who’s passions are almost incomprehensible to me in some ways, who has this incredibly specialized knowledge that he wants to share with the world. So he makes a website and shares it.

Is there a blog/website/YouTube channel that aggregates this kind of content?

I love diving head first into this kind of stuff to, but it’s hard to search for.


Heh...I was excited when he mentioned the school. I’m an amateur geologist and have considered it with reverence for some time now. Great mineral museum, if you’re into that kind of thing.


+1, really great museum with loads of samples (is that the right word?) of more minerals than you knew existed.


I enjoyed this bio post by the site maintainer because it's demonstrative how a person with seemingly few resources can take a meandering path to significant accomplishment and status (PhD). Larrin's education arc mirrors much of the HN crowd mantra of late wrt the value of experience, degrees, elite schools, etc. It's just a nice case study on all those fronts (and a nifty website, to boot).

/Acey


This is very fascinating, and I wish there were more resources or channels available to here directly from scientists such as this. Even the automotive sheetmetal advancements would be interesting to me, though no details given unfortunately.

As an aside, it is probably pretty hard being a metallurgist on the internet. There are so many people who parrot blatantly wrong info, and present themselves as authorities while having essentially zero training. I learned this the hard way by attempting to google comparisons of knife steels in particular, only to realize nearly every single resource gave different answers.

Additionally, I remember one very long thread in a gun debate, where several of these authorities were badmouthing Ruger for using cast vs forged parts, and how that seemed accepted as fact. One person took the time to write to a metallurgist at Ruger, who succinctly stated there was no inherent weakness to properly cast steel, and that their formulas are designed to exceed performance of plain forged steel(im leaving a lot of details out as im working from memory). It was a bit eye opening to me to realize these people who work behind the scenes existed, but at the same time how frustrating it must be to constantly be told you're wrong due to the nature of what you do. Luckily in CS we don't have quite the same issue. Sure people get things incorrect, but the barrier to entry is higher(using a computer and the internet vs using steel), and such a large amount of tech savvy people and CS profressionals exist that these are often cleared up or refuted. Metallurgists and other specialists don't have such a network to rely on.


In the OEM part of the automotive world there's all sorts of dynamically adjusted shocks, sway bars, etc, etc. None of that has made it into even the highest levels (most $$$) of off road racing (where it would be very useful) or normal racing (where it would still be useful, but far less so) yet.

Most recent tech is still under NDA and the people that do this stuff as their day job don't post on hobbyist boards and doing your own testing is prohibitively resource intensive compared to computer stuff. That's why you don't hear about recent tech until it's old. If you keep up to date on academic papers and industry press releases you can kind of get a fuzzy picture of what's going on.


The truth isnt so simple.

Electrically adjustible shocks were all over race cars in the late 80s to mid 90s. Sometime around the late 90s, we realized a good static setup is easier to setup, more reliable, cheaper and better understood in most cases. While some sports like drag racing still ocasionally use the tech (due to differing forces during launch vs run). Aditionally, the bose system, in development since the 80s, never really materialized in useable form, despite some neat demos.

True, most roadracing leagues ban it as 'active', and being outside the spirit of the race. This was due to it potentially becoming an arms race of whose sponsor has the deeper pockets.

I do wish there were still a few 'unlimited' style races. Outside some hill-climb racing it seems most innovation is explicitly forbidden. Nascar has no relation to stock cars, f1 are not as fun to watch and have become a bizarre weird sidenote, e-racing is finally coming of age, but regulations are making for some monotonous designs.

I am sure there would be some interest in a no-holds barred race. Hell, there needs be no rule that the craft even needs to touch the ground (or not be sucked down to it). Lets open our collective transportation imagination...


> I am sure there would be some interest in a no-holds barred race. Hell, there needs be no rule that the craft even needs to touch the ground (or not be sucked down to it). Lets open our collective transportation imagination...

I'd love to see this as well. I think you'd end up with an interesting racing league if you had the following rules:

1. There are speed bumps at the entrance and exit of pit row. (This is to prevent designs that could never work on regular surface streets, such as side skirts for ground effect.)

2. Losing teams can buy the winning vehicle for $100,000. (This is effectively a budget cap to prevent the best funded teams from dominating.)

You'd probably end up with all kinds of crazy designs: active aerodynamics, 6 wheeled vehicles[1]… maybe even gas turbine electric drivetrains. I'd definitely tune in.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrrell_P34


> Outside some hill-climb racing it seems most innovation is explicitly forbidden...

Don't forget about land speed racing, which is quickly gaining popularity on repurposed air strips. About the only rules are related to safety, though there are various classes with regards to engine size, fuels, induction type (supercharging, etc), body style and such.

Here are a dozen examples of innovation: https://www.hotrod.com/articles/12-ways-to-go-fast-in-the-st...


Various active suspension systems have been played with in F1 since the 80's, but they are limited pretty severely by regulations. The justification for the ban is for sporting reasons, same as a lot of other innovations like CVTs or traction control. No doubt they would be using them if they were legal.

https://www.autosport.com/f1/news/127638/f1-latest-suspensio...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williams_FW15C


Boy did I enjoy that! Beyond the enjoyable tale of his love of steel and how it has influenced his life, reading between the lines you can see just how being from certain backgrounds can really make a path like this challenging. He had challenges from both an upbringing perspective (didn't know what the GRE was, sort of randomly chose colleges initially, etc.) as well as from an education perspective (the challenges of smaller/weaker schools, the value of good teachers such as Mr. Bowler also see http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/assets/documents/teac...)


This is beautiful. The passion that drives him to differentiate, rooted in his past and in his daydreams. I recognize he succeeded where many in a similar situation would have failed (myself included). Kudos.


Blade steel and its study is really fascinating to me, though not at all related to my professional work. But I became fascinated a couple of decades ago by the manufacture of khukuris[1] in Nepal, which are often made of salvaged leaf springs from German-made lorries. (Well, I end up working the Nepali language professionally, if not khukuris.)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kukri


It was so satisfying to read about somebody's extremely specific passion which I can never understand but totally relate to. I genuinely feel happy for the author and wish that he go on to do greater things in pursuit of his passion.


I can’t stress how much my math teacher’s passion had to say about my math understanding.


Finally someone who has actually studied the blade.


I've been practicing Ving Tsun for around 25 years. Many aren't aware, but the most of the system is based on blades. The issue I've been having is finding good enough knives to train with. Most of the stuff out there is ornamental crap that will teach you the wrong thing best case and break and hurt someone if you're unlucky. I ended up getting two big, well balanced hunting knives that I've blunted for training.

I'm pretty sure I'll end up making my own sooner or later...


Take a bow, Dr Knife Steel: inspirational, blessed and down-to-earth. My comparable obsession with austenitic steels has now gone fully virtual thanks to materials informatics.


Any pointers? I have casually explored material sciences on Coursera, and I'm always interested in computer-aided fields. But I had never heard of material informatics. Is there anything CAD-like for the field?


Georgia Tech courses there are a nice intro https://www.coursera.org/gatech ... in particular the one by Prof Kalidindi for materials informatics once you are familiar with the general, underlying physics https://www.coursera.org/learn/material-informatics and then this for high-throughput experiments if you have your own lab https://www.coursera.org/learn/high-throughput


I would say that to start, read the Ashby books to get some basic sense of things. That, to me anyway, is really core and useful engineering practice. What to balance, what can be physically traded, and fundamental constraints.

https://www.amazon.com/Materials-Selection-Mechanical-Design...


email the PhD guy who wrote the website you've just commented on and ask if he will recommend/supervise your personal learning at the rate of 50$/hr (or whatever).

Aside from the credentialing problem, you will get an amazing return on investment - just view it as buying hours of your own time _not_ wasted on @$@#$# youtube videos.

If you're an over-achiever, you might negotiate a lower price on the understanding that the curriculum he develops (with your feedback/experience) for you stays with him and he markets it on the forums he has credibility in.


That was a great read. I really admire people having passion as well as expertise in these unique fields. Once fortune 500 CEO had come to my school for talk and he told us shortest path to rise up in corporate ladder is either having expertise in somewhat niche but valuable field or starting your own successful company or having great amount of luck (which he said most C level folks don't say out publicly)


That is a great origin story, and his writing is awesome[1]. I have always been interested in knives and swords but not to the extent to go full on nerd on them!

[1] https://knifesteelnerds.com/2018/03/26/cru-forge-v-toughness...


Only slightly off topic I recently get to know about a technique in (industrial) manufacturing, friction forging:

https://www.diamondbladeknives.com/Friction-Forging

cannot say if it actually delivers what it promises, but the video is interesting.


This is fascinating, and I'm happy to see something like this here on HN. It hits close to home too: I'm a nerd, but my cousin is a successful knifemaker. I've picked up some knowledge about the different kinds of steel from following his work.


What are good alternatives to Gillette?




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