At the foot of the Alps in the Piedmont region of Italy, a small manufacturer is making metallurgical history. Sandrin is making knives out of solid tungsten carbide, one of the hardest materials on earth. It’s a feat of knife making that’s never been seen before, and by realizing it Sandrin may be fabricating the highest-performing blades on the market today.
Tungsten carbide has been used in industrial cutting applications for nearly a century. In such a setting, where cuts are controllable and repeatable, its high durability and wear resistance allow it to outperform steel tools, cutting faster and leaving a better surface finish on machined parts.
The same properties that make tungsten carbide a great cutter also make it difficult to work with as material for a knife’s blade. Standard abrasives and manufacturing processes used to grind steel can’t handle tungsten carbide. “It has to be surface-ground, not machined, using diamond abrasives,” explains Rob Bianchin of Cabot Guns, who is working to widen the distribution of Sandrin products.
The biggest obstacle is that tungsten carbide is more brittle than steel. Experimental knives that have used a tungsten carbide compensate by either sandwiching it between stronger materials, or depositing just a thin layer directly onto the cutting edge.
Not so with Sandrin’s blades, which are solid pieces of tungsten carbide. Tungsten carbide’s natural brittleness is overcome by Sandrin’s proprietary formulation of the metal. “Sandrin uses a patented mixture that makes it possible,” says Bianchin. By keeping the Rockwell hardness at 71, Sandrin maintains blade strength and edge stability. The end result is a knife that gets and stays sharp. “The longevity of the cutting edge on a tungsten carbide knife is many, many times greater than steel,” says Bianchin
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(featured image courtesy of knifenews.com)