On my way back to the truck after a hard day afoot in some central Wyoming badlands, a good mule deer buck appeared in a jumble of monstrous boulders about 200 yards away. Before the echo of my shot was swallowed up by the tangle of interwoven canyons, I had a deer on the ground. Looking at my watch, I could see that there was little more than two hours of daylight left. And if I didn’t want to be stumbling around in the dark with a pack full of boned-out venison, then there was work to be done.

My knife was a high-tech folder that featured a blade with a Rockwell hardness factor of Rc 57-59. Not a bad choice. However, I did have some concern about how well the edge would hold up during the entire field care procedure (field dressing, skinning and boning). Despite the quality of the blade steel and its corresponding hardness, I did have to waste several precious minutes of daylight re-sharpening the blade before the task was done. Afterwards, I found myself wishing for blade steel that offered a greater level of edge retention.

Upon my return home, I began searching the various Internet blogs in hope of finding some commentary on blade steels that featured enhanced edge integrity.

It didn’t take too long to discover that there wasn’t much out there that offered better performance than what I’d been using. There was some mention of blade steel with the rather unusual nomenclature of Cowry-X that could be taken to Rc 66-68 without the usual accompanying brittleness. However, almost no one had any experience working with the steel.

Finding The X
Further searching revealed that Cowry-X blade steel is produced by the Daido Steel Company, Ltd., in Nagoya, Japan. The reported chemical composition of the steel is as follows: Carbon 3.0%, Chromium 10.0%, Molybdenum 1.0% and Vanadium 3.0%. Obviously, the carbon content far exceeds that of any of the usual blade steels. Interestingly, the unusual steel name is derived from a shell called “Kauri,” whose surface design looks a lot like a microscopic photo of the steel. However, the name was changed to “Cowry” instead of “Kauri” to avoid confusion.

This particular steel is made by a gas atomization process that produces powdered steel. Using the Hot Isostatic Pressing (HIP) technique, along with high-speed, four-sided constrained rotary forging, the result is steel that offers high hardenability and enhanced edge-holding. Both of these features are due to the extremely hard and finely dispersed carbides.

While Cowry X does have an extremely high chromium content in its chemical formulation, it cannot be considered truly stainless. This is due to the fact that martenistic steel can only be defined as stainless when the chromium content is 12 times that of the accompanying carbon content. Therefore, Cowry X is best considered as semi-stainless or stain-resistant.

With its elevated carbon content, Cowry X promises edge-holding superiority and one would expect to see the use of this steel widespread in the knife industry. However, the cost of the steel has factored against its use by both production firms and individual knife makers. For example, Jantz Supply offers annealed Cowry X flat stock in 12-inch lengths, in two widths and three thicknesses, starting at $200 a section. When you add the cost of handle material and other components along with labor, the final price of a Cowry X finished knife will discourage most buyers. This alone has kept the market constrained.

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