SPYDERCO’S ATLANTIC SALTIf you are familiar with production knives and someone mentions the name Spyderco, the name brings to mind an odd looking, but very sharp knife with that signature opening hole on the spine and a clothing clip on back. A few years ago, Spyderco started producing the Salt Series of knives. The interesting thing about this series of knives is fact that they are made of H1 steel and Spyderco claims they “will not rust”. This claim piqued my interest to say the least. I have lived and worked on the waters of coastal North Carolina for most of my adult life and know how corrosive sea water can be.
I must confess that I also know how to NOT take care of a knife and have found a few victims of my neglect in the bottom a tackle box or mixed up in wet dive gear. They were reduced to useless and dangerous hunks of rusty steel that were usually tossed in the trash. Due to my expertise, I figured I would be a good adversary for the Spyderco Atlantic Salt.
GENERAL DESCRIPTIONThe Atlantic Salt is a front locking folder with black fiberglass reinforced nylon (FRN) scales. The blade is a hollow ground sheep foot design with a 14mm opening hole and has the trademark SpyderEdge (serrations). There is an “H1” moniker laser etched into the blade indicating the type of steel of which it is made (more about this later). An interesting detail about the blade is the cut grooves along the spine cusp and the finger choil that allow the thumb and forefinger to safely grip the blade for better control when cutting. This detail becomes quickly apparent when holding the knife and you notice that you are actually holding the blade and the shape of the scales allow the rest of the knife to rest comfortably in your hand. The scales have a “Volcano” texture that, as the name implies looks like tiny volcanoes and offer an excellent holding surface. The clothing clip is positioned at the butt for tip-up carry and has a hole large enough through the clip screw to allow for a thong or lanyard. The clothing clip can be easily removed with a flat head screwdriver and repositioned the other side to allow for ambidextrous use. The “David Boye Dent” in the lock is a nice touch as it makes it easier to locate and depress the lock when folding the blade.
WHAT IS H1 STEEL?
Due to my healthy skepticism about Spyderco’s claim, I began researching information about H1 steel and what makes it impervious to rusting. I found a wide range on information on the internet but most of it seemed to be somewhat ill informed. The most common misconception is that H1 steel has no Carbon and uses Nitrogen instead. By definition, steel is a commercial iron that contains carbon in any amount up to about 1.7% by weight as an essential alloying constituent (1). Like all alloys, steel is a mixture of different elements like Chromium, Nickel, Manganese, etc. The combination of the chemical composition, or the “recipe”, and variations of method for making steel, this will define the final product and allow manufactures to create purpose specific metals.
Cut to the chase…
After consulting experts in the field of metallurgy, the following is a very basic understanding of what H1 steel is and why it is so resistant to corrosion. H1 steel is a variation of Martensitic Steel (low carbon tool steel) with only about 0.15% Carbon, up to about 16% Chromium (for corrosion resistance) and various small amounts of Magnesium, Nickel, Silicon, Molybdenum, Phosphorus, Sulfur, and Nitrogen (2). It appears the misconception of using Nitrogen instead of Carbon stems from a surface treatment used in the finishing process where Nitrogen ions are implanted on the surface of the steel using Plasma Source Ion Implantation (PSII) (3). This process, along with the fact H1 starts out as low carbon steel and has a high amount of Chromium, makes it virtually impervious to corrosion.
Because the knife is named the Atlantic Salt, I decided to see if it is worthy of its name. My testing consisted of the following methods:
1. Sharpness testing and function when new out of the box.
2. Soaking the knife for seven days in sea water collected from the Atlantic Ocean.
3. Daily documentation of corrosion.
4. Final sharpness testing.
FINDINGSAs expected, when I received the knife, I found it to be very sharp and the SpyderEdge cut smoothly though a variety of cordage and operated smoothly with positive locking and unlocking. After getting used to the knife I took a ride to the beach.
I collected about a half liter of sea water from the Beaufort Inlet at Ft. Macon, NC along with scoop of sand and ground material. Against everything my brain was telling me, I opened the knife and carefully placed it in what I assumed to be a watery grave. After 24 hours, I removed the knife for inspection. I was disappointed to see the beginnings of that signature brown color along the “H1” and the “Spyderco” etchings. I thought, “Oh well, another one bites the dust.” As it turns out, that’s all it was. After a week of sitting in sea water, the brownish discoloration never progressed and easily wiped off with a cloth. Inquiries with Spyderco indicated the etchings are done via laser and that process leaves a film in the area when its done. That film is the cause of the discoloration, and all you have to do to remedy the situation is wipe the off the film, and the coloring is gone. I believe them. After years of living and working on (and under) salt water, I have never seen a steel as resistant to corrosion as H1.
After a week in the “ocean”, I rinsed off the knife with fresh water and wiped it off with a clean cloth. I found it to be free of any signs of corrosion. Yes, there was some hint of brownish discoloration on the etchings but it quickly disappeared with normal use and can be attributed to the laser-etching process.
The knife easily sliced though ½ inch braided nylon cord with one easy pull and a slightly harder pull for 1 inch strand nylon cord. Because the knife has a serrated edge I wanted to see how it would perform as a saw. With some effort I was able to cut through a piece of 5/8 inch laminated oak plywood that was 3 inches wide in about 3 minutes. I then proceeded to easily cut though strips of cardboard as this seems to be the standard method for attempting to dull a blade during testing. After slicing though about a dozen strips of corrugated cardboard the blade began to dull and it took more effort to cut with any precision. I found the results of my sharpness test to be what I would expect of any quality blade. Short of using a razor type utility knife, I would expect cardboard to dull any knife this quick. Besides I was getting tired of making big pieces of cardboard into little ones.
The blade was easily sharpened back to its original ability using a diamond hand file.
The Spyderco Atlantic Salt is a high quality knife that is purpose built and fills a wide range of uses. Its ergonomics are superior and with a little practice you can easily manipulate it without even looking at it or in the dark. This can be a very handy in an emergency situation. The fact that I could not get the knife to rust is a nice surprise. Pricing for the Atlantic Salt seems to hold between $60-75 USD on the internet. If you are in the market for a truly “rust proof” knife that hold an edge, it is a bargain. In case you are not a fan of serrated edges, Spyderco also offers a straight edge version called the Pacific Salt. Spyderco also offers both versions with a bright yellow FRN handle as well.
In the end, I am left with a new respect for the folks at Spyderco and their designers. I can find nothing to improve with this design. My thanks goes out to them for creating such a nice knife that is well designed and built to last.
Thank you to Nathaniel Leon of www.engineering.com for his expertise in metallurgy and technical advice about the properties of H1 steel.