When you’re looking for a good knife, you need to make sure you have good steel for that knife. It’s crucial that you do your research to make sure you’re getting the kind of knife you want. In your research, you’ll probably stumble upon websites talking about all types of steel, like carbon steel, stainless steel, and tool steel.
Then we have Solingen steel. Unlike the other steels, this one is named after the city in Germany. Solingen has long been renowned as a center for fine cutting tool production. In fact, Solingen has been called the city of Blades. They’ve been making high quality knives (especially cutlery and kitchen knives) for centuries.
Germans are also notoriously known to have rather perfectionist tendencies with their manufacturing and engineering processes, which is why German brands are so popular in various industries like electronics and automobiles. Solingen steel basically refers to the steel that the Solingen makers of knives, scissors, blades, and even swords use for their products.
What is Solingen steel?
Solingen steel generally refers to the steel used by the Solingen brands to create their cutting tools like knives and scissors. The Solingen knife makers have a reputation for excellence to maintain, so they’re famous for only using the best steels for the job.
There are specific quality standards that must be met before any steel can be considered Solingen steel. It’s a bit like how whisky has to be made a certain way before it’s called “Scotch” or how a wristwatch can be considered a “Swiss” watch.
Common Uses of Solingen steel
Brands that use Solingen steel generally use the steel for the following products:
- Kitchen knives and cutlery
- Pocket knives
- Hunting knives
- Bushcraft knives
- Military and tactical knives
- Razor blades
- Manicure and pedicure sets
Solingen Steel Chemical Composition
This can be very hard to pinpoint, given that we’re talking a set of steels. Some steels are even proprietary and hand-forged, so there’s very little data regarding the specific amount of particular alloying elements in the steel recipe.
But we can use the steel used in the Güde knives on our list to give us a clue on the capabilities of the steel. Güde uses a particular alloy made with chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum, and we have a general idea of what benefits these elements bring to the table.
Chromium: This Solingen steel used by Güde is a type of stainless steel, so the steel must contain a minimum of 12% chromium. With the excellent corrosion resistance that you get from these knives, you probably get a lot more chromium than the minimum.
Vanadium: This works as a deoxidizer, removing oxygen bubbles from the molten steel. It helps with the strength and wear resistance. A lot of steel hand tools are made with chrome-vanadium steel alloys.
Molybdenum: When combined with chromium, you get greater strength and impact resistance, and also greater toughness. Molybdenum also helps to increase corrosion resistance.
Solingen Steel Hardness
Again, there’s no specific hardness we can point to, as there are several types of Solingen steel to consider. In many cases, we don’t even know the precise chemical composition of the steel, and we don’t really know how the steel was treated and made.
Still, it’s very clear that the stereotypical steel offers excellent, suitable hardness. That’s especially true for their kitchen knives. Some steels are hard enough that they’re expected to cut smoothly through food ingredients through decades of use. They offer great wear-resistance.
Does Solingen Steel Rust?
Strictly speaking, it does. That’s to say that the Solingen steel will rust, given the right conditions. If you keep the knife wet and exposed to the air all the time, then eventually it may rust.
But when we’re talking about Solingen steel used for kitchen duty, then rust isn’t really a major concern. Solingen brands tend to manufacture premium kitchen knives for professional chefs, and we are talking about the very best steels possible. You can be absolutely certain that an average Solingen brand wouldn’t have overlooked a very basic issue like corrosion resistance.
In practical terms, if you wash and wipe your Solingen steel blades clean regularly, then any corrosion issue may only come up after decades of use.
Properties of Solingen Steel
Excellent Edge Retention
It’s always best that you keep your knives sharp, even when they’re made with Solingen steel. but what really makes this steel excellent for newbies is that it takes a very long time (as in years) before you’d notice a dip in cutting performance in your home kitchen.
Terrific Corrosion Resistance
The Solingen steel usually contains a lot of chromium and molybdenum to really fight off corrosion. The kitchen knives the Solingen brands make are made with Solingen stainless steel.
Fantastic Wear Resistance
Some kitchen knives last only 5 years or so before you have to throw them away. But with Solingen steel knives, you can expect decades of superior performance.
Is Solingen Steel Good for Knives?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, calling Solingen steel good for knives is definitely an understatement. It’s like saying that a basketball player that’s a member of the NBA Hall of Fame was a “good” basketball player.
Basically, you get tremendous cutting power with terrific edge retention, but with acceptable toughness so the blades don’t chip off easily. At the same time, you also get terrific corrosion resistance. You can reasonably expect a knife made with Solingen steel to offer superior performance for many years—probably decades!
Pros & Cons of Solingen steel
- Terrific cutting performance
- Sharp out of the box
- Fantastic wear resistance
- Great toughness
- Excellent corrosion resistance
- Low maintenance requirements
- You may need a special sharpening system
- Solingen steel knives aren’t cheap
Best Solingen Steel Knives
Here we have a list of 3 great kitchen knives made to meet the exacting specifications of nitpicky chefs all over the world. These are all part of the Güde Alpha series, so we have to talk about these knives collectively first. That way, we don’t repeat information when reviewing the specific knives.
The Güde Brand
This isn’t just any brand based in Solingen. It’s been around since 1910, so a quick check at the calculator app gives us more than a century of experience. They’ve made it a point to produce kitchen knives that a good professional chef will approve of.
One of their most notable specialties is precisely calibrating their handles with the right amount of weight for perfect weight balance. They give you a measure of control over the knife that you wouldn’t have experienced before with regular knives. After getting used to this type of weight balance, going back to a regular kitchen knife can be rather unpleasant.
The Solingen steel they use are also sharp right out of the box. In addition, the edge retention is fantastic so that it takes a very long time before you’ll need to sharpen the knife. That’s true even if you use the knives every day.
Sharpening the knives can be an issue eventually, especially if you’re a newbie. Güde does offer a sharpening system for their knives. They even offer to sharpen the knives for free, as long as you send your knives to them.
The Alpha Series
Several characteristics define this Güde series. One is that they use a special alloy that contains notable amounts of chromium, vanadium, and molybdenum.
They also forge each of these knives by hand, instead of making them through an industrial line at the factory. The entire production process actually takes more than 30 steps, and the whole thing is overseen by a nitpicky professional knife maker. These knives are all stainless steel, and also sharpened by hand.
The grips are ergonomic and polished, made with tough, long-lasting plastic. It’s a special plastic called Hostaform. It’s not just durable and pleasant to hold, but it’s also dishwasher-safe.
#1: Güde Alpha Series – 6 1/4″ Chai Dao Knife
- Blade length: 16 cm
- Blade thickness: 1.9 mm
- Blade height: 6 cm
- Weight: 221 g
- Blade hardness: 56 HRC
- Cut: on both sides
- Total length: 31.3 cm
- Stainless: yes
As you may have guessed with the name of the knife, this is a Chinese knife design. It’s looks very much like a Western cleaver, but it’s not a meat cleaver that you use to forcefully cut through bone.
Instead, it’s a vegetable cleaver. It’s not designed to be used with brute force. It’s made for precision cutting, when you’re slicing your peppers, ginger, and onions. It’s smaller than a regular Western cleaver as well, measuring only 6.25 inches long. It’s not as wide, and it doesn’t weigh as much as well.
For this, you’ll want to use a pinch grip when holding the knife. You use your thumb and forefinger to really squeeze the handle but your forefinger is actually relaxed. The other three fingers fold the handle.
This is excellent when you want your food ingredients to have the same size after cutting. That way, when you’re stir-frying your peppers and onions, they all cook at the same time.
- Great control
- Offers greater precision compared to Western cleavers
- Very comfy to hold and use
- Tricky to learn to use (if you’re a newbie)
#2: Güde Alpha Series – 8″ Chef’s Knife
- Blade length: 21 cm
- Blade thickness: 4 mm
- Blade height: 4.2 cm
- Weight: 311 g
- Blade hardness: 56 HRC
- Cut: on both sides
- Total length: 34.6 cm
This is a versatile chef’s knife that measures 8 inches long, and if you’re starting a kitchen knife set you may as well start with this one. It’s basically a universal cutting tool that you can use for just about any cutting task in the kitchen.
You can use the long length of the cutting edge to cut large vegetables. Or, you can just use the slender tip to cut your small veggies and onions. But this is also great for cutting your tender meats as well. Use this for dicing your veggies, disjointing some cuts, chopping nuts, and slicing your herbs.
- Very versatile
- Can cut meat
- Good for chopping nuts
- Slices herbs nicely
- Can disjoint some cuts
- Can dice veggies
- Not for cleaving meat bones
- Not for slicing bread
- Not good for precision cutting tasks
#3: Güde Alpha Series – 6″ Slicing Knife
- Blade length: 16 cm
- Blade thickness: 2.2 mm
- Blade height: 2.4 cm
- Weight: 117 g
- Blade hardness: 56 HRC
- Cut: on both sides
This is a smaller slicing knife, and you can use this over the 8-inch chef’s knife if you want more precision for tasks. It comes with a pointed tip, and it’s very flexible. You use this if you want thinner slices for your veggies, fruits, and roasts.
Don’t use this for cleaving meat. But you can slice and carve thinner cuts when you’re having fish, venison, beef, pork, and chicken.
- Very flexible
- Great for thinner slices
- Offers fantastic control
- Not good for cleaving meat
Sure, you can get any one of these knives and get terrific value for your money. But you should really consider getting all 3 knives—that way, you’re able to get the precise knife you need for any cutting you’ll need to do in the kitchen.
If you really care about the quality of your kitchen knives, then Solingen steel is a solid choice for your kitchen knives. These knives are made to meet the needs of professional chefs, and they’re great if you’re an enthusiastic amateur in the kitchen who’s determined to get the best knives possible.
Sure, they’re expensive. But if you look at your long-term costs, these knives are actually cost-effective. These knives can last you for at least 20 years. That makes the cost per year almost a bargain!