Niagara Specialty Metals: A Key Player in the U.S. Knife Industry
By Gary Zinn
Have you ever wondered where the blade steel in that nice U.S.A. made knife you own came from? The answer may be simpler than you think.
Niagara Specialty Metals (NSM), located in Akron, NY, is a leader in the reprocessing and distribution of popular knife steels. Currently (August, 2017), NSM lists 16 specific U.S. made knife steels that they process and distribute. In the "About Us" section of their website they say this:
"Niagara Specialty Metals is a manufacturer of tool steels, high speed steels, martensitic stainless steels, powdered metals and controlled expansion alloys, including aerospace grades. Our company is built around manufacturing customized orders of difficult to obtain metals. We offer fast, factory direct delivery of small or large quantities, custom rolled and cut to your specifications."
NSM converts billets of U.S. made mill steel into sheets or strips sized to the most common dimensions used in knife making, or to customer order. Large volume orders for sheets, strips, or even cut blade blanks can be negotiated directly with NSM. Small orders of strips can be bought online, where a half dozen options each of strip thickness and width are offered.
They use a precision CNC laser to cut metal up to 0.3" thick and CNC abrasive water jet cutters to cut steel up to 4" thick. Seventeen band saws can cut plates up to 8.0 inches thick and between 0.575 and 56.0 inches wide.
Two hot rolling mills can hot roll metal between 0.025 to 4.0 inches thick. Gas or electric furnaces are used for hot rolling, depending on the material and the customer's needs.
Eleven electric annealing furnaces with precision controls obtain the temperature needed to meet the customer's exact specifications. Finished products are precision flattened to the customer's tolerances using hydraulic roller levelers and presses. Niagara can also remove scale and machine the surface of finished products to minimize variations in thickness, if desired. It is an impressive operation.
The 16 U.S. made blade steels currently processed by NSM include generic 416, 440-C, D-2, A-2, L-6 and O-1. NSM reprocesses the entire line of Crucible Industries knife steels, including 154-CM and the CPM series of blade steels. The U.S. made steels most used in knives sold on the domestic market are (in descending order) CPM S35VN, D-2, CPM S30V, 154-CM and 440-C. NSM processes and distributes all of these.
Many of the most recognized makers of commercial and custom knives buy steel from Niagara Specialty Metals, including (in no particular order) major U.S. based makers Benchmade, ZT, Spyderco, Leatherman, Ka-Bar, Gerber, Chris Reeve Knives, and Rick Hinderer. In addition, some foreign based knife makers, notably Boker and Kizer, get the U.S. made steel used in their knives through NSM.
NSM also supplies a dozen authorized distributors, several of which cater to small custom and hobbyist knife makers. Niagara Specialty Metals is indeed a key player in the U.S. knife industry.
Note: This article is based on information found on the Niagara Specialty Metals website (www.nsm-ny.com) and an interview with Bob Shabala, President of Niagara, posted on the Knife Informer website (http://knifeinformer.com). The list of U.S. made steels most used in knives sold on the domestic market is based on knife model offerings from the KnifeCenter (www.knifecenter.com).
Copyright 2017 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.