With every blade I make, I try to combine art with function. Not only do my blades need to be suitable for their intended purpose, I also want them to look the way I think they should look. That includes not only the shape and handle material, but also the steel itself. I love working with steel that shows visual patterns.
Depending on what I am making and what I have in mind, the blade may consist of few or many layers of steel in specific configurations. I may combine high layer count damascus steel with a cutting core of carbon steel, or even use wootz (more on that further down). there are so many interesting things I can do, and I try to pick the right steel for each blade, based on what I want with the overal blade. While such steels are by no means cheap, I try to keep my blades affordable within the context of specialty steel blades.
There are so many things I still want to do with layered steel, that I no longer make blades using plain tool steel or stainless. It's not that they are inferior. They just don't look the way I like. That also means I am not competing in the cost effective cutlery business. I don't want to make mass market kitchen knives. A single person outfit like snailforge cannot hope to compete with companies like Wusthof. Instead, I make items for people who value quality and aesthetics despite the cost, not because of it.
A couple of examples give you an idea of the thigns I do with steel.
Low layer count damascus
This kind of steel consists of a low number of different kinds of steel, forge welded together and then shaped into a blade. With this type of steel, you can still see each individual layer. For this type of blade I do all the forge welding myself.
High layer count damascus
This is similar, but with more layers. It requires a lot more effort and time to make the steel, because it needs to be forge welded, folded, and forge welded again to make the required number of layers or pattern. For this I usually buy Damascus from smiths I know and whose work I trust, and use that steel to forge a blade.
It stands to reason that the price of a blade in this case depends in part on the name and reputation of the smith who made the steel, and the time and effort for said smith to create the requested patterns.
San mai is a Japanese term used for triple layer steel. Such constructions typically have 1 layer of high carbon steel, and a soft layer on each side. The reason for the hard / soft construction is that in old times, good steel was expensive, and prone to breaking. In modern times, the hard / soft paradigm has no added value, but the aesthetics of the triple layer design can be auite nice.
When I made steel like that, I tend to use damascus steel for the sides, and high carbon steel for the middle.
Wootz steel has ancient origins, and the way of making it had been lost for a long time before metallurgists rediscovered it in the second half of the previous century.
To make wootz, the smelter will put the right amount of iron, carbon, and various alloying elements together in a crucible. The crucible is then brought to high temperatures to get everything inside to melt and dissolve. It is then taken out of the fire and left to air cool. The alloying elements congeal first and form a dendritic carbide structure, kinda like the roots of grass. The steel solidifies shortly after. You end up with a block of steel that has those dendritic structures running through it, like a piece of top soil with grass roots.
There is quite literally no modern knife steel that cuts as well as wootz steel. The reason is that you have all those little bits of carbide sticking out of the blade surface, acting like serrations on a steak knife, but on a microscopic level.