Last Updated: May 28, 2017
When I review knives the kind of steel is very important. I usually spend quite a bit of time researching the steel. In addition to my own impressions I look to user experiences, manufacturer guidelines, and independent resources on steel. Then, I usually spend a good amount of time in each review discussing the the pros and cons of the steel, why the manufacturer might have selected it and sometimes I even do comparisons and go into detail on heat treating and all of that.
This is good information, and I want to make sure people have access to it, but I also don’t want to repeat the same stuff over and over. For example, if you have read one blurb on 154 CM, you have probably read them all. This page will allow me to go more in depth on a steel and make it easy for you to get to the information you want, and avoid reading through stuff you already know.
The Steel Chart
By popular request I have created a steel chart, where I try to simply map out the relative merits of each steel. You can use this chart to try to find the best steel for you. I decided to do this on 20 point scale, where I assign a maximum of 5 points to the 4 categories of Ease of Sharpening, Toughness, Edge Retention and Corrosion Resistance. The closer to 20 points the “better” the steel.
A Word of Caution – Steel Should NOT be Studied in a Vacuum!
Really listing out all the steels like this and assigning a number or rank may not be as helpful as you think. Just ask the experts in the comments section. Steel should not be studied in a vacuum. There are many other variables to consider outside the steel itself, even when considering things like edge retention (which many would assume only pertains to the steel). Here are some other factors to consider:
- The Edge Geometry – What angle is the edge set at? Is the blade v ground, convex, or chisel ground? This can all have a huge impact on the performance of a knife
- The Heat Treat – A poor heat treat can bring even the best steel to it’s knees, or make a “crappy steel” pretty good.
- The Hardness of the Steel – e.g., the heat treat – a given steel can be hardened to various points on the Rockwell scale.
- The Material Being Cut – You wouldn’t want to use a relatively brittle steel like VG 10 to chop wood),
- How you use the knife – Chopping vs slicing vs batoning vs stabbing.
So there is a lot to consider and simply dumping stuff into a chart won’t give you a full picture of things. But generalizations and charts can be helpful, especially if we are talking about production knives.
So this should also illustrate the “give and take” that occurs with various steels. Generally speaking you shouldn’t be as concerned with the total (I might change this total points system down the road). Also, keep in mind no single steel will be able to get a 5 in all the categories, but some are nice well rounded steels, while others are a little more biased one way or the other. Just because a steel doesn’t get a great X/20 score doesn’t mean it’s a bad steel. An “unbalanced” steel is good for certain types of tasks and sometimes requires a little more maintenance but will provide much better performance (ZDP 189 is a good example). This goes to the importance of using the right tool for the job.
Also, keep in mind this is a work in progress and it’s also kind of a ‘seat of the pants’ evaluation. These are my personal experiences, subject to change, and breaking everything down to a 1-5 scale is something that will probably require some tweaking. For more information on any particular steel (including my justifications for giving it a certain number) scroll down further to read the commentary.
|Steel:||Ease of Sharpening:||Toughness:||Edge Retention:||Corrosion Resistance:||Total (of 20):|
Again, these are some of my personal thoughts on knife steels, subject to change. It’s not meant to be the steel bible. Feel free to drop me a comment (or email) with your thoughts on this. It’s not a perfect system but perhaps with your input we can make it into something fair, accurate and useful to people who want to learn a little more about their knife steels.
Blade Steel Chemical Composition
Most of the discussion on this page is anecdotal. There is nothing wrong an anecdotal discussion of steel, but if you want to delve further into the science and metallurgy of blade steels, then I invite you to check out my page on steel composition. It goes into the chemical composition of steel, what the various elements can do to blade steel, etc. For many I think it will be too much information, but feel free to check it out if you geek out on this sort of thing.
Blade Steels – Commentary
AUS-8: AUS-8 is Japanese made medium-carbon, high chromium stainless steel, which offers a good balance of toughness, edge sharpness and corrosion resistance. The score this steel earned my surprise people, but there is a lot to like about AUS 8. Edge retention is definitely the weakest link on this steel, but depending on the heat treat and the purpose of the knife I think it can be entirely adequate.
8Cr13MoV: A Chinese steel with similar performance characteristics to AUS-8. 8Cr14Mov and it’s variants (including 8Cr14MoV) is actually excellent steel for the money. Like AUS-8, it lacks the edge retention of the higher end steels but can take a wicked edge and is reasonably tough and corrosion resistant. For EDC knives in the $35 and under bracket 8Cr13MoV is really tough steel to beat.
440-C: 440C is generally considered a lower end knife steel in America, but it is commonly used in medium to high grade knives in Europe. I think the low end stigma in the US is a bit unfair for 440C. It isn’t a super steel, but it is very adequate stainless steel, is far better than “no name steel” and is found in a lot of high value knives. 440C is a high-chromium stainless steel with a terrific balance of good toughness and corrosion resistance. 440C takes a nice edge and is fairly easy to resharpen.
S30V: Widely considered to be one of the best high end steels on production knives, S30V is an all around performer with great corrosion resistance, toughness, a fine grain structure and great edge holding capabilities. It will take a little work to sharpen and loses it’s initial razor sharpness fairly easily but it holds a great “working edge” that is very tough to beat. While a number of super high end steels have reached the market, S30V still remains as an obvious choice for any high end piece of cutlery.
VG 10: A higher end Japanese steel known for it’s hardness and ability to take a very fine (and sharp edge). Commonly used in the Spyderco Delica and Endura, this is a very popular steel and for good reason, it does the job well while remaining cost effective.
154CM: 154CM is a high end stainless steel made in America by Crucible, the same manufacturer of S30V. 154CM is a very popular steel and is used a lot by Benchmade and is used exclusively by Emerson Knives. 154CM was originally designed for industrial applications and is a durable steel that holds an edge very well and is easy to sharpen. One potential issue is that although 154CM is stainless, it will rust if left in a damp environment. It’s important to keep the blade clean and to cover it with oil if you live in a humid area. That said, I’ve noticed the corrosion resistance to be very good. All stainless steels will rust if neglected.
ZDP189: Don’t let the low score fool you. ZDP189 is great steel if you know how to take care of it. It takes a wicked edge and will hold it better than any other steel I have encountered. However, because it takes and holds such a nice edge it is not particularly easy to sharpen and it is not very tough. Also, it is not particularly corrosion resistant. If you use it for food prep, clean the blade off. Try to keep it dry after washing it, and don’t take the knife to the beach. If you know how to sharpen it (better yet, if you don’t let it get dull) ZDP189 should perform very well for you.
D2: D2 is a high carbon tool steel. Compared to a steel like 1095 it is not nearly as tough (meaning it is more prone to chipping out or breaking) but it is capable of holding an edge for a long time. D2 is also much more resistant to corrosion than 1095. For these reasons D2 steel is a good for smaller folding knives, but is not ideal for large fixed blades such as dedicated choppers and large survival knives.
1095-HC: 1095 is a high carbon steel (instead of a stainless steel) commonly used in heavy duty tools. Because it is a high carbon steel, it can and will rust if you don’t take care of it. That is why 1095 is suitable for fixed blade knives only. 1095 makes great steel for heavy duty choppers and survival knives because of it’s extreme durability and resistance to chipping, easy sharpening and decent edge retention. Because of the potential rust issues it is very important to keep knives made of 1095 clean and oiled. Take extra care to store a knife made of 1095 out of its sheath (this is a good idea for all knives) and keep a thin layer of lubricant on the steel. Also, selecting a knife made of 1095 with a durable coating (such as the powder coat used on ESEE knives) will help prevent rust.
Other Factors Effecting Steel Performance
Again, I would advise people researching the steels that the steel itself isn’t the end all be all of the knife. The following are other considerations explained in a little more detail. This is a work in progress.
Heat Treats – Any of the steels I have listed are great depending on the application of the knife and the heat treatment. An exotic steel with a poor heat treatment will not hold up as well as a more inexpensive steel with a great heat treatment. That said, I think the steel used should be factored into the price of a knife. The more exotic steels like 154CM and S30V are going to cost more than 440C and 8Cr14Mov and I would be hesitant to buy an expensive knife that uses an inexpensive steel.
Edge Geometry – The angle the edge is set at is critical to edge retention. Typically a wider angle is set for something like a survival knife or heavy chopper and a narrower angle is set for a kitchen knife or fine utility blade. The degree the edge is set at will of course affect how the edge will wear. Also, consider that convex, v grinds and chisel grinds will perform differently too. Also consider that a full flat grind will behave differently from a saber or partial grind – again, depending on the task at hand.
Cutting Material and Intended Use – Chopping wood, cutting rope and cardboard, and skinning game are very different tasks that are best accomplished by different knives. So it makes sense that you will want to consider what you will be primarily using the knife for when considering the steel. Case in point, 1095 is fine for clearing brush or processing wood for a fire, but it’s a terrible choice if you work in a warehouse and break down boxes all day. No single steel is going to outperform the rest for every single task so consider your intended use first.
09/07/2018 – Larrin over at Knife Steel Nerds has written a great critique ranking the steel ranking articles of various knife blogs, including my article here. If you are interested in taking a deep dive into the science of steel, then you owe it to yourself to check out Knife Steel Nerds.
Larrin Thomas is a steel metallurgist, and his blog is dedicated to in depth articles with scientific research on all things knife steel. My article is written as a lay person, and draws largely from my experience and some crude research. Larrin is the real deal so if this is a topic you care deeply about, subscribe to his blog and consider becoming a Patreon so he can continue to dive deep on this topic.
I will be updating this article in response to his critique.
What do you think of D2 steel?
Gary I have D2 on my Benchmade Mini Bone collector and to be honest, I really like it. I know some people aren’t a fan because it is harder to sharpen and is more prone to rust (I think it’s almost not a stainless steel) but I found edge retention to be great and had no issues with sharpening or corrosion. Granted, depending on your climate and sharpening abilities your mileage may vary but for my purposes I think it’s a great steel.
Survival fixed Blade, chopping wood, defense etc:
8Cr13MoV Or 1095? Also do you like the Shrades?
I had mine for good amount of time, i think its handy and deep
Maybe this is asking too much but would it be possible for you to make a grid with a score (maybe 1-3, or 1-5) of each of the characteristics you mentioned (toughness, edge sharpness, ease of sharpening, corrosion resistance, cost) for each type of knife steel? I think this would make it much easier for me to visualize the relative merits of each steel.
Patrick, that is definitely not too much to ask, in fact I think it’s a great idea. This section of the site (background material, definitions, etc) in general needs major work, and the steel list is short, somewhat subjective and very incomplete – which is the exact opposite of my original intentions. I will add this to my list of things to do and try to have something put together in the next few weeks. Thanks for the suggestion, I really appreciate the feedback.
This chart is an amazing resource. Thanks for creating it. Most of the knives that I have used are 1095. Would it be possible for you to add this to your chart? I think that it is a good steel and a common steel so it would be a handy benchmark.
Thank you for the kind words. I am glad you find the chart helpful. 1095 is actually included in the list. It’s the 9th steel from the top of the chart.
1095 is a great steel for outdoor fixed blades. I especially like it for big choppers. The ESEE Junglas is in 1095, and it’s one of my favorite fixed blades of all time.
Chris J says
I’m only just now learning about the various steels and found your chart a helpful primer. Thank you!
I was looking at a vary popular, military-issued brand of knife and they list the steel as “1095 Cro Van”. Being more of a gun guy than a knife guy, that sounds like metal similar that used with a mil-spec AR-15, but I don’t know entirely what the designation means. I assume it has the characteristics of 1095, but I’m not sure what “Cro Van” adds to the equation. Could you help a newbie out?
I am glad you have found this page useful.
1095 Cro Van is 1095 with the addition of Chromium and Vanadium. This adds corrosion resistance and apparently makes the edge a little toothier, which helps with cutting performance.
Don’t know how I missed it…
I also would like to thank you as a intermediate level user and collrctor, I am profoundly thankful and would have to agree that . A secondary chart mentioned by one of your readers would be extremely helpful, thanks and please continue to helping us understand the properties of all the many varieties of steal! !!@ people like you make the earth a better place live!!!
Thanks again so very much!!!!
Regards: John PETZOLD … .
What would be better for a skinning knife blade? S30V or A2 and what one is more weather resistant ?
Asher, To be completely honest I have never skinned anything in my life and I’m not entirely sure. If I had to hazzard a guess I’d probably pick S30V. S30V is a true stainless steel while A2 is not.
Queen steel d2 whats yours
michael zimmerman says
I have a cold steel outdoorsman that I feel is an excellent hunting/survival knife maybe you can review it someday. They call the steel san mai3 does it go by another name on your chart if not could you tell me some of the charactristics of it
Thanks, Michael Zimmerman
First of all, the Outdoorsman looks really cool – I’d love to take a closer look at one eventually.
San Mai 3 is actually Cold Steel’s name for laminate steel, so what we have here is actually a laminate of 2 different steels. It’s 2 pieces of soft lower carbon steel surrounding a core of harder high carbon steel. What this does (in theory at least) is make the entire blade tougher and less likely to crack. Hard steel tends to be brittle so by wrapping it in a softer and tougher steel it kind of gives you the best of both worlds. Done right it also as the potential to look really cool. 😉
At the core of the Outdoorsman is VG-1. I don’t have much experience with VG-1, but my research shows that this steel is manufactured by Takefu Special Steel, who also manufactures VG-10. I understand that VG-10 also makes a good point of comparison. VG-1 has a higher carbon content than VG-10 and apparently it sharpens very easily while still maintaining a high hardness (61 HRC). It takes an extremely keen edge like VG-10 but it won’t hold that edge as long as VG-10. VG-1 is also more prone to chipping because it is harder (VG-10 is often heat treated to 58-60 HRC). I wish I had some more experience with it and could give some personal thoughts, but that’s all I got for now unfortunately! Anyhow, I hope this helps a little – I’d love to test some VG-1 out for myself.
Michael, thanks for stopping by and offering the excellent question. Please let me know if you have any others!
You seem very knowledgable about his and it seems like you have a lot of experience, so I was wondering if you have any experience or knowledge about how the “ultra premium” steels (for lack of a better word) compare, particularly ELMAX?
Thanks so much for the excellent question. To be completely honest I do not have much experience with ELMAX and I am just an enthusiast so my understanding of blade steel is still quite elementary. My understanding is that ELMAX is a highly corrosion resistant steel that exhibits great edge retention. When properly heat treated it should out perform stuff like 154CM, VG10 and S30V and is more in like with steel like ZDP189. However, there are other steels that apparently will outperform ELMAX, stuff like S90V and M390. This is just what I could gather from my own research, I’ll have to try and get some hands on time w/ these steels (which will involve purchasing some pretty pricey blades!). Thanks again for the great question!
Thanks man, interesting stuff. I asked because kershaw offers the speedform ii in ELMAX for 73$ and I was interested in trying it out.
My pleasure Rangodash! For a $73 knife it should be excellent steel!
Maybe you want to add the prefix “CPM-” to the entries on 154CM and S30V? As far as I am aware Crucible sells both steels in two grades – standard and CPM (powder steel) where the powder will be the superior grade (smaller carbides, more homogenious structure). There will be a difference in price for the finished blade, something that we as consumers should be aware of.
“Why does this S30V-blade cost so much more than that blade with the same steel?”
“Ah, but it’s not the same steel. This is CPM S30V, that’s just boggo-standard S30V.”
“Right. That’s not confusing at all.”
Lew, It might be most appropriate to just explain the difference in the steel section and then note whether the blade is made in X or CPM-X depending on the specific knife. Since it’s difficult to quantify the performance difference (well, at least in my experience) I’ll have to think about how I want to do it exactly. Thanks for the suggestions. I totally agree that it can be confusing and should be more clearly addressed.
s30v is cpm made meaning there is not 2 types of s30v its all cpm s30v the only difference is if the person writing it puts cpm in front of the s30v or if they just put s30v its all particle metallurgy i have seen other people ask about this just wanted to clear it up i know its an old post
I disagree with the comment above regarding D2 steel not being suitable for longer blades. I own two Knives Of Alaska Busmaster Alaskan Trail /Camp knives. Blades are ten inches long. Super tough , super sharp, can take any amount of battoning and slashing, and when Ive finished slashing gorse and clearing trails will still cut paper like a razor. D2 is a very tough steel, never had any blade chips .
Seems when you are interested in knives and in particular the comparison of steels used, for every review claiming one thing, read on and you will find others saying the opposite. This applies to all top end steels I have found. D2 is king in my book long or short makes no difference. I also have a KOA Magnum Wolverine which is one of the finest knives made.
Part of the problem is heat treat and geometry make such a huge difference in the performance of a knife. Also, people who have bad experiences are more likely to voice their opinion than those who have had good or neutral experiences so you tend to get a disproportionate number of bad experiences in the comments section. A lot of times a comment on a review will be like “I got one of these knives and it had XYZ problem.” Sometimes it’s a common experience, but a lot of times it’s just one pissed off consumer. That’s how it goes sometimes.
Anyhow, I appreciate your thoughts on D2. I can’t say it’s my favorite steel. In some cases I rather like it. In others I find it difficult to sharpen. Once again heat treat, geometry, and user experience will play a major role.
May I ask you to review with M390 and M4. I understand those steels are not as widespread, but I would like to hear your review against tables of steel you have already done.
What are your thoughts on O1 steel? I have a spyderco bushcraft I love it. However, I can not find much information on as does with some other steel like s30v. Have you had any particular experience with it?
I have limited experience with O1, An. My father has a Enzo fixed blade scandi ground in O1 that I have played around with – beyond that I don’t own any knives currently in the steel. It is a hearty carbon steel. It is tough and easy to sharpen like 1095 and is a good choice for outdoor focused fixed blades. I wouldn’t be opposed to adding some fixed blades into my collection in O1 if that helps at all.
Geno Benelli says
Just wondering how you feel about an OKC Rat 5 as a good all around fixed blade knife.
I would carry on 2-3 day camping trips or take along for wilderness survival training classes. I’m not one to collect equipment as a hobby. I just want one or two good blades for outdoor use that I can really count on. The RAT 5 would be my larger blade and maybe a few Moras for smaller work. I do kind of like the blades currently offered by Battle Horse Knives. They seem well made and have simple functional designs. Of course there are propably 500 that fit that category. Thanks much.
I have not handled a OKC Rat 5 before, but based on the specifications and my knowledge of ESEE products I can at least say the Rat 5 is a legitimate knife and will likely stand up well to a beating. Beyond that I can’t really comment.
Hi bud, I really like the fact you pointed out “you have to take in account of the uses that you are using the blade for, and to what expectations a person has of the blade” people don’t get the idea that if they are going to buy a passenger car and run it at Daytona, yes it is a car and yes it will make it around the track, but the only way its going to win the race is if its the only car out there, and a after thought maybe it won’t even make it around the track if that person has never driven before, so it would stand to reason to me at least to not belittle a steal if it don’t stand up to what you think it should, because to someone else it might just be the cutting edge… please keep up the good work I always learn from you.
Thank you, Kevin.
What are your thoughts on Spyderco’s H1 steel they use in their Salt line? Excellent work on this site all the way around.
I have not handled H1 or used that steel before. My understanding is that the corrosion resistant qualities of the steel make it not as easy to sharpen and it generally doesn’t hold an edge as well as a more “normal” steel, but I have no direct experience. I’d like to get my hands on a knife in H1 at some point. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. Thanks for the kind words regarding the website.
Hey, can you wrote a piece soon about edge designs and geometry?
I can put it on my “to-do” list and try to write some thoughts on the subject.
I’m curious about what you use to sharpen your knives. I’m terrible at sharpening free hand and used a Lansky for decades but finally got sick of each guide rod having a slightly different angle so I invested in an Edge Pro Apex and a good strop.
Now that I can get my knives terrifyingly sharp, I’ve noticed that I’m beginning to prefer 154CM over S30V. Both take a great edge, and the S30V will keep an edge longer, but 154CM is far easier to strop back to a fine edge between serious sharpenings than S30V (the knives are all Benchmades). Any thoughts on this?
I usually use (in order of priority) a strop, the stones from my Sharpmaker, some small DMT stones, or some Japanese waterstones. I mostly use the waterstones for kitchen knives. The DMT stones are mostly for extremely stubborn steel, reprofiling, or removing chips. 90% of the time I use a strop and my Sharpmaker stones.
I tend to agree with you regarding S30V and 154CM. S30V can be a bear.
I love you articles about the different steals and the angle of the edge. I have been a meat cutter for 40 years and most the of the knives I have used, have been German or Swedish steel, there okay but with the plastic tables that we have causes the edge not to last very long and they wear out pretty fast. When you do large amounts of tri tips and boning your 6 inch boning knife can’t hold edge for very long it wears out your wrist , fast. I hear there’s two Japanese knife manufactures that are really good for meat cutting one is called Mac and the other is called Tojiro . Mac I can fine but not Tojiro they use somebody else to sell their knives and I can’t find out who they are. Both those knives are supposed to be 60 to 65 HRC have you heard about them.
Thanks for the kind words. It’s interesting to hear your experiences as a meat cutter. I think I may have heard of Mac somewhere, but am unfamiliar with Tojiro.
Great article! I wanted to get your advise on which of these two knives you’d take over the other? I live in Utah, so not very humid at all. I’m going between the Ontario SK5 ($110 on Amazon) and the Ontario SP2 Air Force Survival Knife (29 on Amazon). I’m looking for an survival/defensive knife.
Honestly I don’t have experience with either of those knives. In briefly researching them, I see that both have received favorable reviews. My guess is it is going to come down to personal preference and your budget.
Two questions: 1) would you consider adding to your grid blade materials other than steel, such as ceramic, plastic, titanium? 2) Any recommendations for a fixed blade tactical of small to medium size with a good hand guard or finger groove and substantial jimping? Or an auto knife with the same characteristics?
1. I don’t have any experience with ceramic or titanium knives, but if I gain experience with these materials it would be cool to add them to the chart.
2. Have you checked out the Cold Steel Mini Tac series? There may be something there that meets your criteria.
Hi dan! I recently purchased a CRKT made knife. The model is the 21-02. It comes with aus-8 steel and has an hrc of 58-59. I’ve heard bad things about CRKT but it holds and edge quite well and is honeslty great. Just wanted to hear your opinion on CRKT and why people may not like there blades. Thanks!
I have reviewed a number of CRKT knives over the years (all of which can be found here: http://bladereviews.com/crkt-knives/ ). Generally speaking I am a fan of the company and their products. While some of their earlier models used steels like AUS-4 (which I am not a huge fan of – it’s essentially a lower performance version of AUS-8 with a lower carbon count), they have made great strides over the years. Most of their models are more budget models and feature steels like AUS-8 and 8Cr13MoV, but they are priced accordingly. Personally, I do not have a problem at all with AUS-8 or 8Cr13MoV if the knife is priced appropriately. These aren’t “super steels” but are perfectly serviceable. They take a good edge and are easy to sharpen. They won’t hold an edge as long as a higher end steels, but that is what a knife sharpener is for.
I hope this helps – I think CRKT is capable of making a great product and I have had good experiences with a number of their knives. Certainly there is room for improvement, and if they wanted to attack the higher end of the market they would need to roll out knives in more premium steels to remain competitive.
Hi Dan thanks for all the info & hard work putting this chart together ..I’m am a knife collector & user. I own dozens of knives ,both folding & fixed. I personally like Spyderco & Cold steel but own sog & crkt also. The knife I carry & use daily is a spyderco remote access serrated in 8AUS & this knife had not been sharpened in 5 years (I just touched it up)it was still sharp..I had bought a delica a few years back in ATS 55 &the tip1/16Th snapped off cutting cardboard!! I fixed it & few months later 1/2 inch snapped off cutting a twigg!! I noticed spyderco dropped ATS55 from their line the next year….any thoughts..???BTW keep up the good work thanks. GLEN
I honestly don’t have much experience with ATS-55. I am more than a little surprised to hear that part of the blade snapped off! I would think that the warranty would cover that since it sounds like you were using the knife normally. Maybe you got one with a bad heat treat? Or possibly there is a reason why Spyderco moved on to other steels.
Regardless I appreciate the comment and story. Thanks for dropping by, Glen. Enjoy your blades in good health.
David Goodrow says
Over the years I’ve tried several different knife steels and from my experience theirs not a whole lot of difference between any of them when it comes to edge retention. Sure 8Cr13MoV and 440 and AUS8 lose their razor edge almost instantly where S30V and VG10 and 154CM will lose razor edge just a few minutes down the line using all the knives in the same manner. If your a knife addict as I am, sharpening blades is a loved hobby and I really like to do it so wouldn’t it be logical to want a steel that you can get ultra razor sharp? The satisfaction that comes right after you shave the hair off your arm with one stroke. You can buy a blade in AUS8 for MUCH cheaper than S30V or ELMAX and like I said the AUS8 is going to dull faster but for the price for the S30V or ELMAX it’s edge doesn’t hold up that much longer. Extra $75 or even $100 for 5 more minutes of longevity before you have to pull out the sharpener and spend 20 minutes or up to an hour trying to get the razor edge back. No matter which steel you have you are going to spend more time sharpening it because thats what it’s all about…. Sharpening!
Thanks for stopping by. I agree that these cheaper steels have their place, and there is a good argument for carrying a user blade in one of these softer steels. Much easier to sharpen, and sharpening is part of owning a knife.
David Goodrow says
Yes sir, thats what it’s all about. Over the years I’ve become very good at sharpening any blade be it 3 inches or 13 inches in any kind of steel. S30V is in my opinion the absolute hardest steel to sharpen! I get so irritated after spending 30 to 45 minutes being as precise on the angle as I can to get it razor sharp and it seems like I hadn’t touched it at all! I have DMT Diamond plates in all grains, Ultra-Fine black surgical stone, Carborundum stones in several grains and of corse leather strops also in different shapes & styles. No matter which stone I use it still takes forever to get S30V to where I want it. I eventually get it there but it takes way to long in my opinion. At the end of the day im going back to the sharpeners for another hour plus. So I’ve decided to stick with something that I can sharpen quickly and last almost as long as the high dollar steels.
i think that you would benefit from an upgrade to your sharpening system. I have gone through 2 different versions of the GATCO system. Their knife clamp leaves much to be desired as it is next to impossible to keep some blades from wobbling while sharpening. I also have gone through a set of DMT diamond “stones” and their blade clamp is a joke.
Recently I have upgraded to a KME with their standard 4 diamond plate kit. The advantages are:
Much better blade clamp than all others, solid, sturdy, lowest blade angle capability of all.
Better diamond “stones” as far as durability than DMT
The biggest advantage of the KME system over Lansky, GATCO, DMT is the rigidity of their clamp system combined with the ability to adapt the angle of grind to the exact angle from the factory. The other clamps have you modify the angle of the grind to their specific pre-drilled angle settings. This will eat up all of your stones faster than if you can adjust the angle of the stone to match the existing g one on the blade.
I can get a REALLY sharp edge on my BUCK Vantage Pro in S30V within about 30 minutes or less. Changing the entire bevel is also easier on the KME, again it is due to the ability of their system to give you a rigid setup which permits you to exactly replicate the precise angle of grind that you just previously took.
My experience includes using benchstones for free hand sharpening since 1965 with leather belts used to strop. It worked OK for all the blades made of steel which was commonly used in blades until these new heat treats and metal compositions began showing up.
I am spoiled now by using a “jig” to sharpen with. And KME also has a full line of Arkansas stones plus Japanese water stones to add to your system if you wish.
There is a “better way” to do it and I am glad to see that KME figured out one of them.
I’m from Brazil and your articles are very great. I’m new in knowledge about knives and metals. I’m looking to buy a good survival knife , then I found the Schrade knives with a great price. So, my question is Schf9 (with 1095 High Carbon Steel) or Schf9n (with 8Cr13Mov High Carbon Stainless Steel). I heard many saying that the Chinese 8Cr13Mov steel is crap. That’s true? Because I’m inclined to buy a Schf9n. In your opinion , which one you buy?
Thank you for the kind words and for taking the time out to comment. 8Cr13MoV isn’t necessarily a crap steel. It’s fine for inexpensive folding knives. That said, for an outdoor fixed blade, I much prefer 1095 high carbon steel, and would recommend the SCHF9 over the SCHF9N. Hope this helps!
IMO, you’ll need to sharpen a 8Cr13MoV blade after cutting up cardboard boxes for 30 minutes. Thats how Quickly and Easily it loses an edge
Far from ideal in most situations, but better than no knife.
Edward Rojas says
Hello Dan, I was wonder which you think is better D2 or Elmax? I am currently looking at a Ravencrest Tractical OTF model RCT-1 with D2 steel for $399.99 or a Micrtech Combat Troodon OTF with Elmax for $350. Which would you choose and why? I apperiate all and any input.
I prefer Elmax over D2. D2 can be a bear to sharpen and it stains more easily than D2. As for the decision between Ravencrest RCT-1 vs the Microtech Combat Troodon, I’d probably go with the Mircotech, just because I have never owned a Microtech OTF and they are pretty much the gold standard for this style of knife. But I don’t speak from much OTF experience. Hope this helps!
Glad I found this site. Excellent reviews! While I have absolutely no experience in evaluating various steels other than as a user/consumer, I have formed personal opinions of various knives over the decades. I have fixed blades made by Buck from back in the 80’s and a nice Puma (my first knife purchase) I bought back in 1970. My current favorite carry knife is a Benchmade 154CM Mel Pardue automatic which replaced a Cold Steel Voyager I carried for several years. I’ve noticed that blade steel seemingly has become more brittle and less durable (?) and I find myself becoming more careful with the blade(s). Do you think this harder/more brittle end result is more brand specific; different countries steel development, or consumer cost driven; or an old man’s imagination? Thanks for you your input!
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Hmm, well, the trend seems to be towards steels that have higher edge retention. In many cases that is at the cost of durability (ie, the steel is harder, but it is less ductile and more susceptible to chipping). I think it has less to do with the country of origin and more to do with the chemistry of the steel. Just my .02
Thanks for the article, I have been doing a lot of research on knife steels lately. As of right now, 154CM is probably my favorite. It holds an edge well and is easy to sharpen. I don’t particularly care much for VG-10 at all. Most folks seem to like it but I have tried numerous times to sharpen my Spyderco Endura 4 and I have barely made any progress. I occasionally carry a Case xx with Tru Sharp Surgical steel. It takes an extremely sharp edge easily but it dulls extremely fast. What is your opinion on Tru Sharp surgical steel? Is it similar to 420hc or 420j?
My pleasure. I do not have any experience with Tru Sharp, so all I could offer would be a “wild ass guess” based on what I have heard about TrueSharp. I have heard others compare it to 420hc in terms of performance and edge retention.
Rooster Reagan says
First off, i think i speak for other blade novices when i say thank you for sharing your studies and knowledge. My first foray into the higher end knives was when i treated myself to a Benchmade bone collector D2 fixed blade. i’ve been absolutely amazed by this blade. sure its tricky to get sharp, thanks to how incredibly hard this material is, so hard in fact that just to make sure this blade would keep up with me 40+ hours a week working in a shop, i put this thing through torturous trials that would’ve rendered a lesser steel a little pile of powder. ive used it as a pry bar numerous times without incident, not even a permanent bend. the only damaged its suffered is when i dropped it on a live extension cord and being my luck it landed edge down and sliced immediately through the insulation magically turning an extension cord into an arc welder, i was able to kick it away after only a 3/16″ gash was cut through it. sent it to Benchmade and they offered to try and sharpen it out or change out the blade for $30. (side note i highly suggest Benchmade, both the products and customer service are top notch). .. point being i love the D2 but admittedly i have limited experience with the higher end blade materials and too much experience with the lower end stuff, thanks again for the info. Cheers, Rooster
Thanks for the kind comment. I am so glad to hear you find the website helpful. That is a pretty crazy story about your Bone Collector! I actually chipped my Griptilian pretty bad one time and I ended up sending it back to Benchmade. For $5 to cover the shipping they fixed it right up. That’s cool that they offer replacement blades for $30. Seems reasonable considering. Benchmades have gotten more expensive over the past few years, but I have always appreciated their warranty and customer service.
Thanks for this. Please consider a similar post on grinds, with pics or diagrams of each, and blade shapes. Could also do ones on types of locks, opening methods. Also, might add to the “steels” one other materials like ceramic, plastics, titanium, etc.
My pleasure. Yes it would be nice to build out the resources section of the website a little more to include common blade shapes, locks etc. I really need to pair up with a graphic designer to do this. I’ll add it to the list!
I think 1075 is one of the best steels. 1075 has the characterstics of both low and high carbon steel. 1095 is hard and holds a good edge but its brittle and can break easier. Lower carbon steel is softer so it is much less likely to break or chip, but it doesn’t hold a good edge. So I think 1075 is right there in the middle with the good of both low and high carbon steel. Condor makes great knives from 1075 German steel. I also think 1095 crovan is good, and it is a little more tough than standard 1095 due to the vanadium, and the chromium helps it hold an egg and better. The brand and maker makes a difference. I have an Ontario 498 which is 1095 steel and it has held up great over the years and never broke or anything, yet I had a schrade schf37 which is also 1095, drop on the concrete and break in half. The thing is that the schrade was almost twice as thick as the ontario. I think for a survival knife, it is important to have a tough or durable knife above all, and then good edge retention second. Steel is a hard thing rate, because each type of steel can vary in performance depending on the maker.
Thanks for your thoughts on 1075. I actually found them to be very interesting. I have always considered 1095 to be superior to 1075, but I must confess I do not have much experience with that steel. The bulk of my experience with 1095 has been with Ontario and ESEE products. Both companies do an excellent job heat treating their 1095, so I have never had a knife break on me like your Schrade did – that should not happen. I have had 1095 chip out, when chopping and hitting a rock, sand, etc.
At any rate, I’ll keep 1075 in mind and will try to pick something up to compare it with my 1095 blades. Thanks again.
Good info. I’ve been looking at some stag handled Hen & Rooster caping knives online. They look attractive and are listed as “German Stainless Steel”. So far, I’ve been unable to determine what that means. Do you have any knowledge of this steel, its components, performance or hardness rating?
Another knife brand I’ve been looking at is CFK Cutlery. Their prices are great for the D2 steel they advertise along with bone handles and nice leather sheaths. However, I can’t find any reviews.
Do you have any experience or knowledge of either of these?
Thanks for stopping by. I don’t have direct experience with either Hen and Rooster or CFK. I know Hen and Rooster has been around forever. I am guessing their surgical steel will perform something like Case’s Tru-Sharp stainless steel, which is in line with 420HC. Not exception edge retention, but it should get the job done for basic daily tasks and is easy to sharpen.
Would like to know where Mora’s 12C27 and Opinel’s XC90 and other steels sit in that system.
Good point. I’ll need to give it some thought and update the table.
I like the info you have presented.
My experience is with vg-10 and D2.
I purchased by chance when on holidays. A Solicut absolute ml, a vg-10 ice hardened laminated blade made in Solingen Germany. It’s a ultra sharp carving knife. I just found a place in Spain which still sells them and I purchased another two with different sizes.
My D2 knife is an Italian knife called Carnera Viper by Tecnocut. It’s a bowie shape blade which is also Ice Hardened. I’ve used it for chopping and it worked great for that but not for cutting tomatoes with it’s v grind, So I put a convex grind on it which is razor sharp.
Both of the blades seem to hold their edge which I have sharpened with a Ezy-lap Diamond stone. I found it best to hold the Ezy-lap in my hand and stroke up the blade so I can see the grind more clearly. It worked a treat to make em razor sharp. I usually finish or touch up my kitchen knives with an F.Dick sharpening steel.
Thank you for sharing your experiences with VG-10. I actually own a Viper Carnera as well (and I reviewed it – http://bladereviews.com/viper-carnera-review/ ). It’s a great knife and I agree that the D2 steel works really well with it. I imagine it’s even better with a convex edge.
I have also had good experiences with VG-10, most notably on my Spyderco Dragonfly. Enjoy your knives and thank you for taking the time out to leave a comment.
I’ve always considered Sandvik 14c28n as being one of the best steel’s you can buy for the money.This steel takes a face shaving edge,has pretty decent edge retention,is easy to field sharpen,is tough enough,and has outstanding rust resistance.Best of all most knives made from this steel can be had for well under $75.In my opinion Sandvik 14c28n is a better overall steel than that of Aus8,420hc,or ANY of the Chinese steels and it costs roughly the same.I’d also take it over 1095,5160,1075 etc. if i was going to be spending a lot of time in a damp or wet environment.
Thanks for the comment. I like 14c28n as well for the reasons that you listed, and agree that it represents a great value to the end consumer.
In my opinion some of today’s so called “super steel’s” are nothing more than marketing hype.While some like 3v and Elmax seem to be legit and top of the line,others are so close not only in make up,but overall performance to that of steel’s such as 154cm,D2,440c,VG-10,N690,O1 etc. that the price increase is not justified.If i ever need more steel than what CPM-154, CPM-D2,N690,L6,O1,and 80CRV2 offers,then i’ll just hire someone to cut whatever it is i need cutting and stay indoors.
I tend to agree with you. While some of these super steels will hold their edge a little longer, they are typically much harder to maintain and are a lot more expensive. I would rather have a less expensive knife that is easier to maintain.
While super steels can be fun from a collectibility, vanity, and novelty perspective, beyond that I don’t really see the point to them.
Firstly I would like to thank you for your dedication in writing and sharing this valuable information. I believe it helps others to be informed better 🙂
I would like to ask your analysis of the KA-BAR 1214 made from Cro-Van 1095. What are your thoughts on its performance and durability? I do like to go outing sometimes, but to think using about the usage wise I wouldn’t use smaller fixed blades to perform heavy tasks such as chopping firewood or prying something. Would resort to the good ol’ machete for those kind of work haha
I also plan to make a psychological thriller short movie. What knife do you think will suit a psychopathic serial killer? So far I considered the KA-BAR 1214 made from Cro-Van 1095, and the Cold Steel SRK made from either the San Mai III or VG 1.
Kindly thank you for the given time and attention!
Hi Marco, Thank you for stopping by and for the question. Hmm, I think anything from Cold Steel would fit the bill, given the mental state of the company’s founder and CEO. They have a number of designs that could fit the bill.
Jeff Horton says
Great list! Extremely helpful in choosing a steel. A2 hasn’t been mentioned and quite a few quality knives come in it. Any chance you could add it to the list???
Thanks for the comment. I agree that A2 should be added it to the list. I’ll do that.
Ron. Phillips says
Thank you for the steel liste you made it would be most helpful if you would have included all the knife companies that used the M390 and the 3V steel, that way I can buy the knives that you rated so high in steel like the 3V M390 and use them and see what you’re talking about. Again thank you so much for all the hard work you spent in putting together this great list . Thanks. Ron
Ben Xydtipaht Boonyavanich says
Firstly, thank you very much for this highly educational article. It has been a great help for me in choosing the right steel for the right job.
I’d also like to second Ron Phillips regarding a general list of knife manufacturers who use these steels. I understand that it might be a big ask but oh how useful that would be.
Thank you. OK, I can try to do that. A few companies that come to mind that use these 3V and M390 are Spyderco, Bark River, and Benchmade. I’ll have to consider this further, but will try to put something together. If you (or anyone else reading this) have further companies to add please feel free to comment and I’ll try to get a list going.
Captain O says
You had covered quite a bit of territory with your assessment of many alloys. You neglected to cover the Chinese 7Cr17MoV “High Carbon” Stainless Steel. I have four knives from Taylor Brands LLC that are comprised of this particular alloy.
(a) A Schrade 152OT “Old Timer” Sharpfinger,
(b) an “Old Timer” 162OT Boot Knife,
(c) an S&W SWHRT7LT 11″ Tanto Boot Knife, and,
(d) an “Old Timer” 15OT “Deerslayer” Hunting/Skinning knife.
I have gained a new appreciation for this corrosion-resistant, slightly softer Chinese Stainless Steel. While the preponderance of these softer steels has been heat-treated to a Rockwell hardness of between 54 and 57, the steel that comes from Schrade seems to lean toward 65 on the scale. I have had friends explain to me that they have used these Chinese steels to good effect, without having to re-sharpen/re-hone their Chinese Sharpfinger until after they have skinned and gutted two good sized Blacktail deer. That, in and of itself, says quite a bit for the performance of this alloy in the “real world”.
I’ll grant you that this is the lowest carbon level that I want to use in severe field service (ceramic notwithstanding). I have no doubt that this lower-cost alloy works and works well. It may not be the best Chinese steel on the market, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use it in the field on most types of game.
If it isn’t broken there seems no need to fix it.
Hey Captain O,
Thanks for taking the time out to share your thoughts with me on 7Cr17MoV. I always considered this steel to be substantially similar to 8Cr13MoV, which is why I haven’t covered it. Plus I don’t have much experience with 7Cr17MoV itself.
But your comment has me intrigued. 65HRc out of this steel would be quite a surprise, as generally this family of steels is on the softer side (at least 8Cr13MoV is). 65HRc and the ability to skin 2 deer prior to being re-sharpened is pretty damn impressive. Perhaps it was a mistake to dismiss this one as a cousin of 8Cr13MoV.
Thank you for the well thought out article, I have a Benchmade “Doug Ritter” Griptilian with an M390 drop point blade, and I absolutely love it, its a slicing machine!
What are your thoughts on M390 steel for bigger fixed bladed knives?
Hi John, To be honest I haven’t used M390 in a bigger fixed blade knife, so I have no idea how it would work. I suppose if it was for skinning game or something like that it would be great. Not sure how it would do in a big chopper.
the chart above would be true IF all the steels are at the same hardness. Because knife makers harden their edges at different hardness than one can’t just go by general numbers. For example: CPM 3V is known for being very tough. That’s only true if the edge is at 58 RC, But there’s makers who harden it higher up to 60-61RC. The higher the number, the less “tough” the steel becomes. the edge will go from rolling to chipping. the same is true for all steels. Knife makers usually harden the knives a little higher than they should because they want edge holding over toughness. Someone who spends a lot of money on a knife wants that knife to hold an edge for long time. 60 Rockwell hardness should be maximum hardness for medium to large size knives. 62 should be maximum for very small blades. 54 should be maximum for machetes.
in conclusion, blade’s edge holding, strength, toughness, wear resistance depends more on hardness than the type of steel itself.
You make a very good point. The heat treat and hardness will effect all of these variables. This chart is just a general guide and I’m not sophisticated enough to factor in variables like the heat treat into the chart.
It’s all in the heat treat brother and in the hands of those who are making the blade. Most cpm s30v and s35vn knives are only being made by craftsmen who are at the top of the game. You might pay more for those metals in a knife, but you will be getting a much, much better blade. Also, D2 makes a much better blade than what you are letting on, in this review. I have a blade that I use in very tough and nasty conditions, also, I never clean it. The D2 rarely needs sharpening, yet is easy to do so when needed and it doesn’t have a speck of rust, even though it hasn’t been cleaned in 3 years(it’s covered in sap and dirt). I have never had a good experience with an AUS 8, or CR series knife, but that is probably because those metals are used primarily by junk/cheap knife makes, which takes me back to my original statement.
Obviously heat treat has a big impact on a knife steel and I’ve covered that in previous comments and in the article itself.
Most of the reviews on this website are on production knives and while some custom knifemakers are able to coax great things out of D2, if you buy a production knife in D2 you won’t get that same level of performance. So while there may be exceptions to every rule I have chosen to write this article generally and provide a general overview for people looking to buy a production knife. If you are looking to buy a custom made knife in D2 from someone like Bob Dozier, then this isn’t the article on knife steel for you.
Hi my names Cam im a chef and have been over 9 yrs. I started with stainless steel knives then went to Victorinox then Swibo and then Io Shen japanese knive. Then bought a few damascus steel knives all hand made from Japan. Then moved onto VG10 knives which were my second favourite. The only knife that with stood days not hours Days of use. Preparing butchering chopping finely slicing etc… etc…. was working 12 hr shifts. Then one day my knife supplier Alvin From Chefs Circle whom I’ve spent a considerable amount of money through. Told me about his Secret stash of knives he doesn’t sell on his website “Chefs Circle.” And i asked what sort of knives he had that may be better than the VG10 knives i was using. He then showed me a picture of a Santoku ZDP 189 and i thought it was a bit over priced at $400 a knife. Considering i was already paying upwards of $270 a knife i thought i’d spend a bit more and see what i get for my money. Have used hundreds of knifes from chefs around the world. The ZDP 189 knife has been nothing but a dream to use. Stay sharper than any other blade ive had. Hands down ZDP189 is The best steel i have used. And would definitely go ZDP189 over VG10 as paying the extra is 100% worth it
I made a comment I think about two years ago about the same thing except I just used the knives that were available at that time for meat cutting. What is ZDP189? The knives that I used every day for cutting beef boneless or with a bone The knife edge did not last any longer then 30 minutes because mainly of the plastic tables you cut on. Boy I wish we had that Kind of steel for our knives . But 400 is a lot of money for a knife .
This is a great resource, thank you! I’ve been looking for info like this and it was right here the whole time.
Hello, i’m glad someone has made a cart like this, keep up the good work. I wanted to know what you think is better between 8crmov14 and 440c, ivefound two knives, the ganzo 7531-cf and the crkt hammond cuiser 7904 (on sale) for around the same price but can’t decide. Just your opinion would be great, thank you.
Thank u so much for above given information. I am kitchen knife manufacturer from India. I want to know , Is there any still which is not require of heat treatment , i mean itself hardness is more than 55 hrc. Plz reply me. I am searching for that kind of steel.
Mahatma Muhjesbude says
Dan, this is the best blade/steel pragmatic analysis site i’ve ever read, and i’ve been a knife person all my life and train and instruct in blade combatives, sword fighting, etc.
One Question: Of all the steels, which one do you think would be the all out most
Indestructible composition for a combat oriented short sword type blade? Let’s say weaponized Machete style to even it out. Thanks!
Thank you very much! That is very kind.
Hmm, if budget was no object I’d say 3V has the reputation for being the toughest steel out there. That would be my choice. More pedestrian steel would be 1095, O1, A2 – tool steels. They won’t have the corrosion resistance, edge retention, or toughness of 3V but the knife would be much less expensive.
Robert M. Anderson says
I own several Bob Dozier and Keith Murr D2 knives, and for the uses I have, i.e., skinning and cleaning game animals up thru deer, they are flat out great. My Randall #5 in o1 is great as a general field blade. Daily pocket kives – Benchmade, Microtech, and Crkt (USA made!). The Crkt knives are fine for the cost, and the Aus 8 is decent. The 154cm in Microtech is rugged. The Benchmades are terrific. I spend, obviously, for quality. The CRKTs made here are perfectly acceptable for day to day use, and not bad if you do break them. Spyderco too, now that I think of it. It is important to note that I use my knives as cutting/slicing instruments primarily. For this, the well made D2 is exceptionally good. For heavy work in the woods (chopping, batoning) 01 is great, and I don’t doubt the ESEE and any well made high carbon steel blades are similar. I own Strider knives, but I find I am NOT of the ‘pry bar’ school of users!
I love this info from the chart to all the comments
This is the best knife tool steel site ever
Dan Jackson says
Kent, Thank you my sir!
8Cr13MoV is a Chinese stainless steel grade but not listed in GB standard, it is customized by Chinese steel manufactures with reference to AUS-8 produced by a Japanese company called Aichi steel, the Rockwell hardness of 8Cr13MoV can reach above 62 HRC, so it is often used to make knife blades.
Dan Jackson says
AG, Thanks for stopping by the website. I don’t mind comments from other blogs but in the future please no keywords in your user name and no direct linking. Thank you.
That said, you have an interesting website and appear to be very knowledgeable about Chinese steel – cool!
John Nelson says
I am not a little late to this party but I found the main article, as well as many of the comments to be quite informative – thank you all.
Mostly, it is so pleasant to read an article and have pages and pages of comments and not one snarky remark. A truly civil group you have here. /Thanks again so much!!!
Garry lafferty says
Hi I recently purchased a neito knife made in Spain Made with AN-58 steel any information on the quality of steel