Gear Primer: Knife Steel Type Guide
When buying a new knife, there’s generally three major things to consider. The first is the size/type of the knife. Depending on whether you’re planning to use it for EDC, hunting in the woods, or whatever else, it’s important to first determine the size of the knife and whether it’ll be a foldable knife, fixed knife, or some other design. After picking out the type of the knife, then it’s important to figure out what type of blade you want for the knife. Some common blade types include drop point, clip point, tanto, and more.
Once the knife size/type along with the blade type has been figured out, then the next step is to decide on what type of material you want for the blade. Unfortunately, knife makers like to provide options when it comes to blades, but typically don’t explain the difference between the options, so today we’ll be exploring some of the most common types of steel that you’ll encounter while looking at knives.
Common Knife Steel Types
1095 steel is a generic high carbon steel that’s pretty common in mainstream knives. 1095 is relatively low cost and the 1095 stands for 0.95% carbon, which is a decent amount of carbon making 1095 steel relatively hard. However, due to the fact that 1095 steel isn’t infused with chromium or other more unique metals, 1095 steel does tend to rust easily, so you’ll probably want to keep it away from water.
420HC is one of the most common steel you’ll see used in most mainstream knives today. 420HC steel is relatively low cost, provides excellent corrosion resistance, and is easy to sharpen. As far as downsides go, because 420HC is a combination of steel in addition to carbon (HC stands for High Carbon), 420HC blades are known to lose their edge relatively quickly so they need to be constantly maintained for peak performance.
440C is one of the most common steels you’ll see used in mainstream knives today and prior to the influx of steels made with powder metallurgy, 440C was considered to be one of the best steels available. Like 420HC steel, 440C steel is a good all-around type steel that’s relatively low cost, easy to work with, fairly tough, and corrosion resistant.
AUS-8 is a Japanese steel that’s comparable to 440C steel except with less carbon. This results in a metal that’s slightly more resistant to corrosion, but not as hard and doesn’t hold an edge quite as well.
8Cr13MoV is a similar steel to AUS-8, with the exception that it has higher carbon content and is manufactured in China rather than Japan. Due to lower manufacturing costs in China, 8Cr13MoV is relatively inexpensive despite the relatively high quality of the steel.
D2 is a tool steel that’s similar to S30V steel manufactured by Crucible Industries, but doesn’t have the same hardness and doesn’t hold its edge quite as long. It’s also technically not a stainless steel as it has just under the 13% minimum required chromium for it to be considered stainless. However, D2 steel is more cost effective than S30V and the differences between the two metals may not be apparent in most scenarios.
154CM is a type of American steel manufactured by Crucible Industries. 154CM is very similar to 440C steel with the addition of molybdenum. The result here is an steel that’s very hard and holds its edge well, but is still corrosion resistant.
M390 is a type of premium Austrian steel manufactured by Bohler Uddeholm. M390 is considered to be a “super steel” manufactured using their 3rd generation powder metallurgy process with molybdenum, chromium, vanadium and tungsten added resulting in a steel that’s very hard yet still provides excellent corrosion resistance.
CPM-20CV, or 20CV, is a type of American steel manufactured by Crucible Industries. 20CV steel is manufactured using a powder metallurgy process which provides the steel with similar hardness, as 440C steel, but holds its edge better and is more resistant to corrosion.
CPM S30V, or S30V, is a type of American steel manufactured by Crucible Industries. S30V steel is manufactured using a powder metallurgy process with vanadium carbides added to increase the hardness of the steel. As a result, the S30V is similar to 154CM as it’s a it’s a very hard, holds its edge well, and is still corrosion resistant.
CPM-S90V, or S90V, is a type of American steel manufactured by Crucible Industries. S90V steel is manufactured using a powder metallurgy process using high levels of carbon and a ton of vanadium making the steel extremely hard and will hold its edge for a very long time.
CPM-S110V, or S110V, is a type of American steel manufactured by Crucible Industries. S110V steel is manufactured using a similar powder metallurgy process using high levels of carbon and even more vanadium than S90V making the steel even harder than extremely hard and will hold its edge for a very, very long time. S110V is quite possibly the best knife steel on the market today that’s not some one off fully customized production.