Are Super Steels Super Worth It?

WHAT IS SUPER STEEL?

Super Steels have become a very hot topic in the knife industry over the last few years. Most knife enthusiasts are intimately familiar with names like M390, 20CV, LC200N, S35VN, S90V, and many more. 

Just what is it that makes these steels super? Most super steels are made from powder metallurgy greatly reducing the size of the steel carbides and increasing the number of carbides in the steel. 
 
This produces steels that are highly stainless, hold an excellent edge and have high hardness ratings. 
 

SUPER STEEL DRAWBACKS

 
Despite this, there is no such thing as a perfect steel and these great features come with a few drawbacks.
 
1.  Sharpening these steels is more difficult, and in some cases they can be more prone to chipping.
 
2. The second major drawback comes in cost. These steels are more expensive to manufacture and more difficult to machine, which leads to a higher cost to us the end consumer. 
 

QUALITY STEELS THAT WON'T BREAK THE BANK

 

While many are willing to pay a premium cost for premium knife steel, there are still many great knives available in more conventional steels that are well designed, will provide years of great service, and won't break that bank. 

Let's discuss a few knives in this category that should definitely not be overlooked.  

 

SPYDERCO DELICA 4  

 

 
 
The Delica 4 is one of Spyderco's most popular and iconic knives today and most versions of this knife can be had for under $100.
 
The Spyderco Delica is a compact knife featuring a 2.875 inch blade, and is 7.125 inches overall.
 
The base model features FRN handle scales in a variety of colors, has a reliable back lock, and a drop point blade made from Japanese VG-10 steel. VG-10 was once considered a premium steel, though today it is considered mid-grade.  VG-10 offers respectable corrosion resistance and edge retention while also being relatively easy to sharpen.
 
There are a number of versions of the Delica 4 out there some featuring different blade steels and different handle materials, but I can assure you the base model is one of the best bangs for your buck out there and will provide you years of use.
 

CIVIVI ELEMENTUM D2

 

 
 
The Civivi Elementum is a compact folding knife made by CIvivi, a division  of WE knives.  The knife features a just under 3 inch blade and an overall length of 6.99 inches. 
 
The knife opens smoothly with a flipper and has an easy to disengage liner lock. There are a number of variations of this knife featuring different handle scales and blade materials, but the biggest bang for your buck can found in the D2 model. 
 
D2 is a tool steel first used in knives in the mid 1960's but has become very popular in recent years based on its low cost and toughness.  While D2 is not a stainless steel, it is far more corrosion resistant then many tool steels in the same price point such as 1055 and 1095 steel. D2 is also very easy to sharpen and is a good steel for novice knife sharpeners to learn on and is easy for experienced knife sharpeners to maintain. 
 
The best part of the D2 Elementum is that, depending on handle material, these can be had for between $50 and $70. Because Civivi is made by WE, you get a knife with excellent fit and finish that feels light-years above its low price point.
 

 
KERSHAW KNOCKOUT
 
 
 
 
The Kershaw Knockout differs from the first two knives on this list in two major ways; first it is manufactured in the USA and second it an assisted opening knife. 
The knock out is a larger knife featuring a 3.25 inch blade and is just under 8 inches overall.  It features anodized aluminum handle scales that can be had in a variety of colors and a knocked out sub-frame lock that is somewhat of a cross between a frame lock and a liner lock.
 
The knife opens with an assisted flipper that ensure fast opening and lock up with a slight push on the flipper tab.  The blade steel on the base model is Sandvik 14C28N. 
 
This steel is known for excellent corrosion resistance, good edge retention, and ease of sharpening with the trade off being a lower toughness rating. 
 
Ultimately this steel is put to good use in the Knockout, taking a razor sharp edge that is easy to maintain and providing corrosion protection for a knife that is carried in all weather situations. 
In most cases the Knockout can be had for around $80 which is a phenomenal deal for a well made U.S. production knife.

 
ESEE IZULA II
 
 
 
 
The ESEE Izula II is a small fixed blade knife developed by Randall's Adventure Training for use is outdoor and survival situations, but is also well suited for everyday carry due to its size.  The blade on the Izula II is 2.875 inches with an overall length of 6.75 inches. 
 
The handle scales are available in a variety of micarta colors and the blade is available in multiple coating colors. The blade comes coated due to the use of 1095 carbon steel. 
 
1095 is a true tool steel giving it incredible toughness and ease of sharpening at the cost of edge retention and corrosion resistance. 
 
The ease of sharpening is very important in field knives because there is a good chance with some prolonged use that the edge will need maintenance and this can be done easily with any sharpening system or even a flat rock. 
Increased toughness will help ensure you won't chip your edge or snap the blade in hard use scenarios. 
 
Thanks the the heavy duty coating ESEE uses you can expect a good level of protection from the elements despite 1095's lower corrosion resistance.  This knife is also very reasonably priced at around $75 and includes a polymer sheath.
 

 
ONTARIO RAT MODEL 1
 
 
 
 
The Ontario RAT Model 1 has become known as one of the greatest full sized budget knives out there.  The RAT 1 has a 3.625 inch drop point blade and an overall length of 8.625 inches. It features a liner lock, thumb stub opening, and grippy GFN handle scales. 
 
These are available in AUS-8 stainless steel and D2 tool steel. 
 
AUS-8 is a steel that was once very popular in the knife industry as an upgrade to traditional 400 series steels due to its increased toughness. 
 
While it has lost favor due to the prevalence of more advanced steels it remains an excellent choice for the budget conscious knife buyer. 
 
Due to the low cost of AUS-8 you can pick up the well built RAT 1 for around $35 dollars and expect to get a great deal of use before having to replace it.
 
Conclusion 
 
Super steels may be very popular right now, they are also super expensive.  These 5 knives are just a small sampling of the many great knives made from traditional steels that won't break the bank and still provide excellent service.