1095 steel blanks

 

One of the most important factors in buying and using modern knives is picking a blade steel that suits your needs. In today’s market there are dozens of blade steel options out there, and while they are far superior to the archaic steels used in the past (we even have "super steels" nowadays), each steel type has advantages and disadvantages that the end user should understand to make the most out of their knife.

 

Steel Types

For the purposes of this article I will break steel types into 4 main types: stainless, tool, exotic, and Damascus.

Stainless steels are most commonly found in folding knives and fixed blades and are designed to have higher levels of rust and corrosion resistance.

Tool steels, also referred to as high carbon steels, have higher carbon contents than stainless steels and are more susceptible to rust and corrosion. Fortunately, KPL offers two exceptional food safe options to help protect these steels from corrosion: Knife Shield and Camellia oil.

Exotic steels are not widely used and typically have a very specific purpose. Although these steels are not as common or well-suited for many cutting tasks, many people do love them.

Damascus steels are an interesting and popular steel type. They are actually blends of multiple steels that are folded during the forging process, creating visually striking patterns in the finished product. They're usually a blend of high carbon and stainless steels, and more recently have started to include copper. Though many of these blends are aesthetically pleasing, inexpensive options are rarely very functional. If you're looking for a high quality Damascus steel knife that performs as great as it looks, you can expect a pretty significant price tag.

 

Steel Properties: Edge Retention, Sharpening, Toughness, and Corrosion Resistance

The factors to consider when evaluating steel performance are edge retention, ease of sharpening, toughness, and corrosion resistance.

Edge retention - Simply stated this is how well a steel will hold a functional edge through normal usage before needing sharpening.

Ease of sharpening - This is an indicator of the difficulty of returning your knife edge to a sharp and functional edge. Check out our article all about knife sharpening for more info on this topic!

Toughness - This is how resistant your knife will be to edge chipping and breakage.

Corrosion resistance-This is how resistant a knife steel is to rust and pitting.


There is no such thing as a perfect blade steel, and there is almost always a trade-off in an area where a given steel may excel. This is why they are so many different steels on the market!

Each user is going to favor different factors depending on their intended use. Let’s dive into some of the different types of steel to help you find what is best for you.  While this list does not cover every possible steel, these are the most common steels you'll find in the vast majority of knives.

 

Stainless Steels

Stainless steels include rust-resistant components to help reduce corrosion and staining from storage, carry, and use. Although these steels are very resistant to rust and staining, stainless does not mean stain-proof, and even stainless steels will rust if exposed to corrosive elements or are not properly maintained.


420 Steels  

Steel in the 420 family have been used for knives for quite some time and are very common in budget blades.

Price: Budget

Edge Retention: Very Low

Ease of Sharpening: High

Toughness: High

Corrosion Resistance: High


440A

This is another steel commonly found in budget knives. It offers better edge retention than the 420 series but has lower toughness.

Price: Budget

Edge Retention: Low

Ease of Sharpening: High

Toughness: Low

Corrosion Resistance: High


440C

This was designed as an upgrade to 440A - the addition of higher carbon content increases edge retention.

Price: Budget

Edge Retention: Mid

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Low

Corrosion Resistance: High

 

8Cr13MoV

A budget-friendly steel made in China, very commonly found on budget-priced knives.

Price: Budget

Edge Retention: Low

Ease of Sharpening: High

Toughness: Mid

Corrosion Resistance: Mid

Knife steel corrosion resistance chart

 

14C28N

A Swedish-made steel in the higher end of the budget category.

Price: Budget

Edge Retention: Low

Ease of Sharpening: High

Toughness: Very High

Corrosion Resistance: Very High


AUS-8

A Japanese-made steel commonly used in budget knives.

Price: Budget

Edge Retention: Low

Ease of Sharpening: High

Toughness: Mid

Corrosion Resistance: Mid


N690

A budget oriented Swedish-made steel that's been recently increasing in popularity.

Price: Budget/ Mid

Edge Retention: Mid

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Low

Corrosion Resistance: High


VG-10

A Japanese steel, commonly used in kitchen and folding knives.

Price: Budget/Mid

Edge Retention: Mid

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Low

Corrosion Resistance: High


AEB-L and Nitro-V

AEB-L is a favorite of custom knife makers who want carbon steel performance in a stainless steel. Nitro-V is an upgraded version boasting increased edge retention.

Price: Budget/Mid

Edge Retention: Low/Mid

Ease of Sharpening: High

Toughness: Very High

Corrosion Resistance: High


154CM

A US-made steel by Crucible Industries, commonly used in mid-range knives.

Price: Budget/Mid

Edge Retention: Mid

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Low

Corrosion Resistance: Mid


CPM154

Very similar to 154CM but made with particle metallurgy, and boasts increased toughness.

Price: Mid

Edge Retention: Mid

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Mid

Corrosion Resistance: Mid 


CTS-XHP

A US-made steel by Carpenter Technology, a great all-around steel used in mid-range and higher-end knives.

Price: Mid/High

Edge Retention: Mid

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Mid

Corrosion Resistance: Mid


Elmax

A Swedish-made steel used in mid-range and higher-end knives.

Price: Mid/High

Edge Retention: Mid

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Low

Corrosion Resistance: High

 

Knife blade ease of sharpening chart

 

S30V

A very popular US-made steel made by Crucible using particle metallurgy. Commonly used in higher-end knives.

Price: Mid/High

Edge Retention: Mid/High

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Low

Corrosion Resistance: High 


S35VN

One of the most popular blade steel in higher-end folding knives. This steel was designed by Chris Reeve and is produced by Crucible.

Price: High

Edge Retention: Mid

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Mid

Corrosion Resistance: High


S45VN

This is a newer steel made by Crucible. It an upgraded version of S35VN with better corrosion resistance and edge retention but lower toughness.

Price: High

Edge Retention: Mid/High

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Mid/Low

Corrosion Resistance: Mid/High

 

M390, CTS-204P, and 20CV

Though these steels are made by 3 different companies they are essentially the same steel. These are the current front runners in high-end and premium knife steels.

Price: High

Edge Retention: High

Ease of Sharpening: Low

Toughness: Low

Corrosion Resistance: Very High


Magnacut

The newest and hottest steel on the market, this steel made by Crucible was designed specifically for knives and performs very high in most areas.

Price: High

Edge Retention: Mid/High

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: High

Corrosion Resistance: Very High

 

Tool Steels

Tool steels are typically known for their high carbon content and high ratings in toughness. They're typically used in hard-use outdoor blades, hard-use folders, and custom knives.


O1

A very common low-cost steel that has been used for many decades. Very popular in hard-use outdoor knives.

Price: Budget

Edge Retention: Very Low

Ease of Sharpening: Very High

Toughness: Mid

Corrosion Resistance: Very Low


A2

A low-cost steel that is very popular among custom and handmade knife makers.

Price: Budget

Edge Retention: Low

Ease of Sharpening: Very High

Toughness: High

Corrosion Resistance: Low

Knife blade edge retention chart

 

1095

A popular steel for outdoor knives due to the very high level of toughness. It is used by production and custom makers.

Price: Budget

Edge Retention: Very Low

Ease of Sharpening: Very High

Toughness: Very High

Corrosion Resistance: Very Low


D2

This is considered a semi-stainless steel and is budget oriented. It is commonly found in both folders and fixed blade knives.

Price: Budget

Edge Retention: Mid

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Mid

Corrosion Resistance: Mid

 

52100

A very common steel that was originally used to produce ball bearings, it is known for its toughness and is used in hard-use blades.

Price: Mid

Edge Retention: Low

Ease of Sharpening: Very High

Toughness: Very High

Corrosion Resistance: Very Low


3V

3V is made by Crucible and is considered to be a premium tool steel due to having high toughness, good edge retention, and corrosion resistance. This is used in higher-end outdoor knives

Price: High

Edge Retention: Mid

Ease of Sharpening: High

Toughness: Very High

Corrosion Resistance: Mid


4V

Made by Crucible, 4V is a solid all-around performer.

Price: Mid

Edge Retention: Mid

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Mid/High

Corrosion Resistance: Low


M4

An expensive steel produced by Crucible, this is a popular choice in hard-use folding knives.

Price: Very High

Edge Retention: Very High

Ease of Sharpening: Low

Toughness: High

Corrosion Resistance: Low


CruWear

A premium steel produced by Crucible, commonly used in folders and fixed blades.

Price: High

Edge Retention: High

Ease of Sharpening: Mid

Toughness: Mid

Corrosion Resistance: Mid

 

Exotic Steels

Steels falling into this category will either be highly specialized, very expensive, or not widely used. This does not mean they do not have a place in the industry, in fact many of them are wildly popular among consumers.


H1

A Japanese steel that is nearly rust-proof and incredibly tough, but with poor edge retention.

Price: Mid

Edge Retention: Very Low

Ease of Sharpening: Very High

Toughness: Very High

Corrosion Resistance: Very High


LC200N

A premium German-made steel that is also nearly rust-proof, and has slightly less toughness but higher edge retention than H1.

Price: High

Edge Retention: Low

Ease of Sharpening: High

Toughness: High

Corrosion Resistance: Very High

 

Knife steel toughness chart

 

K390

A Swedish-made steel known for its excellent edge retention. Although it's not very common it is used in many Spyderco models.

Price: High

Edge Retention: Very High

Ease of Sharpening: Low

Toughness: Mid

Corrosion Resistance: Low


S90V and S110V

Crucible steels known for high edge retention and corrosion resistance. Though not very common, it is primarily used by Benchmade and Spyderco.

Price: High

Edge Retention: Very High

Ease of Sharpening: Very Low

Toughness: Low

Corrosion Resistance: Very High

 

ZDP-189

A Japanese steel known for incredible edge retention. Unfortunately, it scores low in every other area.

Price: High

Edge Retention: Very High

Ease of Sharpening: Low

Toughness: Very Low

Corrosion Resistance: Mid

 

What's your go-to knife steel? Is your favorite knife steel in this list? Comment down below, and don't forget to use code "BLACKFLAG" at checkout for 10% off your purchase!

 

Article hero image, title with four knives with varying blade steels

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