Knife Steel – Types of Steel Used in Knife Production

Knife makers and design experts who understand steel know what kind of steel is good for all knives designs. Use this online source to learn about the sharpening and usage characteristics of different knife steels.

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The quality and properties of steel are determined by the proportions of chromium, manganese, and carbon, and sometimes traces of other elements.

Steel is usually designated by a numeric or alphabetic name. These steels have consistent proportions of elements. On some high-quality kitchen knives, the proportions of the elements in the steel will be printed on the blade. Here is a short list of steels used in knife production.

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  • 154 CM: Carbon 1.05 %; Manganese 0.5%; Chromium 14%. A high carbon alloy, a very hard steel, first used for knifes in 1972. Used for combat knives by companies like Gerber and Benchmade.
  • 420: Carbon 0.15%-0.6%; 1% Manganese; 12-14% Chromium. An inexpensive steel, but hard steel.
  • 420HC: Carbon 0.5-0.7%; Manganese 0.35-0.9%; Chromium 13.5%. A popular, hard steel. Used by companies like Gerber and Buck knives.
  • 440A: Carbon 0.60-0.75%; Manganese 1.0%; Chromium 16.0-18.0%. High carbon, hard steel. Used by SOG for their SEAL 2000.
  • 440B: Carbon 0.75-0.95%; Manganese 1.0%; Chromium 16-18%. Used by Randall Knives.
  • 440C: Carbon 0.95 - 1.20%; Manganese 0.40%; Chromium 17.0%; Vanadium 0.50%; Molybdenum 0.50%. One of the most popular knife steels in the world. Hard, durable, and easy to work with. Used in the SOG Bowie knife.
  • ATS34: Carbon 1.05%; Manganese 0.4%; Chromium 14.0%. A Japanese version of 154 CM, a hard steel that is used by Spyderco, Buck, and Gerber knives.
  • AUS-8: Carbon 0.7-0.8%; Manganese 1.0%; Chromium 13.0-14.5%; Nickel 0.5%; Vanadium 0.1-0.25%; Molybdenum 0.1 - 0.3%. A hard steel used by many custom knifemakers and companies like Spyderco, SOG, and Kershaw among others.
  • CPM-S30V (Also called S30V): Carbon 1.45%; Chromium 14%; Molybdenum 2%; Vanadium 4%. A high wear, durable, hard steel, excellent for knives. Used by Spyderco, Lone Wolf, and Benchmade.
  • CPM440V: Carbon 2.15%; Manganese 0.4%; Chromium 17%; Vanadium 5.5%; Molybdenum 0.4%. An extremely hard, high carbon steel. Used for Kershaw folding knives, like the Ken Onion designed Boa knives.
  • D-2: Carbon 1.5%; Molybdenum 1%; Chromium 12%Vanadium 1%. A stain-resistant, but not quite stainless, tool steel, used in knife making by Bob Dozier, Benchmade, and Ka-Bar knives. Has good edge retention, but needs to be cleaned frequently so it does not rust.
  • Damascus Steel: A legendary steel used by Muslim people against Europeans during the Crusades. It was said to be much stronger, flexible, and sharper than European steel. The process for making it was lost. Many people have experimented with recreating Damascus steel, notably Bill Moran.
  • M-2: Carbon 0.85%; Tungsten 6.35%; Molybdenum 5.0%; Chromium 4.0%; Vanadium 2%. A good steel used in kitchen knives and folding knives. A high-speed steel, meaning it is resistant to high temperatures and will maintain its edge even when extremely hot.
  • M-4: Carbon 1.3%; Tungsten 6.35%; Molybdenum 5.0%; Chromium 4.0%; Vanadium 4%. Much like M-2 in its heat resistance, but with a higher carbon that makes it more difficult to sharpen or work. Makes an excellent knife blade.
  • O-1: Carbon .85-1%; Manganese 1-1.4%; Chromium 0.4-0.6%; Vanadium 0.3%. A very popular, easy to tool, high carbon steel. One of the most popular knife steels for beginning knifesmiths.
  • Sandvic 12C27: Carbon 0.6%; Manganese 0.35%; Chromium 14.0%. A Swedish steel, very popular because it has few impurities.
  • Stainless steel: A steel that has a high chromium content to prevent rust. Because knives need high carbon to remain sharp, a stainless steel for knives is just rust resistant, not completely rust proof.
  • Titanium: A lightweight, hard metal used for knife handles and parts. It does not have good edge retention, so it does not typically make good blades. Because of its resilience against harsh elements, it is used frequently for diving knives.
  • Z60CDV14: Carbon 0.6-0.65%; Manganese 0.45%; Chromium 14%; Nickel 0.15%; Vanadium 0.15 to 0.2%; Molybdenum 0.55 to 0.6%. A Swedish steel high in carbon that has both good edge retention and is easy to sharpen. Used by Columbia River Knife and Tool.

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