Knife Steel – A Complete Guide

Knife Steel – A Complete Guide to knife steel.


When first looking to buy a knife many people just look at the picture and say “that looks good”! Little do they know that a knife’s look is only half of it. The type of steel, hardening and handle materials will matter much more than its pretty looks. Of course, if you just want a knife for its looks, then buy all means, head over to our Knives under $10 selection where most of the knives are made of stainless steel. If however, you want a knife that is going to perform and last, knife steel will be much more important to you.

Below, we have compiled what will be an ever-growing list of knife steels and their attributes. We will be adding to this list every time we come across a new steel, so be sure to check back often. You may also click on the steel name to be brought to a selection of knives for sale which use that particular steel. Many knife steels are also used to make swords, so you may find some swords in your selection as well. If there are any you would like added to this list, please leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

65Mn Steel

65Mn steel is a readily-available Chinese steel that is formulated to provide good wear resistance and hardness. The medium-high carbon content makes for a high degree of toughness and resilience, while the manganese, in addition to improving these properties, improves the hot-working characteristics of the steel, making it an excellent candidate for forged sword blades and hard use knives and machetes.

5Cr15MoV Steel

Chinese equivalent of the German X50CrMoV15 steel, one of the most popular kitchen knife steels in mainstream German knives. Sometimes listed it as AISI 440A, but specs are considerably different, especially the Chromium content. Typically gets hardened to 54-56HRC, and the bigger the knife, softer the steel. There is no reason this alloy should be 54-55HRC even in the 8-10 inch long kitchen knife, but apparently to avoid issues with abusive users and lower production costs, steel is kept soft. Quite stain resistant, other than that not much to speak of in terms of edge holding.

7Cr17MoV Steel

7Cr17MoV Steel is A Chinese Stainless steel that is similar in quality to AUS6 stainless steel. The follwoing formula is a break down in the steel: 7CR part means it is 7% chromium and the 17MoV means .17% molybdenum and .17% Vanadium.

8Cr13MoV Steel

8Cr13MoV Steel is the Chinese made equivalent to AUS 8 steel. 8Cr13MoV Steel has great toughness and good edge holding capabilities. This steel is fairly easy to sharpen and generally low cost with great corrosion resistance.

3CR13 Steel

3CR13 steel is a Chinese Stainless steel that is similar in quality to 420J2 (AUS 4) stainless steel.

ATS-34 Steel

ATS-34 Steel is a very high carbon, chromium stainless steel with additional amounts of molybdenum. This steel has good edge holding properties and high corrosion resistance, but is more difficult to resharpen than lower chromium steels.

154CM Steel

154CM Steel was originally designed for jet engine fan blades, it is the precursor to the Japanese made ATS-34. In recent years, this steel has made a resurgence in the knife industry, offering good blade toughness, edge holding capability and corrosion resistance. Fairly easy to resharpen.

420HC Steel

420HC Steel is a high carbon version of 420 steel, this steel combines the excellent wear resistance of high carbon alloys with the corrosion resistance of chromium stainless steels. The high carbon content makes this steel harder to resharpen, but the tradeoff is better edge holding properties.

420J2 Steel

420J2 steel contains medium quality carbon content. It has good corrosion resistance in salt free atmospheres and in most industrial environments. It is resistant to many chemicals and household cleaners; and, it is also a more durable steel compared to the 440 grades.

Due to its low carbon high chromium content 420J2 steel is an excellent choice for making tough (bends instead of breaking), shock absorbing knife blades with excellent resistance to corrosion and moderate edge holding ability. It is an ideal candidate for knife blades that will be subject to a wide variety of environmental conditions including high temperature, humidity, and airborne corrosives such as salt in a marine environment. This extreme resistance to corrosion via its high chrome content also makes it a perfect choice for knife blades which are carried close to the body or in a pocket and blades which will receive little or no care or maintenance.

440 Stainless Steel

440 stainless steel is a higher grade of cutlery steel, with more carbon, allowing for much better edge retention when properly heat-treated. It can be hardened to approximately Rockwell 58 hardness, making it one of the hardest stainless steels. Due to its toughness and relatively low cost, most display-only and replica swords or knives are made of 440 stainless. 440 stainless steel is Available in four grades: Type 440A—has the least amount of carbon making this the most stain-resistant. Type 440B—slightly more carbon than 440A. Type 440C—has the greatest amount of carbon of the Type 440 variants. Strongest and considered more desirable in knifemaking than the Type 440A variant, except for diving or other salt-water applications. This variant is also more readily available than other variants of Type 440. Type 440F—a free-machining variant. Contains the same high carbon content as Type 440C.

440A Steel

440A steel has been used in the manufacture of knife blades for decades but they are still the most popular steels in the commercial knife market, being readily available and producing very servicable blades. 440A steel has the lowest carbon content of the class but can still be heat treated to hardnesses in the mid to upper 50’s HRc.

440C Steel

440C steel is a high chromium stainless steel which exhibits an excellent balance of hardness and corrosion resistance. This steel takes a nice edge, and is fairly easy to sharpen even for a novice.

4116 German Krupp Stainless Steel

4116 German Krupp Stainless steel is fined grained, stainless steel made by ThyssenKrupp in Germany is used for hygienic applications and food processing.The balance of carbon and chromium content give it a high degree of corrosion resistance and impressive physical characteristics of strength and edge holding. Retention in actual cutting tests exceed blades made of the 420 and 440 series of stainless steels.

AUS 6 Steel

AUS-6 steel is a entry level Japanese cutlery steel in the same class as 440A. AUS-6 was used a lot in entry level knives, but has been seen less and less in current knives. AUS-6 steel is one grade higher than AUS-4 and one grade lower then AUS-8. AUS-6 is typically hardened to RC 55-58 or so, and take a very fine edge, though edge retention is not as good as steel such as 440C. AUS-6 is part of the family of steels that consists of AUS-4, AUS-6, AUS-8 and AUS-10.

AUS 8 Steel

AUS 8 steel and AUS 8A Steel is a Japanese stainless steel, with superb toughness and good edge holding capabilities. This steel is fairly easy to sharpen and generally low cost with great corrosion resistance. AUS 8A is a high carbon, low chromium stainless steel that has proven, over time, to be a very good compromise between toughness, strength, edge holding and resistance to corrosion.

BG 42 Steel

BG 42 steel is A proprietary alloy of Timken Latrobe Steel, BG 42 is a high-performance, bearing-grade martensitic stainless steel used in the aerospace industry. Because of its high strength and ability to reach high Rockwell hardness (Rc 61-62), BG 42 steel is well suited for blades that are subjected to extreme use.

CPM S30V Steel

CPM S30V steel (or Crucible Particle Metallurgy S30V) is an American made and engineered steel was created especially for the knife industry. It is a powder made steel with uniform structure and great corrosion resistance. Excellent edge retention and first rate toughness make this steel one of the best all-around knife steels, striking a balance between corrosion resistance, edge retention and sharpenability.

CPM S90V Steel

CPM S90V steel is a unique tool steel made by the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process. It makes for a great hard use knife steel. It is a martensitic stainless steel to which vanadium and carbon have been added for exceptionally good wear resistance. CPM S90V offers substantial improvements in wear resistance over 440C and D2, and other high chromium steels, with corrosion resistance equal to or better than 440C. CPM S90V’s high vanadium content favors the formation of hard vanadium carbides instead of chromium carbides for wear resistance, leaving more free chromium available to provide corrosion resistance.

The wear and corrosion resistance of CPM S90V make it an excellent candidate to replace 440C, where increased wear is a primary concern. It can replace D2 or other tool steels in applications where improved corrosion resistance is also of benefit.

CPM-S35VN Steel

CPM-S35VN Steel is a quality stainless steel that is part of Crucible Industries’ “SxxV series”. “CPM” identifies the steel as having been made through Crucible Industries’ CPM process, offering an improved outcome over that of conventional melting practices. The letters “S,” “V,” and “N” refer to the terms “stainless,” vanadium,” and “niobium,” respectively. The number thirty-five has no significance other than to differentiate between S30V steel.

This composition allows for CPM-S35VN steel to be an incredibly hard, high quality steel offering superior dimensional stability, grindability, and toughness that together make this a top grade steel at the top of its class.

CPM 3V Steel

CPM 3V Steel is a high toughness, wear-resistant tool steel made by the Crucible Particle Metallurgy process. It is designed to provide maximum resistance to breakage and chipping in a high wear-resistance steel. It offers impact resistance greater than A2, D2, Cru-Wear, or CPM M4, approaching the levels provided by S7 and other shock resistant grades. CPM 3V is intended to be used at 58/60 HRC in applications where chronic breakage and chipping are encountered in other tool steels, but where the wear properties of a high alloy steel are required.

The wear and toughness properties of CPM 3V steel make it an excellent alternative to shock-resistant steels such as S7 or A9, where they typically wear out too quickly, but where grades such as A2, CruWear, or CPM M4 tend to fail by breaking or chipping. CPM 3V offers the highest impact toughness of any tool steel with this range of wear resistance.

D2 Tool Steel

D2 Tool Steel is an air hardened tool steel is sometimes called a “semi-stainless” steel, because it contains 12% chromium. It offers decent corrosion resistance with exceptional edge retention. It is harder to sharpen than most, but can be finished to a high-polish shine.

Niolox Steel

Niolox Steel is a Special Wear Stainless Steel will greatly improve wear resistance for many knife applications such as Food Cutting Knives, Hunting Knives, Hobby Knives etc. Niolox tool steel for oil-quenching with good toughness and edge-holding ability at moderate corrosion resistance. Besides its main application for cutter knives in the food processing industry, this steel is used for all industrial knife applications where maintenance of the cutting edges and moderate corrosion resistance is required.


CTS-XHP Steel is an air hardening, high carbon, high chromium, corrosion resistant alloy which can be described as either a high hardness Type 440C stainless steel or a corrosion resistant D2 tool steel. Possesses corrosion resistance equivalent to Type 440C stainless but can attain a maximum hardness of 64 HRC, approaching that of D2 tool steel.

CTS-XHP Steel offers superior edge retention and surface finish, an ability to be machined to a fine edge, and consistent heat-treatability.

Damascus Steel

Damascus steel swords and knives are highly sought after for their beauty and functionality. Modern Damascus steel is made from several types of steel and iron slices welded together to form a billet and thus the awesome pattern seen in the finished blade.

Folded Steel

Folded steel swords and knives are very sought after for the traditional look and beauty that a folded steel blade brings. The best known part of the of the Japanese sword making process is the folding of the steel, where the swords are made by repeatedly heating, hammering and folding the metal. The process of folding metal to improve strength and remove impurities is frequently attributed to specific Japanese smiths in legend. We offer a wide variety of folded steel swords and knives for sale.

N690CO Steel

N690Co steel is an Austrian steel that is often compared favorably against 440C However, N690Co steel also contains cobalt and a small amount of Vanadium. These additions enhance the properties of the alloy.. Depending on heat treatment it may have equal or better wear resistance and toughness.

O1 Tool Steel

O1 tool steel is a useful oil-hardening knife steel that has some Vanadium in it as well as fairly high Carbon content. It has very little Chromium and is less tough than comparable tool steels such as 52100. Typically O1 can be hardened to about RC 65, though in production models it is sometimes hardened to the mid 50’s. O1 tool steel is commonly found in woodworking tools as well as damascus steels. O1 is occasionally seen in production knives and is also occasionally used by custom knifemakers for medium-sized fixed blades. O1 is popular with custom makers that like to differentially harden their blades as well. O-1 has very little corrosion resistance so care must be taken to ensure that your O1 knives do not rust.

S7 Tool Steel

S7 tool steel is a shock resisting tool steel with excellent toughness and high strength, along with medium wear resistance. It has maximum shock resistance and high compression strength, which gives it good deformation resistance in use, while retaining good toughness. S7 tool steel has been compared by many to L6.

San Mai Steel

San Mai means “three layers”. San Mai steel is a term used when talking about traditional Japanese swords and daggers. The laminated construction is important because it allows the blade maker to combine different grades of steel in a single blade. A high carbon center layer provides the strength and edge holding qualities, while the outer layers are lower carbon steels, providing flexibility.

VG-10 Steel

VG-10 Steel is a popular knife steel used extensively by Spyderco. VG-10 is short for V Gold 10, and is manufactured exclusively by Takefu Special Steel in Japan. VG-10 is quite unique in it’s composition using Molybdenum, Cobalt and Vanadium in the mixture. VG-10 is typically hardened to anywhere from RC 58-61. According to Takefu, the Cobalt makes the substrate stronger, and the addition of Moly and Vanadium form harder carbides increasing the wear resistance and thus improving edge retention. Additionally, VG-10 has excellent corrosion resistance, making it a fantastic all-round steel comparible to CPM 154CM but cheaper to manufacture.

SANDVIK 14C28N Steel

SANDVIK 14C28N Steel is the latest development in Sandvik’s range of knife steels. Optimized chemistry provides a top grade knife steel with a unique combination of excellent edge performance, high hardness and good corrosion resistance.

Sleipner Steel

Sleipner Steel is an UDDEHOLM steel an is a high alloyed tool steel ideal for replacing AISI D2 where chipping is a problem and/or replacing AISI A2 in applications requiring higher wear resistance. Sleipner steel is Uddeholm’s modern version of the classic D2 tool steel, with improved toughness to better fit active knife use. Even though this is not a PM steel, the finer steel structure in Uddeholm Sleipner gives better machinability, polishability and edge retention.

Bohler M390 Steel

Bohler M390 steel is stainless steel produced by powder metallurgy. Steel in the calcined state of well-machining, after heat treatment has excellent resistance to wear, easily polished. Steel is a highly homogeneous structure with very fine carbides, after proper heat treatment has excellent resistance to wear and tear – durability of the blade (greater than 19 573 / D2). Steel has high toughness and resistance to breakage.

1055 Carbon Steel

1055 carbon steel is right on the border between a medium and a high carbon steel, with a carbon content between 0.50%-0.60% and with manganese between 0.60%-0.90% as the only other component. The carbon content and lean alloy make this a shallow hardening steel with a quenched hardness between Rc 60-64 depending on exact carbon content. These combination of factors make this one of the toughest steels available because, when quenched, it produces a near saturated lathe martensite with no excess carbides, avoiding the brittleness of higher carbon materials. 1055 carbon steel is particularly suited to applications where strength and impact resistance is valued above all other considerations and will produce blades of almost legendary toughness.

1075 Carbon Steel

1075 carbon steel is a high carbon steel like 1095 steel with less carbon. 1075 carbon steel makes for a very tough blade that is easy to sharpen and will keep a nice sharp edge. It is great for swords, knives, axes and machetes due to its resilient toughness.

1095 Carbon Steel

1095 Carbon steel is a plain carbon steel, which means it has low resistance to corrosion, and low to medium edge retention. The benefit of this steel is it’s easy to sharpen, will take an extremely sharp edge and is generally available at a low cost. When tempered properly, 1095 steel is great for swords as when it is tempered properly, can have and keep a great edge. For swords, this steel is not recommended for beginners.

1085C Carbon Steel

1085C Carbon Steel is like 1095, but with lower carbon content. 1085C steel is considered tougher than 1095 with excellent edge holding capability. Great for use in knives and swords, 1085C carbon steel will make for a tough and sharp blade.

5160 Steel

5160 carbon steel is a steel popular with forgers, it is extremely popular now and a very high-end steel. It is essentially a simple spring steel with chromium added for hardness. 5160 steel has good edge holding, but is known especially for its outstanding toughness (like L-6). Often used for swords (hardened in the low 50s Rc) because of its toughness, and is also used for hard use knives and tomahawks (hardened up near the 60s Rc).

SANDVIK 12C27 Steel

Swedish manufacturer Sandvik has a reputation for producing high-quality steels for cutlery and edged tools. Its Sandvik 12C27 steel stainless alloy has a fairly straightforward C/Mn/Cr composition but produces tough user blades that sharpen well and have good edge retention.

8Cr14MoV Steel

8Cr14MoV steel is high-carbon, excellent value-priced stainless steel, which features quite similar performance characteristics to AUS 8 in terms of toughness, edge retention, and wear resistance.

Given the price tag attached to this steel, 8Cr14MoV steel might not be the first option for those privileged customers, but definitely outperforms most people’s expectations for their everyday use.

3G Laminate Powder Steel

3G Laminate Powder Steel is a laminated steel made up of 3G core and VG2 outer layers. This steel has extreme durability and edge retention, in fact up to 3 times that of the awesome VG10 steel.

3G Laminate Powder Steel is not necessarily the best steel for all users. It’s generally agreed that it has a better edge retention than the already exceptional VG10 (up to three times in fact), and it is also slightly more corrosion resistant and sharp, but it is an advanced steel for advanced users. Its hardness and composition means that it is able to hold an excellent edge for very long time, but it needs an expert hand when it comes to sharpening. We are talking about a 62HRC steel with 1.4% of Carbon and roughly 2% of Vanadium, which increase wear resistance and make sharpening harder. The cost of 3G is also more than double than a VG10 blade, making knives with this steel very expensive.

Laminated Cobalt Steel

Laminated Cobalt Steel (COS) is a newer developed steel which can get “scary sharp” and is very durable. This steel, heavily used by Fallkniven, is a Cobalt steel core layered with 420J2 sides.

White Steel

White Steel (also known as Shirogami) is a Japanese steel that is a refined carbon steel that does not contain any other ingredients.

Blue Steel

Blue Steel is a Japanese steel made by adding chromium and tungsten to white steel. Many Japanese hunters prefer blue steel to stainless steel for their knives. Blue steel knives will take and hold an extremely sharp edge and hold up great for everyday activities such as hunting, fishing and other field activities.

Super Blue Steel

Super blue steel is considered one of the highest grades of steel in Japan. This steel contains a high percentage of carbon , chrome to increase hardness and has excellent edge retention and resistance to corrosion.

SRK-8 Steel

SRK-8 steel is an improved version of Hitachi’s refined Japanese carbon steel, Shirogami (White steel) and it’s tougher and more durable than Shirogami white steel and holds an edge as well as Blue steel.

Like we said, we will be adding new steels on a regular basis or let us know what steel is not here and we will add it!

About Swords of Might

Swords of Might is one of the oldest and largest sword stores on the internet. We sell a vast variety of swords, knives and collectibles.

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